Tag Archives | TED Talk

What a Record Setting Cyclist Can Teach Us About Achievement

Ever since I started doing Crossfit several years ago, I’ve been drawn to stories of people who lean into physical challenges, from super- intense workouts (Crossfit calls them “Hero WOD’s”) to the achievements of differently abled athletes and others with physical limitations who push themselves beyond what they thought was possible.

Of all the amazing stories out there, 24-year old Amanda Coker‘s recent cycling milestone blew me away.

Amanda averaged 237 miles per day on her bike (12 hours of constant riding) for 365 days–from May 14, 2016 to May 15, 2017–on a seven-mile loop in Flatwoods Wilderness Park in Thonotosassa, Florida to set a new world record for most miles biked in one year…86,573 miles.

To put that into perspective, a good amateur cyclist rides 300 – 600 miles a month. The best ride 800 -1000 miles a month. Then there’s Amanda: She averaged 237.1 miles a day–that’s 7,211 miles a month–for 12 consecutive months. That defies the limits of performance.

The previous women’s record was 29,603 and the men’s was 76,076 miles. Not only did she nearly triple the previous women’s world record of 29,603 but she also blew away the men’s record by well over 10,000 miles!

During this grueling 52-week journey, here are just a few examples of what Amanda overcame:
– Temperatures ranging from 27 to 114 degrees.
– Hurricanes Matthew and Hermine and Tropical Storm Colin plus floods and lightning.
– Just 5 – 7 hours of sleep per night.
– 6,000 – 6,500 calories burned per day.

In addition, Amanda suffered road rash from run-ins with rogue riders, saddles sores she would “rather not discuss in detail,” and consistent skepticism from the endurance athlete community who doubted such a feat was even possible.

The Bigger Question: Why?

After discovering cycling as a teenager, Amanda began racing, placing 6th in the junior national championships in 2010. A year later, while riding with her father near their home in North Carolina, she was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury and numerous other injuries. Unable to attend school or work, Amanda began to withdraw from life, suffering from anxiety and depression as she faced an uncertain future. Then, in 2015, sensing the need to break what had become a pattern of lethargy and self-pity, she decided to get back on the bike.

At the urging of friends and a record-breaking cyclist named Kurt Searvogel, (the men’s world record holder) she set her mind–and her body–to the seemingly impossible task of 365 straight days of cycling.

The sheer tenacity she displayed in logging hundreds of miles day after day not only strengthened Amanda’s sense of purpose and resolve, it inspired others to push beyond their own self-imposed limitations as well. In fact, so many riders who showed up at Flatwoods Park to ride with Amanda have set their own personal records that they created a large poster with the names of the “100 and 200 mile club” to document their achievements.

Granted, most of us will never accomplish anything physically close to Amanda’s remarkable achievement, but there’s a lot that we can learn from her grueling and gritty journey. Here are three that stand out to me:

1) There is virtually nothing you face that is insurmountable. For years, no one thought it was possible for a human being to run a mile in under 4 minutes. (Some medical experts said it was impossible–that the cardiovascular system could not process oxygen fast enough through the bloodstream). Then, in 1954, Roger Bannister changed the world’s thinking–and within a few years numerous other athletes duplicated the feat. Like the 4 minute mile, Amanda’s feat should convince us all that we are capable of so much more than the comforts of modern life cause us to settle for. If a 24 year old woman who nearly died a few years before can summon the mental and physical toughness to endure 12 hours a day in 90 degree heat on her bike, what excuse could we possibly make not to commit a fraction of the time and effort to strengthen our minds and bodies?

2) The power of why. I can only imagine how often Amanda was tempted to give up, but the searing memory of her life-altering accident (her father was also seriously injured) created a sense of purpose so strong that nothing–not even two of the strongest Florida hurricanes in a decade–could stop her. Instead of giving into bitterness, Amanda instead channeled her emotions into a burning desire to rise above her setback, bringing many others along with her. In her popular TED Talk, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, neuroscientist Angela Duckworth explains that the more people can see meaning in their work that extends beyond their own personal interests, the higher their level of passion, persistence, and achievement.

3) Routine rules. As author and peak performance expert James Clear notes, the most successful people in any field don’t point to their passion or motivation in reaching their goals. Instead, most learn how to, as Clear puts it, “fall in love with boredom.” Consider the monotony Amanda must have experienced as she endlessly circled the 7-mile Flatwoods loop–34 laps a day– for 365 consecutive days, 12 hours a day. It’s almost incomprehensible to me. But it makes a compelling point: Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated, but only a tiny fraction of people have the tenacity to embrace the discipline of continuous and deliberate practice.

