06/10/2013 10:59 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Key to Exceptional Achievement: What is Your "Average Speed" in Life?

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

In 2008, David Blaine set a Guinness World Record by holding his breath underwater for 17 minutes. During the TEDTalk about his record-setting performance, Blaine describes one particular period of his training leading up to the world record as follows...

"Every morning, and this is for months, I would wake up and the first thing that I would do is I would hold my breath ... I'd breathe really hard for a minute and then I would hold immediately for five and half minutes. Then, I would breathe again for a minute ... then immediately after that I would hold again for five and half minutes. I would repeat this process eight times in a row. Out of 52 minutes, [I was] only breathing for eight minutes."

Did you catch the most remarkable line in that quote?

Let's talk about which phrase is more significant than all the rest and how you can apply it to your own life.

Average Speed vs. Maximum Speed

Here's the most remarkable line from Blaine's quote: "Every morning, and this is for months..."

More than anything else, what separates David Blaine from most people is his dedication and consistency to the process of achieving his goals -- not the achievement itself, not the actual event, but the process of preparing for it. Take a moment to consider how different that is from how most of us approach our goals.

When you set your sights on something -- whether it be in your work, your health, or your life -- it can be dangerously easy to get caught up thinking about the event or the result. We obsess over achieving our own "17-minute world record" (whether that be losing 20 pounds or making more money or winning the championship game) rather than dedicating ourselves to breathing every morning (i.e. the daily practice that eventually leads to success).

In other words, it's all too common to spend your time focusing on your maximum speed (the ultimate result you want; the peak performance you want to achieve) and very little time focusing on your average speed (your daily routines and rituals; the habits that will determine the outcome). It's so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the importance of making better decisions on a daily basis.

For example, anyone can feel a burst of inspiration, head to the gym, and push themselves for a single workout. That's maximum speed.

But what if you were to average all of your days in the last month? How many of those days included a workout? How about the last three months? Or the last year? What has your average speed been?

Look at it this way and you might realize, for example, that you were sick for a week and there were a couple times when you skipped the gym after a long day of work and you were on the road for two weeks as well. Suddenly, you realize that your maximum speed might be high every now and then, but your average speed is much lower than you think.

From what I can tell, this principle holds true for your work habits, your eating habits, your relationship habits, and virtually every other area of your life.

How to Raise Your Average Speed

We all have an average speed when it comes to our habits. And if we're being honest with ourselves, that average speed might be much slower than we'd like.

The truth is, anyone can get motivated and push themselves for one day, but very few people maintain a consistent effort every week without fail.

The important thing isn't to judge yourself or feel guilty about having a lower average speed than you would like. The important thing is to be aware of what's actually going on, realize that it's within your control, and then embrace the fact that a small, but consistent change in your daily habits can lead to a remarkable improvement in the future.

The final line from Blaine's TEDTalk summarizes this idea well. He explains his success by saying, "It's pretty simple. It's practice, it's training, and experimenting, while pushing through the pain to be the best that I can be."

In your health, your work, and your life, it's not the result or the world record attempt that takes you to your peak -- it's the practice, the training, and the experimenting. It's the consistent effort to show up and get started on the things that are important to you, day after day.

What's your average speed?

For practical ideas on how to become more consistent, develop better habits, and actually stick to your goals, download James Clear's free 38-page guide which explains the science of Transforming Your Habits: click here to get it now.

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