Something incredible happened one evening in the summer of 1968. It was the Olympics in Mexico City and the event was the marathon. But what makes this story interesting, is this – the Olympics were over. The closing ceremony had already taken place. All the medals had been handed out. The music had finished playing. People were leaving.
As the attendees started to make their way out of the stadium, the Olympic announcer made a strange announcement over the loudspeaker: “Please remain in your seats”.
Confused, the crowd looked around to see what was happening. Was there a last-minute celebrity appearance? Maybe another event that wasn’t on the original schedule? What was going on?
In the distance, the attendees could see the blue lights from police motorcycles. The lights moved slowly down the road — as if they were lighting the way. And they were. The announcer explained to the crowd that a final marathon runner was entering the stadium.
John slowly limped his way into the stadium. He was covered with blood. His right leg bandaged. Every step was extremely painful. The crowd sat in stunned silence. How was it possible that this man could keep running? To find out how it was possible, would take an understanding of what had happened earlier in the race.
Not being used to running in high altitudes, John suffered cramps early in the race. But he continued to run with the leaders. And then 11 miles into the race, disaster struck. As he was jockeying with the other runners for position, he was tripped and landed violently. His head smashed into the pavement, gushing blood. His knee was dislocated from the socket, tendons torn. His shoulder was fractured. As a final disgrace, he had been trampled by the runners behind him who were unable to stop.
The hushed silence of the crowd turned into a thunderous boom as they watched John fight his way slowly towards the finish line. Ever step taking super-human courage.
The applause was deafening as John took his final step across the finish line. Medics raced to pick him up from where he lay collapsed on the track. He was taken by that same police escort to the Emergency Room at the hospital.
In all, 75 runners started the race that day. Eighteen of those runners dropped out of the race altogether. Only 3 runners got awards. But one man did something everyone thought was impossible.
That man was John Stephen Akhwari.
The next day sports journalists from all over the world rushed to John’s side, all asking the same question: “Why, after sustaining the kinds of injuries you did, would you ever get up and keep running to the finish line, when it was impossible for you to place in the race?”
To John it was simple: “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”
The impossible became the possible.
Imagine an insanely ambitious goal for yourself. Say you want to write a best-selling book, become a billionaire or fly to the moon.
If you absolutely had to do that – if your life and the lives of everybody you cared about depended upon it – how would you do it? How could you do it?
I know how – You’d simply drop everything else. You’d become one giant force of nature, pushing in one direction, and you’d move very, very deliberately to the place you needed to get to.
Maniacal focus on a single goal is perhaps the ultimate success principle. It’s a pattern found in everyone from Edison to Einstein. When you’re able to focus on a single goal, constantly, your achievements reach well beyond their theoretical limit.
Here’s why – Most people don’t fail because they lack of potential. They fail because their potential is spread in too many directions.
The few people who have achieved the most staggering, world changing things with their lives didn’t do so by dividing their attention. No, they aimed high, got their priorities straight, and said no to all the other things that came their way.
Here’s how you can do the same:
1. Become obsessive. Those who are great at something become extremely dedicated to it. Arnold Schwarzenegger was so focused and determined to be a great bodybuilder that he used to break into a local gym when it was closed so he could train. When he served in the Austrian army, he was put into military prison for a week because he sneaked out to participate in the Junior Mr. Europe bodybuilding contest in Germany. Arnold never stopped thinking about how to improve his performance as a bodybuilder. With this determination, he would go on to win the top bodybuilder accolade, Mr. Olympia, seven times. If you want to reach greatness, you have to think about it all the time. Think of different ways to improve yourself or different ways to reach your goals. Start obsessing about it. Don’t focus on anything else. As Michael Jordan once said, “In order to excel, you must be completely dedicated to your chosen sport.”
2. Three’s the limit. Here’s a pro tip – Keep three lists, one for each different part of your life – say ‘relationships’, ‘health’ and ‘wealth’. Now create a list of three (and only three) objectives under each category that you must accomplish. Resist the temptation to have more than three objectives under each, because each addition reduces the odds of that area succeeding. Know this – If you haven’t said no to something that’s hard to say no to, your not committed 100% to your goal. As thinkers and researchers dating back at least to Thoreau have made clear, you can’t be your best self if your life is cluttered with the nonessential. Give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all. To stop saying yes to everyone, allows you to make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.
3. Put your reputation on the line. If you want to do the impossible, start making public promises. The best people to make commitments to are those that want to see you succeed. Nothing will keep you as focused as the risk of public humiliation if you don’t do what you say you’re going to do! Announce your accountability. In front of your family, announce out loud what you’re going to accomplish and what steps you will take to get there. This not only puts your reputation on the line, but it shares the accountability and motivates your entire family. To add some extra incentive, commit to a close friend that you’ll pay him or her $5,000 if you don’t achieve your big goal within a set time period. There’s nothing like the pain of losing your hard-earned dollars to keep you focused!
Reaching greatness isn’t easy. It takes a lot of dedication to get there. No matter what skill or ability you want to be become great in, you need perseverance and determination to see it all the way to the end.
When Akhwari started the race, he didn’t allow himself to become distracted with the latest celebrity scandal, the illusion of “balance” in his life or a million other things he would like to do. No, he focused on one thing – finishing the race.
If you want the power to achieve your dreams, you have to say no to all the alternatives. It’s not easy, but if that’s for you, at least you know the price.
H.L Hunt said success can be achieved with three simple steps:
1. Decide what you most want in life.
2. Decide what you are going to give up to achieve it.
3. And then go to work.
Take these three steps today and make what was previously impossible for you, the possible.
Be free. Nothing else is worth it.
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