I realize that, to some, devoting a year of your life to riding a bike for 12 hours a day is, at best, misguided and, at worse, pure insanity. But in a society increasingly dominated by personal comfort, self-gratification, and nearly constant distraction, Amanda’s journey is a fitting reminder of what’s possible when we commit ourselves to a single purpose.

It reminds me of a profound piece of advice Eleanor Roosevelt once gave to a graduating class: “Do something every day that scares you.” In other words, resist the constant pull towards passivity and the urge to settle. Instead, lean into your discomfort and develop the habit of spending time at the edge of your comfort zone.

Have you ever attempted a physically demanding challenge such as a marathon, bike race or a fitness competition? What would it mean to the quality of your life to challenge yourself–physically, mentally, socially or spiritually? Feel free to leave a comment–I’d love to hear your feedback.

Comments { 1 }

Four Keys to Becoming a Better Listener

In a recent post, I shared a statement from a friend that has become a personal affirmation:

I will be where I am….wherever I am.

For me, presence starts with what Emotional Intelligence expert Dr. Travis Bradberry calls “the art of listening.” Isn’t it interesting that he refers to listening, something that seems as basic to human functioning as breathing or swallowing, as an art? Dr. Bradberry’s description underscores the fact that listening goes way beyond merely hearing. Indeed as he puts it in his best selling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0:

Listening isn’t just about hearing words; it’s also about listening to the tone, speed, and volume of the voice. What is being said? Anything not being said? What hidden messages exist below the surface?

So… why is it so hard to listen?

As I shared in an earlier post on conversation skills, the average person can speak at a rate of approximately 225 words per minute, but we can listen at up to 500 words per minute. Our minds tend to fill in the other 275 words (a huge struggle for me!) which is precisely why it takes energy and concentration to be attentive during a conversation.

“Just try to be a better listener.”

I can think of so many times, after reading an article or listening to a podcast on the importance of listening, when I’ve resolved to “just try harder,” only to find that I forgot the names of the couple I was introduced to at church on Sunday after zoning out during the sermon as I thought about my upcoming busy week.

The fact is, simply trying harder rarely works; listening is a skill and, like any other skill, it requires discipline, intentionality and resolve to improve. As public radio host and TED Talk speaker Celeste Headlee notes:

It takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone. But if you can’t do that, you’re not in a conversation — you’re just two people shouting out barely-related sentences in the same place.

In my quest to become a better listener (I do feel like I am slowly making progress!), I’ve discovered a few key behaviors that have a disproportionate influence on my success . Here are four:

1) Maintain eye contact.
When I started my first sales job out of college, selling copiers in Grand Rapids, my manager used to remind me, “You’ll never sell anything to anyone if they won’t first sit down at your desk and look you in the eye.” He was right; it was an insight that never failed to prove itself, whether I was selling copiers, cars, or concepts. Indeed, the desire for genuine communication demands eye contact. It signals to the other person that they have your full attention.

I recall shopping for furniture with my wife shortly after we got married. At the first store we shopped, I distinctly remember the salesperson rarely looking at my wife, even though she was the main decision maker. I also recall that we didn’t buy anything there.

Also, watch your posture–make sure it is open and inviting, and demonstrate your attention by smiling and nodding occasionally. This is especially important if you’re in a conversation with someone you know well and are comfortable with, like your spouse or sibling, where you may be tempted to grab your phone or laptop.

2) Give others the space to speak.
As Stephen Covey points out in his iconic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand, but with the intent to reply.” Often, especially in a heated conversation (think politics or sports), there’s often an irresistible temptation to either finish someone’s sentence or respond before they’re done speaking. What’s more, it’s modeled every evening on Fox News, CNN and countless other news and talk shows that thrive on conflict and confrontation. The best way to avoid this obnoxious behavior is to train yourself to wait until someone is completely finished speaking, even if there’s a few seconds of space before you reply.

3) Give the speaker frequent feedback.
One of the best tools I learned in an excellent training session at Northwestern Michigan College is the skill of paraphrasing, or reflecting back on what the customer tells you. I recall sharing the highlights of a study in France that showed that restaurant servers who repeated their customer’s food orders to their satisfaction received up to 25% higher tips than those who simply recorded the order.

Also, demonstrate to the speaker that you understand and are interested by their responses. Examples like “You must have been angry,” “What a difficult ordeal for you,” and “How were you feeling?” show genuine interest and concern.

4) Embrace mindfulness.
As a Christian, I distanced myself from even considering the practice of mindfulness, writing it off as a product of new age, eastern mysticism. Then a Christian friend of mine–a trained therapist–shared with me the positive influence of simple mindfulness behaviors in everything from relieving depression to improving sleep in his patients. As I researched it further, I discovered that mindfulness is simply the act of paying attention and living in the present moment. In fact, according to Psychology Today, mindfulness is “a state of active, open attention on the present.”

