I have been a competitive endurance athlete and a business owner for over 15 years.
During that time, I qualified for the Ironman World Championships ten times. In addition, I created programs, events, and a community for 10,000+ athletes to achieve their fitness goals.
I have invested so many hours into mastering the art of helping everyday people achieve the extraordinary on the race course that it has become second nature.
But do you want to know a secret?
I actually use principles designed for our athletes as the operating system to run Endurance Nation.
Introducing the Athlete Operating System.
The Athlete OS #1: Develop a Bias to Action
Inside Endurance Nation: "Execution, Not Fitness"
The first principle helps athletes focus on what matters on race day. All the work before race day doesn't matter if you don't use it correctly. Race day doesn't care about your best workout. Or your new equipment. Or the weather.
You have to do your best with what you have right now to succeed.
We can't use your past experience to predict future outcomes. So instead, all of that experience and knowledge become the tools you use on race day.
NFL coaches might write the first ten plays for the Super Bowl, but we don't have that luxury as leaders working in fast-paced environments.
Work Translation: Develop a Bias to Action
This principle will help you avoid the daydreaming trap that befalls many professionals. Instead, we visualize the outcome, and imagine how we will navigate pitfalls and opportunities to achieve the goal. In this imaginary scenario, the protagonist always knows what to do, when, and for the best result. Good for your ego, but not for progress.
- Resumes don't create results.
- Experiences aren't outcomes.
- Ego is the enemy.
👉 Here's how you can develop a Bias to Action:
- Adopt a Third-Person Perspective: The first-person perspective always positions the protagonist as the hero of the story. The tendency in that scenario is to give the hero superpowers that help determine the outcome. This is where your ego influences the process, selection, and execution. Instead, avoid this trap by being removed and slightly elevated from your working self. Observe what's happening, and make adjustments and decisions based on how you can keep the protagonist on track and moving forward.
- React Quickly: It's not knowing exactly what you're supposed to do next that matters, but rather that this is a decision point right here. Success on race day and at work means preparing for these rapid-fire decisions. Recognizing opportunities and responding accordingly enables you to keep moving forward.
- Set Finish Lines: On race day, there is an endpoint, a goal, a target. All of the work is focused on getting there. When athletes reach the finish line, they get a medal, a hug, and can move into processing mode where learning and reflection happen. Bring that mindset to your work environment by establishing milestones. They can be daily or even weekly. I don't recommend going any longer than five days for some finish line. Without finish lines, professionally, you won't ever carve out the space to review and adjust your methodology.
The Athlete OS #2: Embrace the Real Work
Inside Endurance Nation: "Nothing Matters Until the Line."
This is the race within the race. To the observer, the race starts when the gun goes off. But to the more experienced competitor, there is a time in a place that is the decisive moment of the event. Sometimes this is dictated by the terrain or the type of event.
The more nuanced the competition, the more high-performing athletes can exert control on the environment to place this decisive moment and turn it into a strategic advantage.
Watch any road race or cycling race to see how it organically unfolds. Everyone starts together, but eventually there's a separation. This is where we can see who is competing and who is completing.
But the race still hasn't started. As the finish line nears, there's a separation, a decisive moment. As the pressure builds, someone has to take decisive action. It's not always who reacts first that wins, but who reacts at the perfect time.
Time moves differently when you're racing. It's simultaneously slow motion and high speed. This heightened state of awareness can distract athletes from the real task at hand. Suddenly the competition is in clear focus, and we begin to evaluate our performance based on externalities.
High-performing athletes know how to discern signal from noise. These elite performers have confidence in their skills and in the process they have trained to execute. Their primary job is to execute that process as best as possible, not to adjust the process regularly.
Work Translation: Don't Keep Score, Keep Going
It's easy to overcomplicate things into multiple phases, steps, and charts, but at the end of the day, there are two parts to every project.
- The work done in preparation of the decisive moment, and...
- Everything after that decisive moment to completion.
Here are some sports examples:
- Every NBA game has four quarters. There are 48 minutes in a game, but the last four minutes always take forever.
- Playoff hockey is 10x faster and more exciting than the regular season.
- A marathon is 20 miles of hope and 6 miles of reality.
👉 Learn to Recognize where The Real Work happens.
- Review past your work performance, or your Team's, in a timeline format. Define where the most decisive moments are - was it a financial point? A check-in with the client? An external force? Save this information to review at the start of your next project.
- Determine the key work that sets the stage for the final outcome and refine your processes around that work. Of all the work done on that project, what was the most important? Work backward, reducing all the elements until you are left with the critical few. Now you know what needs attention, and what you can ignore.
