How You Can Become ‘Top 5’ (Or Better) at Everything

Posted on October 27, 2013


As my client and I were finishing up her session I asked her about the upcoming triathlon workouts she’d be starting with her team, for next springs’ youth triathlon season. She ages up this year, meaning she’s now the youngest in the next age bracket up. And in case you were unaware, the youth triathlon world is growing quickly & is way more competitive than you’d think.

“Whats a good goal for you?,” I asked.  She quickly said, “top 20 at Nationals”…long pause… “I made top 12 last year, so…”
“Wait a minute…how is ‘top 20’ your goal if you already made top 12 last year?” After pressing her a bit more on this matter, she said, “top 5 would be awesome.” Ok, now we’re talkin’.

So what was that ‘top 20’ low-ball business? We’ve all done it….sandbagging. Heck, I’ve been in business-training seminars where it’s encouraged: ‘better to lower expectations from the start & exceed them, than to set lofty expectations and not reach them.’ Sure, that’s a reasonable line to implement in your interpersonal dealings, but when it comes to yourself,

Is sandbagging yourself simply a way
to get buried in the sand?

Sandbagging: hiding the strength, skill, or difficulty early on in a game or endeavor; purporting to be at one level when current skill level is actually much higher…or, to paraphrase the Urban Dictionary, “if they’re sandbagging, you’re about to get hustled & you probably don’t know it.”

There’s safety in sandbagging a personal goal…sort of. Safety from the pain of potentially missing your goal. Safety from the supposed (probably imagined) embarrassment from others knowing if you miss your goal. Safety from whatever you might uncover if you start really stretching to reach that goal.

Who IS the person who reaches that goal? Can you BE that person? And the thought of dealing with the parts of you that will be uncomfortable to change, but that MUST be changed if you want to reach that goal?….eeesh. You can easily see why sandbagging a personal goal looks like a fine option.

Here’s how that conversation with my client ended – Me: “So how do you go about actually achieving a top 5 finish at nationals? I think, if you start looking at every action you’re taking in your life, and you’re able to start saying, ‘yep, I’m top 5 in the country in my swim, in my transition, in my bike, in my mindset, in my diet, in my sleep, in my recovery’…then you can start saying ‘I AM top 5’ and then it just comes down to putting together a good race day. But if you can’t say that ….that you’re honestly doing what a top 5 athlete is doing in every area of your training, and that includes the stuff outside of SBR(swim/bike/run), then you *might* take top 5 on race day, but you’re definitely going to need a lot of luck to do so.’

The takeaway for the rest of us who aren’t teenagers trying to crack the top 5 in the country in triathlon?…Whatever you’re trying to achieve in your life…whatever your “top 5” is…leave no stone unturned, move systematically through the list of ‘stuff’ that it takes to get there,

and work on each component until you can say

“yep, that’s ‘top 5’ shit right there.”

Doing it this way makes it easy to see what you need to do, what you don’t need to be focusing on, and where you’re hitting/missing. The trick is to be willing to go there with the stuff you’re missing on. Top 50 behavior allows that stuff to slip through. Top 5 behavior doesn’t. And once you’ve got your different buckets (to borrow another item I often heard tossed around at business-training meetings) starting to fill with ‘top 5’ behaviors or actions, you’re on your way to achieving that big, uncomfortable goal of yours. No sandbagging allowed.