In our increasingly distracted culture, most people’s minds wander: When they’re at work, they daydream about being on vacation; when on vacation, they worry about work piling up on their desks. They dwell on invasive memories of the past and obsess about what may or may not happen in the future. Being mindful means concentrating your attention and awareness on the present moment–in this case, on the speaker with whom you’re conversing. Research is continually revealing the tremendous benefits of mindfulness–in relieving stress, improving relationships, promoting better health, even accelerating athletic performance. (Note: There is a branch of mindfulness that centers around meditative techniques intended to empty your mind and connect to an alternate state of consciousness–that’s not what I am advocating).

BONUS: Learn to develop genuine curiosity.

Have you encountered someone who is genuinely curious? I recall hosting a neighborhood association meeting in our home when one of our guests noticed a family portrait hanging above our fireplace. Instead of merely acknowledging the photo, she inquisitively asked my wife and me about each of our children. You could tell through the tone of her voice and her persistent follow up questions that she wasn’t merely asking to be polite; she was genuinely interested in our family. She was genuinely curious–she was present. Curious people notice things others ignore, taking the focus off themselves and placing it squarely on others, adding genuine richness and life to any encounter or gathering.

Which one of these listening behaviors resonates the most with you? Which one challenges you the most? How do you feel about mindfulness? On a scale of 1 -10, how would you rate yourself in genuine curiosity? Why?

Comments { 3 }

Difference-Maker: How a Fifty Year Old Experiment Reveals the Most Important Key to Success

If there was one personal quality, one character trait, that turned out to be the greatest predictor of success and fulfillment in work and in life, regardless of intelligence, upbringing, education, etc. would you want to know what it is?

If you are raising or planning on raising children, what if you could nurture one quality in your kids that would nearly guarantee that they would be successful, fully functioning people? Would you want to know what it is?

An Interesting Experiment

Don't Eat The Marshmallow…Yet!

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, psychologist Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford University, pioneered a fascinating behavioral research project that become known as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. Here’s how it worked: researchers took children 4 – 6 years old, put them in an empty room and offered them a choice between one reward provided immediately (usually a marshmallow) or two rewards if they waited without eating it for approximately 15 minutes. Its considered to be landmark experiment on delayed gratification — and how it can predict future success.

What happened and what did the researchers conclude? Watch this entertaining clip from a recent TED talk delivered by motivational speaker Joachim de Posada — with priceless video of kids trying their hardest not to eat the marshmallow.

This experiment has been repeated hundreds of times since the original work by Professor Mishel — many of the researchers did follow up studies on these children well into adulthood — and the results were strikingly similar.

The challenge: Think of one way to harness these findings to improve your life — and the lives of those around you.

Comments { 1 }

Seven Deadly Sins of Mediocre Customer Service – Part 5

The fifth “sin” of mediocre customer service is something all of us, as consumers, have experienced from time to time.

George Walther, author of Power Talking: 50 Ways to Say What you Mean and Get What you Want, provides a perfect illustration of this all too common customer service breakdown in a story he shares about trying to get window screens installed in his home.

Most of us, I presume, have had an “Ed’s Screen’s” experience that left us frustrated over poor follow-through, nebulous promise times, undisclosed charges, etc. Or perhaps you’ve been guilty of the same “sin,”in serving your customers due to excessive demands, time pressures, supplier problems, etc.

While there is no simple technique or word track that can compensate for personal accountability or process integrity, here are two simple habits that will help you do a better job at managing the expectations of your customers:

Develop the Habit of “Under-Promise and Over-Deliver.” The best at customer service understand that unforeseen time delays, additional costs, and other events beyond their control will inevitably happen, so they build in buffers that reduce the chances of letting customers down. It’s as simple as a delivery company promising that something will be dropped off by noon and then telling the driver to make sure that the object is delivered by ten in the morning, thereby exceeding the expectations of the customer. Furthermore, learning to under-promise and over-deliver not only improves the customer’ perceptions, it also reduces the stress so often associated with serving people.

Eliminate the word “should” from your customer service vocabulary. As George Walther pointed out, he really had no right to criticize Ed’s failure to fulfill his many promises. By using the word “should” instead of “will,” Ed never really promised anything. I know there’s a strong temptation to use this word, as it has become reflexive in our communication, but there’s tremendous power in being decisive. Learn to replace the phrase “I should” with “I will.”

Manage Customer Expectations | iStockPhoto

When you think about it, managing people’s expectations goes well beyond customers; it includes coworkers, children, family members — anyone you engage with on any significant level. Learning to communicate like this will improve any relationship.

Have you ever been the unfortunate recipient of an “Ed’s Screens” experience? Are there any specific tools you use to better manage your customers’ expectations? I’d love to get your feedback.

Comments { 0 }