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'Average' is a fool’s metric

more percent efficient

There’s always a split second before the water hits my skin where I wince and the thought flashes across my mind, “Why the f*** am I doing this?” Then, the freezing water washes over me and, with a shiver, I begin the post-workout, cold-shower ritual. Shampoo. Rinse. Soap. Escape. Drying off and glancing at my phone I see that it’s only 7:30 a.m. Not bad.

Self-made millionaires, entrepreneurs and goal-oriented individuals the world over all know the power of controlling their daily rituals. One CNBC piece examining nine millionaire businesspeople found that all woke up before 6 a.m. and each had cultivated powerful habits for making each day begin with the right tone. Meditation, exercise and goal-focus were common themes.

Still, I know that when I look at the kinds of things these people are doing, I find my internal monologue running something like this: “Yeah, that might work for them, but I have x, y and z reason for not being in the position to do that. I had a column to write and a midterm still to study for. That’s not even including any time spent socializing—cause I’ve got to have some social life.” I know I can’t be the only person thinking this, because otherwise everyone who heard these strategies for success would be waking up earlier and the gym would be a lot more crowded at 6:15 a.m. (when I usually arrive).

I think that one of the biggest reasons we fail at our goals is because we compare ourselves to the average instead of to the gold standard. The very institution of university encourages this by oftentimes grading on a curve (not to complain, I’ve had many a grade saved by the practice), a system whereby surpassing the average is rewarded. While striving to achieve better results than the mean is by no means a negative paradigm, when designing our lifestyles to optimize success and accomplishment the people we should be looking at are those who perform way beyond average. We need to dissect what they do different from the rest of the population in order to replicate their results. Top performers are where they are because they don’t do the same thing as everyone else, they do something (or a lot of things) differently.

The negative and self-defeating monologue I often hear in my mind when I consider the rituals of greatness (common refrains being: “You have special circumstances,” “But it’s just too hard,” and “Okay, I’ll start…but on Monday”) doesn’t just play for me. I know that others hear it as well. And this is my opportunity to stand up to that pessimistic voice and reason it down into submission.

There are measurable benefits to the rituals that the people at the top have chosen, otherwise they wouldn’t all be saying the same thing. For example, taking cold showers is a habit that is shared not only by professional athletes like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant but also by modern entrepreneurs such as Tai Lopez and ancient philosophers like Seneca. There are measurable positive effects of this habit: cold showers are known to boost mood and focus as well as stimulating weight loss, refreshing your skin and hair, and improving circulation and immune system responses. Even more, though, there are non-measurable profits. Tai Lopez has described the improvements in courage and willpower that are associated with forcing yourself to shock your body with the cold water and the Stoic Seneca attributed much of his mental fortitude to his daily plunge into the cold river. Waking up earlier and devoting time to exercise (two of the more common habits among well-known success stories) don’t just give you more time or a better body, but develop discipline and mental toughness.

Let’s not forget, there is another benefit of doing things that you never would’ve imagined you could. (And I’m sure that there are many people who never thought they’d be capable of waking up earlier, taking cold showers or developing a habit of daily meditation.) It makes you feel like a badass. Coming out from under the freezing water, I imagine that I’m some sort of Viking or Spartan warrior washing off the sweat and grime of a victorious battle. Rolling out of bed at 5 a.m., I feel like I own the world while everyone else is still in hibernation. Feeling awesome and confident in this way is important, more important than many of us realize. It boosts happiness, powers motivation and gives you something to get out of bed to in the morning. Instead of looking forward to (or dreading) your first class, you get to anticipate the post-ritual feeling of badassery. And this self-esteem boost isn’t driven by outside sources (unlike things like grades, compliments or other external factors) but rather by the internal satisfaction of doing something you think is awesome.

You don’t have to reverse-engineer the rituals of the world’s millionaires to find daily habits that make you feel like a superhero, but if you compare yourself to average and keep doing what average people do, you’re never going to achieve the full, untapped potential inside of you.

Jack Dolinar is a Trinity sophomore. His column, “more percent efficient,” runs on alternate Fridays.