Real Leaders

15 Habits of a Champion: Nobody Becomes a Champion by Accident

Dana Cavalea is the former director of strength & conditioning and performance for the New York Yankees. Here, he shares 15 lessons about what it takes to become a champion from stories and insights he has gleaned from some of the world’s top performers in sports, life, and business.

01.  You’ve Got to Hate Losing More Than You Love Winning

Research has shown that most people that make it have had to overcome some levels of hardship. This causes them to have a must-win attitude rather than a would-like-to-win attitude. Those who hate to lose play for much more than a trophy, but they approach all that they do with an attitude of fighting for survival. They are often intrinsically motivated at their core and rely very little on external motivation and validation. Whenever a team is being built, if you want to go places, find the person that hates to lose and put them at the top of the leadership hierarchy.

02.  Never Get Too High And Never Get Too Low

When big moments hit, do those moments force your heart rate to accelerate, hands to sweat, and your muscles to clench? If it does, you are like most. But, the top performers in the world don’t see the magnitude of these moments. Often referred to as having ice in their veins, the top performers realize something straightforward: What they focus on becomes more significant. So, if you treat every moment as the same, you are always playing from a mental state of even-keeled. Keep your moments in check, and as a result, you will find you have a lot more energy available to you. Getting high and getting low is exhausting, and it forces you to live moment to moment — having your outcomes determine your happiness —which is a dangerous scenario for any visionary, high performer.

03.  Consistency Over Time Yields Results

Can you do something every single day? The same routine. The same schedule. The same meal plan. This is what the best of the best can do. They spend the early parts of their careers, finding what works, then they immediately build a routine that incorporates those things. Then, they execute on those habits daily. Some of the world’s top performers are very simple (vanilla) and often boring people. Why? They know that results are the result of a consistent routine done daily. With consistent, daily routine, results happen. They are not chasing gold rainbows, but instead focusing on the process that will lead them to the pot of gold, one coin at a time.

04.  If They Don’t Respect Your Time, They Don’t Respect You

This was a lesson taught by Derek Jeter, former professional baseball player of the New York Yankees. One day, before his workout, he asked why I was at the gym so early. I told him I was waiting for a player that never showed. That’s when he told me how he views time. If somebody doesn’t respect your time, they don’t respect you. If you are late, call. If you can’t make it, call. If you blow off a meeting without calling or texting, realize you just committed the ultimate professional foul; you told somebody with your actions that you don’t respect them. Show up. Be on time. Be a person of your word.

05.  Off Days Are Off Days

When was the last time you took a day off? No laptop, no phone, no thoughts about work? If you are like most, it’s been a while. Because of this, you may be facing burnout, exhaustion, or a lack of creative ideas. Also, when the body and mind are tired, productivity suffers. So, if you’re not getting things done like you used to, it may be time to take a trip. The mind needs to unplug just like an electronic device that’s been switched on for years. The end result is burnt out electronics. We don’t want the same thing to happen to you! The best of the best know they need to renew their mind and body. They take guilt-free, scheduled days and weeks off. So should you.

06.  Three Things

Quiet the noise. Slow everything down. One pitch at a time. These are words of wisdom from the great Mariano Rivera when discussing how he gets things done in the big moments. While others are focused on everything going on around them, The Sandman takes a deep dive inside himself. He controls the only things he can control: his mindset and his cut fastball. The rest, he says, is going to happen regardless. So, if he commands what he can control, his chances for consistent performances and success go way up. That mindset also provides a level of focus, intensity, and most importantly, the conviction that no self-help book or course can ever give you.

07.  Fit to Win

Business and leadership is very competitive and taxing on the mind and body. What are you doing to prime yourself to play every day? Daily workouts, daily walks, hot baths, steam room sessions, and sequenced breathing patterns are just some of the things pro athletes and reformed executives do to compete at the highest levels. This is done to give you the competitive advantage that having more energy delivers. Training both your psychology and physiology are essential if you want to compete with consistency and for the duration. Take a look around your workplace or even a local airport. What do you see? Often, you’ll find tired executives that have reached their physical breaking point as a result of their constant pushing. Bring yourself to your highest levels of health, and you’ll see significant spikes in your business results.

