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How To Be Great


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In 1885, a monk set out to run a 1,000 day marathon. Specifically he and his fellow monks ran 40 kilometers a day for 100 days. Yes, you read that right. 40 kilometers per day! They did this for 5 years. They are called the Gyoja, or marathon monks and they do the impossible.

  • For the first 5 years they run 100 days, 40 kilometers each day
  • The 6th year, they run 100 days, 60 kilometers each day
  • The 7th year, they run 84 kilometers per day for 100 days and then do another 100 days where they run 40 kilometers each day.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. During the 5th year of the 1,000 day marathon, they have to go 7.5 days without food, water or rest.

From 1885 to 1988 only 46 men have completed the 1,000 day marathon.

These monks dare to do the impossible. They dare to push themselves to the extreme. They dare to be great.

Do you want to be great?

I hope you answered yes. In fact, if you didn’t answer with a resounding yes and a mental fist pump then it’s time for me to give you a pep talk:

Dare to be great. Greatness doesn’t have to be fame or power. It’s time for you to define your greatness. Be a great parent. Be a great employee. Be a great leader. Be a great lover. Don’t just be. Be great.

Have I convinced you?

No? If you are satisfied with life and don’t feel the need to be great then, I’m going to be blunt:

Stop reading this post. Go watch Netflix or skim Facebook. This post is for those of you who know you have a greater calling and are willing to work for it.

Yes? Do you want to do something bigger than you? Do you want to be a top performer in your field? Good. Now let’s get down to business:

These are the questions we answer in this post:

  • What are the patterns of top performers?
  • What do great people have in common?
  • How can you be great?

I chose the book, Elite Minds by Dr. Stan Beecham for our Science of People book club and learned how great minds think differently. I was pretty blown away by his perspective and wanted to summarize my favorite points and take-aways from his book for you.

Here’s the Big Idea:

“When you truly study top performers in any field, what sets them apart is not their physical skill; it is how they control their minds.” –Stan Beecham

WARNING: If at anytime while reading this post you say to yourself the following:

  • I’ve heard this before.
  • This won’t work for me.

Then it’s time to go back to square one. Are you sure you really want to be great? Great people hear these thoughts and flip them on their head. They reframe with these mental challenges:

  • I’ve heard this before. Why didn’t I listen the first time? If I’m hearing it again, it must be important.
  • I’m going to find a way to make this work for me.

#1: The Power of Possibility

On May 1st, 2010 Galen Rupp announced he was poised to break the American Record for fastest man during the 10,000 meter race. Not only did he break the record that night, but his competitor, Chris Solinsky also broke the record. The Canadian record was also broken that night by Simon Bairu. Why did all of these men break records and set their own personal best times? Because the moment Rupp announced he could break the record– breaking the record became a possibility.

What’s possible for you? How fast do you think you can run? How high can you jump? How far can you take your dreams? The answer to this question defines the parameters to your success. What you think is possible, is possible.

#2: Autopilot Kills Success

Most of us are like the runners who wait for someone else to break a record. We live our life on autopilot and set our potential to the benchmarks of others. We think:

  • “If no one else has done it, how could I?”
  • Or, “It hasn’t been done before, it’s probably not possible.”

What have you been told is not possible about your dreams? How do you expect your performance to be? Understanding the unconscious expectations that are driving your actions is essential for success. Beecham says that this is one of the most important differentiators between top performers and stragglers:

“If I was to summarize the primary difference between elite competitors and those who are not, it is that competitors make it their business to understand and manage their unconscious mind by mastering the conscious thoughts and behavior.” – Beecham

#3: Are You Lucky?

Now it’s time to question your unconscious expectations. Top performers believe they are lucky—they believe in the power of possibilities. And this belief radically changes their success. Why? Their expectation of luck changes their behavior and how they see opportunities.

“It isn’t luck that determines your success—its expectation.” –Dr. Beecham

One of my favorite stories of the entire book is one Beecham shares about his daughter. Beecham’s daughter was about to run a track race with her school team. The morning of the race Beecham handed his daughter some new athletic socks and told her, “Try these new socks. I bet you run at least a minute faster than you normally do if you wear the socks and your legs will feel lighter and fresher.” That day she went on to run the fastest race of her life and broke a 19-minute barrier in a 5K cross country event for the first time ever.

Her expectation changed her outcome.

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#4: The Biology of Belief

Our expectations of possibility are so powerful that they change our physiology. Beecham puts forward this mind-blowing maxim:

Beliefs control biology, biology controls behavior, and behavior determines success.

In other words, your mind is your most important asset—it can drive you to be a top performer or not. While most of the time athletes and professionals focus on physical training or technical skills, Beecham argues that your mind is what matters most for success.

  • The simple explanation: Our thoughts shape our mind.
  • The science-y explanation: “Modern physics has demonstrated that matter and energy are the same. We think of the mind of energy in the body as matter, but quantum physics has taught us that matter is made up of energy. A piece of steel is essentially energy that is being held very tightly together. Thoughts (the brain’s energy) directly impact the physical brain, which, in turn, controls the functions of the body. Through modern science, we now know that thought energy can activate or inhibit physical functionality on a cellular level.” -Beecham

Author and avid rock climber, Jim Collins, knows a thing or two about greatness. His books include Great by Choice and Good to Great, inspiring both individuals and companies to build something great. He says:

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.” – Jim Collins

When we believe we can achieve greatness, biology and behavior follow suit.

