How To Stay On Top

The athlete Maurice Greene came up with a great quote, “To be number one, you must train like you are number two.”

Former world chess champion Gary Kasparov developed this theme.

Not many of us are world champions, but we can learn from their attitude. What Greene and Kasparov shared was a desire to improve that fueled their ability to apply hard work and, in particular, examine their mistakes.

Now, it’s quite possible we don’t feel it is worth the time and effort! However if we do think its worth investing in ourselves in this way, then, no matter, what the field and the level of ability, one of the best energy-efficient ways to find improvement is to examine our mistakes.

World Champions were Beginners Once!

Yoshiharu Habu should know something about talent. He is one of the greatest shogi (Japanese chess) players of all time. Let us consider what he had to say about talent:

“”If you are guaranteed to succeed by challenging yourself to achieve something, no doubt anyone would do it. But persisting with the same passion, energy and motivation somewhere where there is no guarantee of success – is extremely difficult, and this is what I believe talent to be.”

I would slightly disagree with the definition he arrives at. Instead I would position the attitude he describes as making the most of talent.

The point, nevertheless, is well made. For example, non-native speakers who end up learning a language fluently – at one point in their lives did not know a word. They needed motivation and determination to get to their level of proficiency.

Athletes who go on to achieve greatness had to start from scratch. What separates them from the rest of us is adding the application to the talent.

Josh Waitkin, whom I cite in my book, What Are Days For? puts it well:

” …successful people shoot for the stars, put their hearts on the line in every battle and ultimately discover that the lessons learned from the pursuit of excellence mean very much more than the immediate trophies and glories. In the long run painful losses may prove much more valuable than wins … the real challenge is to stay in range of this long-term perspective when you are under fire and hurting in the middle of the war. This maybe our biggest hurdle is at the core of the art of learning.”

It is very unlikely that the path to success will be a smooth one. We all need to examine how we react to adversity.

Some of the Outtakes

My initial drafts of What Are Days For? were much longer than the final published book. I wanted to keep the content crisp and focused.

It meant that a lot of good material ended up on the writer’s equivalent of the cutting-room floor, but the fortunate thing is that unlike, for example, documentaries, where a mass of good quality footage will simply never see the light of day because it was never used in the final cut, with the edits from the printed word they can still be easily discovered for later use.

In this blog, I will occasionally tap into the resource of the text that I have edited out. Importantly the text didn’t appear not for quality reasons but simply because it didn’t fit into my vision for What Are Days For?

For example, these two quotes:

Alan Lakein: “Planning is bringing the future into the present so you can do something about it now.”

Morihei Ueshiba: “I do not think badly of others when they treat me unkindly. Rather, I feel gratitude towards them for giving me the opportunity to train myself to handle adversity. “

I think they both have merit and they also fit into one of my pet themes, that of – even if you don’t agree with it, you get something from considering it.

I feel sympathy, for example, with Ueshiba’s quote, but I also feel it’s stated as if you can turn that sort of gratitude on like a tap. I know many of us would struggle with that. Nevertheless, if the thought behind the quote can work its way into me through a steady osmosis then that would be great. By contemplating texts such as these, it makes it more likely that their sentiments will pervade my everyday life.