Personal Excellence: Doing the “Little Things” - Gerry Tate, Ph.D.

Yogi Berra, the New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher, once said that, “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.” While we can take issue with his mathematical abilities, Yogi was absolutely correct in underscoring the critical role the mind and mental skills play in an athlete’s development and performance.

Individuals, who are able to consistently perform at the top of their skills and abilities, have major competitive advantages. There is no doubt that innate ability and skill level are certainly important determinants of performance. However, as one ascends the athletic pyramid and particularly at the elite level, the differences in competitors’ physical skills and abilities are minimal. As a result, mental preparation and the ability to effectively apply mental skills often become the determining factors in whether or not an athlete is able to achieve and sustain competitive excellence. And yet, even knowing the value of being mentally prepared, many athletes still do not fully understand how, when, and where to apply mental skills in their training and in the preparation for competition.

“Success is won by those who believe in winning and then prepare for
that moment. Many want to win, but how many prepare? That is the big difference.” 
-Herb Brooks (Coach, 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team)

Becoming a champion, regardless of the particular field or endeavor, requires a commitment to personal excellence. It means having a deep, inner desire to get better today than you were yesterday, and to be better tomorrow that you are today. It also means that you are willing to consistently take the small, but necessary steps, day-in and day-out, that will ultimately result in your development and success.

Admiral William H. McRaven spent 37 years serving his country in the United States Navy. As the Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, he oversaw SEAL Team Six, the unit that was assigned the mission of tracking down Osama bin Laden. Upon retiring from the Navy in 2014, Admiral McRaven became the Chancellor of the University of Texas System. On May 14th, 2014, Admiral McRaven delivered the commencement address at the University of Texas at Austin. In his address, the focus of which was finding the courage to change the world, Admiral McRaven told the graduates that, “If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

By committing to doing the “little things” consistently and correctly, there is a cumulative effect that will contribute to your long-term development and success. When you consistently take these small actions, you will stimulate neural activity in the brain that facilitates the development of new neural connections. In neurology, there is a saying which states, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” This, in turn, will lead to the development of positive habits. When these habits are high quality actions that are connected to your goals, taking these small steps every day will lead you to achieve your goals and personal excellence.

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