Finding That Little Bit Extra

I have noticed a difference between the really iconic sport athletes and the rest.

Wayde van Niekerk runs the 400m race and what happens towards the end? As the commentators mention that he may be tiring, he somehow lifts himself to that next level to pull even further away from the silver and bronze athletes, making history.

Usain Bolt gets a bad start out of the blocks, but what happens towards the end of the 100m Olympic final? As we think this may be Justin Gatlin’s day because Bolt is still a metre behind him, Bolt somehow manages to kick into another gear and miraculously crosses the finish line a metre ahead of Gatlin, making history.

Michael Phelps, same thing. Even when he is behind after the turn for the final lap, commentators and viewers just know that he will somehow step up his game, increase his pace and usually end up as the victor, with the odd exceptions. In the London Olympics Chad Le Clos did this to Michael Phelps when he somehow dug deep down for that final energetic leap to touch just before Phelps.

Novak Ðjoković and Serena Williams are more great examples. When they need to most they somehow access that space in their psyche and physical capacity to take their game to another level. Their competitor may have a great day, but more often than not they manage to lift their own game to an even higher level, when it matters most.

We know from research that the physical limits of our bodies are determined by the brain, somehow. When we think we cannot go further or faster or longer, the brain has the ability to tell the body that it can go further to that “impossible” next level. But how do you activate the brain to do this?

The really exceptional athlete somehow triggers their mind to steer the body into unknown territory. Perhaps it is conscious, or not. But, somehow, something conspires to help these men and women to step it up a gear, when others can’t. Their competitors are more often than not as fast, strong, fit and capable as they are. But, they simply can’t get their mind to tell their body that it can go even further, faster, or do more. One gets the impression that if you had to find eight other Usain Bolts and let them all race against each another, one of them will find it within himself to subconsciously instruct the mind to tell the body that it needs to step it up into an even higher level, in order to beat the other “Bolt Athletes”. Your iconic athletes almost always find that little bit extra that lifts them above their peers – this is why the higher spot on the podium belongs to them.

Perhaps, for most of these athletes that trigger is an insatiable desire to be the best, to win, and they want it more than anyone else that line up for the race, for whatever reason.

I believe it is often an insatiable fear of failure. There could be many triggers.

Questions are: Can an ordinary athlete be trained to trigger their mind to tell the body to enter unknown territory? Or, can an ordinary person like you and I be trained on how to prompt or instruct our mind to tell the self: “You can continue further on this difficult path”? Can we implement this principle in life, in business, in achieving personal goals?

Have you ever set out to achieve something in your life, career or business and somewhere down the line reached that point where it just didn’t seem worthwhile anymore, yet you found it within yourself to carry on? Firstly, if you haven’t then you have probably never pushed yourself hard enough or you have never set out to do something truly worthwhile. For most of us, we have been there, or you may be there right now. How did or do you trigger your mind to tell yourself that you can go further, push through. What is your trigger? Perhaps the question can be asked differently – what matters most to you, at the deepest possible level? Is the answer fear based, faith based, purpose driven, vision driven, or values driven? If you know this answer most accurately it may help. Perhaps this is what you should see before you to motivate your mind to convince – even force – the self to give more.

We are all different! My suggestion today is simply this: Get to know yourself, so that when you get to that oft dark place where you just can’t anymore; your hypothetical legs cannot carry you any further; or you just can’t go faster; you somehow find it within yourself to trigger your brain to instruct you to keep going…or indeed, to pick up the pace; lift your game to another level; even go further. Then, as a leader, get to know your people individually, so that you can help them pull their trigger when they need to most.

Finally, I also suggest that you consciously exercise those “invincible mental muscles” that will kick into gear after you manage to trigger your mind to instruct you to keep going, even faster. You see, it wouldn’t help Bolt to push harder when his muscles and physical capacity hasn’t been strengthened; when he isn’t fit and ready in the first place. I therefore suggest that you create moments where you exercise those invincible mental muscles so that when you need them they are there. Ex. If you are a runner, at least twice a week push yourself beyond your limits, even for a short while. When you are busy with a project and feel like packing up, push just that little further, do just a little bit more. When you are about to submit a completed task, thinking that it is done, try and do just a little bit more to make it look more professional. When you are about to send that important email, read through it, that one more time. Whenever we push ourselves just that little bit further; try just a little harder; do just a little bit more than is expected; then we exercise those invincible mental muscles that will take us towards our own GOLD, even in some small way, write history.

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Adriaan Groenewald is a leadership expert and commentator. Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP or @LeadershipPform.





Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

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