08.  Find the Bully And Knock Him Out

That bully is fear. You gotta face it. You will be afraid to make calls, open emails, or have difficult conversations with yourself and others. But you have to do it. You must have the courage to face the bully head-on and let him/her know that you are not going to take their crap anymore. The doubt, the fear, the insecurity— you can overcome it all by acknowledging that it’s real, but doesn’t have power. Once you tie your emotions to those feelings, then it gains power. When you vacate your emotions, you create freedom, and only thought remains. A thought without emotion is just a thought. When you face adversity, realize you have the power to overcome anything in your way by raising your energy, awareness, and placing focus on what you are building, not what’s holding you back.

09.  You’re Never Overdressed in a Suit

People judge. How you look, how you act — it all matters. As a member of the New York Yankees, every player had to wear a suit when we traveled. Why? As the Yankees general manager, Brian Cashman says, “Perception is reality.” It’s so true. When you show up in a suit or even slightly dressed up for the occasion, it shows you mean business, but, most importantly, that you’re a professional. In a time where business casual is the norm, taking your fashion game to the next level may be the reason why your entire game elevates.

10.  Failing to Plan Equals Planning to Fail

Plans work. But, you need to give them time to work. You must also give them your full attention and believe they will work. At times, you must dump your plan or tweak it. One thing is for sure though, if you are an aimless wanderer, you will go someplace, it just may not be where you want to go. Forget the long-term business plan. Create a daily, weekly, and monthly strategy. Pick a goal for the quarter and go after it.

Do that for each quarter, and when you look back over a year, you’ll find yourself having accomplished things in line with your plan and short-term vision. That’s success. That’s being focused on what’s in front of you while keeping your mind, heart, and future open for what comes next: the magic of circumstance and putting yourself in a position to succeed.

11.  You Gotta Have Moxie

Life is tough. Business is tough. You could easily get knocked around, and you will. That’s why you have to have guts. You have to have a can-do spirit that can get you through the waves of adversity that will try to shipwreck you. Take time each day to ground yourself with serious thought and even some laughter. With this clarity, you will gain conviction, and from that conviction, you will gain confidence. That’s what it takes to win in life — confidence. When you combine that confidence with a clear direction and a plan, you are in the best possible position to win. Confidence is in the heart of every champion. And, it’s built over time.

12.  Torre Rules: People First

When you lead people, realize you are leading people and not cattle. Joe Torre, the great major league baseball manager, was a master at this. He made every interaction personal, rarely talking about the game, but always talking about you, the person. By realizing that people make up your team at a deeper level, you’ll be able to lead them in a way very few do — from a position of care, authenticity, and love. When you focus on the people first, the outcomes  take care of themselves because you now have a relationship and a team culture that is based on openness and honesty.

13.  Pace Yourself. If You Are Going to Eat, You Must Digest

Hustle. Get after it 100 percent. These are the sayings of today as it relates to how you should go after success and live your life. But, realize this: At times, we are not ready for the success we want. We are not ready for the promotion, the corner office, the leadership responsibilities. In time we will be. But, there is a chance that we are falsely evaluating ourselves and our abilities. We may have more work to do on ourselves first. Don’t be in a rush. The true leader is one who trusts their pace without letting the external pressures speed them up. One step at a time. One day at a time. Over time, if you hit enough singles, runs begin to score. Build your dream over a lifetime, rather than working to do it all within a quarter.

14.  Don’t Tell Me, Show Me

There is a lot of talk today on social media. Are you talking, or are you doing? Action always wins. Talk is easy, work is hard. The everyday, monotonous execution of work is what separates the doers from the talkers.  Can you show up and work with passion when the assignment may not be that exciting? Can you take that trip across the country to make that sale even if you don’t want to take the flight or the contract is not that big? Can you show up because it’s what’s needed, despite not being glamorous? Top performers always show up. They may not feel that great every day, but they still show up. They take the actions needed to get them closer to their goals. They sacrifice to be a great team player. They show up even when there’s no easy alternative. Pound the pavement. Let others do the talking for you.

15.  Sometimes You Have to go Back to go Forward

As with anything in life, you will have setbacks. Setbacks are set-ups for your next significant move. Embrace them, don’t run from them. Don’t retreat into a dark hole. Realize that sometimes being pulled back is like archery. You get pulled back slowly, only to be accelerated forward speeds never before experienced. A setback could be what’s needed to gain knowledge, experience, confidence, and the tools you need to end up where you’re meant to be. Embrace it. Faith up. Fear down. There’s a plan at work. Trust the circumstances of your life.

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