Quick Reminder: Don't focus on what others are doing now. As in the competition or social media, etc. That's a mistake. Being internally focused in work mode will help you learn and iterate faster. Schedule times to come up for air and learn.
The Athlete OS #3: Focus Sets You Apart
Inside Endurance Nation: "Stay Inside Your Box"
Race day is full of distractions, and success is determined by how focused you can be. There will be countless times when you feel like the race is on the line. You may be moving backward on a hill or making gains in a particular section.
Your ego comes to life, telling your stories of how this is the decisive moment. It's easy to get into a game of scoring your performance during the performance.
Elite performers are focused on the process, not the outcome.
This mindset allows athletes to remain indifferent, distraction-free, and process-oriented until they hit the line.
Work Translation: How You Work Improves What You are Working On
Everything INSIDE THE BOX is what you can control.
Everything OUTSIDE THE BOX is outside of our control - we observe and choose to respond with what is inside our box.
- You can't control what the other team is doing, but you can control how you respond.
- You can't control the weather but can choose what to wear.
- You can't control if your technology fails, but you can control how you respond.
👉 Learn to Develop the Ability to Focus
- Know the Work that Matters - Our days are full of extra work, fluff, and distractions. Go back to principle #2 ^above^. Use that as the roadmap to prioritize the right work.
- Create Blocks of Time for that Work to Happen - Start small, maybe an hour or two a day. Turn off notifications. Find a quiet place that has everything you need. Set a mini finish line for the hour. Be ruthless with your time here.
- Refine and Improve those Blocks - Save a few minutes at the end of each cycle to reflect and observe what interrupted your flow. Take notes and systematically reduce/remove those interruptions the next time.
Most people believe the Focus principle is about avoiding distractions. However, eventually it becomes clear that focus is asserting agency over your creative process, leveraging that to create better outputs and outcomes.
Goal posts are always moving. Finish lines are arbitrary. By reframing success to be "time spent in deep focus" vs. "I did X or Y" you can dramatically improve your impact at work.
The Athlete OS #4: Have a Battle Cry
Inside Endurance Nation: "Your One Thing"
Every race gets hard at some point. But, once you've crossed "The Line" we move into an area that's less about physical performance and more about mental capacity. Mental resilience. Mental strength.
This is where mind over matter comes into play. The landscape before you seems littered with obstacles, and the outcome appears to be in doubt. You're sending messages to your legs and arms, but they are not responding.
Your lungs are on fire. Your muscles are burning. And yet, you need to move forward.
The One Thing is what you go to when your mind shows up with countless excuses and reasons for why your body should be allowed to stop. Having a solid response to that negative thought will enable you to quickly and decisively shut it down.
Work Translation: Be Ready to Fight the Resistance
The 21st-century work environment is really no different from this race reality. The closer we get to the outcome, the tighter time gets. The pressure increases, as does the scrutiny. Friction is inevitable between different stakeholders.
At this most critical moment that it's so easy for a team to be distracted or to pivot from striving for the original goal.
"I know the sales target is 25,000 this month, but 20,000 is close enough."
"We wanted to hit 100 new leads, but it's been so much harder than we thought. Let's ask to see if getting halfway there counts."
"Q2 has been brutal because of what the market did and how it affected our company with all the negative publicity. Let's just set new goals for Q3 and not worry about right now."
As humans, we are all allergic to accountability on some level. Our reality is subjective, but our results are determined by how we manage our response to that reality. And how we turn it to our advantage.
A good battle cry can also be an internal mantra that helps you stay on track despite the chaos around you.
👉 How to create a work Battle Cry
- Identify the most challenging moments of your work or team project using principle #2 ^above^.
- Define what actions and context allow you to focus on what matters using principle #3 ^above^.
- Brainstorm the mantra, phrase, or cue that puts you back on track when the resistance shows up. What can you say that dials you right in? "This is where the work happens." "The race is won in the final mile." "Ride or die." "Load the wagon."
- Make your Battle Cry tangible and as physical as possible. Put it on your screen saver. Have a sign above your workspace. Make a t-shirt. End every meeting with it. Refer to it whenever the project gets off track or there is a challenge. Seriously, just do it. See what I did there? 👀
Don't be afraid to use the Battle Cry whenever you need it. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. The more real it gets. LOUDER, for the people in the back!
Final Thoughts: Principles > Lists, ToDos, Daily Noise
Here's a quick recap of the Athlete Operating System I use to make work more effective, fun, and impactful.
#1: Develop a Bias to Action
#2: Embrace The Real Work
#3: Focus Sets You Apart
#4: Have a Battle Cry
These are the same principles I use when coaching leaders to be role models at work and play.
When in doubt, review your approach and make sure you are using and improving your principles. I promise you'll never look back.