#5: Expectation Assimilation

Expectation assimilation is the fancy science term for how our brain and body match and fulfill our expectations. A great example of the power of our mindset is with Tubby Smith.

Tubby Smith is the former basketball coach at the University of Georgia. Beecham found that his athletes were not getting injured at the same rate as other athletes and he wanted to know why. He went to Tubby and asked him what his team was doing differently. Here is what Tubby said:

“I tell my team we are not going to get injured. We will do the things we need to do to prevent injury, we will warm up before practice and do some exercises to keep strong, so we will simply not get injured.”

As a great coach, Tubby Smith formatted his athletes’ expectations around injury and shaped their actions and physiology.

#6: Mental Handicapping

While positive expectations can increase our success, negative expectations can harm it. This is called a nocebo (the opposite of placebo).

Nocebo is a term coined in 1961 by Walter Kennedy, which in Latin means “I will harm.” If you believe something will have a negative effect, it probably will. Having an elite mind isn’t just about raising your expectations, it’s also about eliminating your harmful expectations. Take a moment to try to identify your nocebos:

  • Do you see your failures and mistakes as one-time events or patterns?
  • What is your greatest weakness? Is it permanent?
  • What’s holding you back? What are you doing about it?

Remember: Increased self-awareness leads to improved performance. Seek out difficult emotional knowledge while your competitors avoid them and pretend they aren’t there.

#7: Excuses Are for Suckers

What excuses are you making for your success? The Gyoja monks achieve the seemingly impossible because they get rid of excuses and double down:

  • They commit.
  • They have a clear goal.

Great achievers hustle and don’t tolerate excuses. In the words of Abraham Lincoln:

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” -Abraham Lincoln  click to tweet  

#8: Perfect is the Enemy of Success

Top performers don’t do things perfectly, they do things purposefully. Perfect is an excuse in costume. Beecham found that elite minds shift the focus from perfect to learning. Here’s how:

  • At the end of each day, ask yourself this question “Was that the best I could do?”

No matter who you are or how successful you have become you will have bad days, you will make mistakes and you will have hurdles. Expect these, learn from them and move on.

#9: Dream Big

Goals that are not frightening are not worth having. Think about your goals and dreams. Are they big enough? What are the chances you will achieve them? Dr. Beecham argues that we should have dreams that we think have a 60% chance of success–that 40% chance of failure really lights a fire under your butt!

Why is this important? Fear gets your full attention. So re-look at your goals and set them so that you are only 60% sure you can achieve them.

#10: Your Competitors Are Your Friends

Competitors can help you, they can fuel you and they can inspire you. A great competitor raises your expectations, shatters your idea of what is possible and sets the bar higher. Being a top performer means that you use your competitors to help you run faster, not to hinder you. Reframe your competitors so that you see them as cheerleaders. The person in front of you is simply showing you what is possible. They are saying, “You can do this!”

Remember: Your competitors are afraid too. No one is better or faster than you—only less afraid.

Final Point:

“If you plan on being anything less than you’re capable of being you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” –Abraham Maslow

Want to learn 14 hacks for Being Great? Check out our book Captivate!

Book Description:captivate, captivate book, vanessa van edwards

Do you wish you could decode people? Do you want a formula for charisma? Do you want to know exactly what to say to your boss, your date or your networking partner? You need to know how people work.

As a human behavior investigator, Vanessa Van Edwards studies the hidden forces that drive our behavior patterns in her lab—and she’s cracked the code. In Captivate she shares a wealth of valuable shortcuts, systems and behavior hacks for taking charge of their interactions at work, at home, and in any social situation. These aren’t the people skills you learned in school. This is the first comprehensive, science backed, real life manual on human behavior and a completely new approach to building connections.

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About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & lead investigator at her human behavior research lab, Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: Use Science to Succeed with People was chosen by Apple as one of the most anticipated books of 2017. She writes a monthly Science of Success column for Entrepreneur Magazine and the Huffington Post. As a professional people watcher her unique work has been featured in CNN, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Inc, Business Insider and more. Vanessa leads innovative soft skills trainings for Fortune 500 companies including Google, Dove, Facebook, Intel, MillerCoors and American Express.


4 Comments


  1. Lauren Freeman

    “no one is better or faster than you, only less afraid”
    This article has inspired me to no end. I know that all 10 of these steps will work for my life so I can continue to be great. They are a great reminder for me to know what kind of life I want to live. I really appreciate this article, Vanessa – thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  2. Drishti Narang

    I have been struggling with the “talent is inherent” notion for a while, and believing success is a whole lot easier for some people than others- and this article is a small light on the path of struggle.

  3. Karla

    I love love this article! Yes! this is exactly how I like to think and try to keep thinking. I feel that children start out as big dreamers and see the endless possibilities ,but as they speak about their dreams or goals they get crushed by adults who never attempted their dreams or who failed once and gave up. If children were not discouraged so much to think “realistically” I can only imagine what would be done!

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