Control What You Can Control

Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months, and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.

—Alan Armstrong

When I was just coming out of college and preparing for the NFL draft, the sports pundits‐that‐be gave me a label that I wasn't sure how to feel about. The consensus was that I was the most “prepared” player in the draft. Not the strongest, or the fastest, although God did not slight me on my physical gifts. Nor was I the toughest or even the most experienced. Simply the most prepared. But the way they said “the most prepared” sounded like a compliment. So, at first, why did it not feel like it?

Maybe the most straightforward answer is that preparation isn't glamorous. It isn't flashy, nor is it immediately visible. Out there on the field, you measure the quality of the performance on each play, but you can't see the hundreds and thousands of hours that went into it. Of course, the fans see the game, but that's only 3% of our work as players. The rest of it is all in preparation. As legendary college coach Dabo Swinney says, “All the great players love the preparation.”

As an offensive lineman, if the defense is moving in and blitzing and you can stay under control, you generally anticipate what they're doing. So it's not all reactionary. A lot of it is anticipation, and that comes from film study and being able to recognize with your eyes in a concise amount of time what's about to happen. Because you've seen it before. That's part of the reason I started using visualization techniques in the NFL.

However, in college, I wasn't using visualization techniques just yet. I was simply just watching as much film as possible to understand what the defense was doing. With all that research, I could anticipate what they were doing to allow myself to play a more dynamic game. When you know the plays, time has the illusion of slowing down, and it made the game easier for me.

I went to the NFL Scouting Combine prepared—I lived in California for over three months to train specifically for the NFL Combine. I was told by Rick Dennison, who was the offensive line coach for the Broncos, that I was the only player he ever scouted that got over 30 bench press reps at 225 pounds, over 30 inches on the vertical leap, and over a 30 score on the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test. Apparently, that's a unique combination of strength, athleticism, and mental dexterity, and that came with the massive amount of preparation prior to the combine. Similar to the actual game, people didn't see the hard work in California. They simply saw the results when it was time to perform in Indianapolis at the Combine.

That's likely what the coaches and commentators spotted in me when I was drafted—that I was willing to take it to the next level in my off‐field preparation. I watched the most film and studied my opponents the most. I trained my body in college with discipline and focus, gaining massive strength in a truncated time. Once I understood that they could see all that preparation in how I was playing, my mind shifted, and I started to take it as the honorable commendation that it was.

These days I still try to be as prepared as possible. Everything I do is a preparation process, seemingly mundane process goals that make up a more significant overall product goal. For example, I prepare my clothes the night before. I plan my meals and prep my supplements for the week, and I prepare with my morning routine for the day. I prepare my mind with my gratitude journal and my memory verses. I prepare for Grace's future boyfriends by being the best example of a man I can be (and also try to keep an intimidating physique). In everything, I prepare as I did on the football field. I'm not alone—the best of the best prepare their mind and body, and they do it every day.

This entire book is about preparation, controlling the elements you can control every day. Every chapter contains a vital aspect to preparation.

However—you have to want to.

Intentionality and Self‐Discipline: How Badly Do You Want It?

The hardest part about preparing is that it takes intentionality and willingness to change. And let's admit it, change is hard for a lot of people, including myself. You win success on a daily basis—as Jeff Olson says in The Slight Edge, it's what you do every day. Once you can create the proper habits that prepare you every day for success, you can evolve to where it doesn't take the same kind of willpower each day to prepare. It becomes second nature.

Pastor Keith Craft believes self‐discipline is the key to success. “Everything starts with self‐discipline,” Craft said. “Self‐discipline leads to self‐discovery. Discovery leads to gifts; gifts lead to talent, talent to ability, and ability to competency.”

I have come to peace with my football career ending because I know I did every possible thing off‐field to prepare and enhance my performance. Knowing what I know now, maybe I would have shifted a few things here or there. But at the time, there wasn't a single effort I left on the table. I can't imagine working harder than I did. Yet, I know some athletes even go a step beyond.

Mindset coach Collin Henderson touched on the no‐regrets point when he was a guest on my podcast. Collin said the athletes who give it their all are the ones who have an easier time transitioning out of sports. It's the ones who may have held back who have regrets and ongoing disappointment. As Collin put it, those athletes might think, “I could have worked harder. I could have not gone and partied all night. I could have studied more of my playbook. I could have worked harder in the weight room. Those guys have a hard time moving forward.”

The work‐life balance isn't easy in football, with hundreds of hours of preparation leading to only a few moments of high‐stakes game play per game. Those moments are hard‐won.

It's weird to think about, but there are only minutes of actual game play, but a football game lasts for hours. Some people might say that football players are paid way too much money to play for three hours on Sunday. But it's not three hours—it's way more than that. At first, I can see why someone might think that. An average NFL play lasts six seconds for the offensive unit in football. The last year I played, I had about 65 snaps a game. So I'd be playing in a game between the whistles—I'd be doing my game‐day job for a total of an hour or hour and 44 minutes for the entire season.

However, that's for a season of being adequately prepared, which takes hundreds of hours of practice, no matter if it just breaks down to a few minutes in an actual game. So, six and a half minutes is what I was judged for on a Sunday. That's what it all comes down to. But throughout that week, I'm judged by how much preparation I can do to make those short minutes my best yet! It is no different from how you prepare for other things in life—hundreds of hours of preparation for high‐performance moments that make a difference.

Here's the hard truth, too. We all have every morning and every day to prepare, either intentionally or unintentionally. If you're unintentional and undisciplined about how you prepare, or if you're not preparing at all, then you're going to have an unintended and unprepared future. Trust me—you don't want that. Successful people get intentional about what they're preparing, get disciplined about it, and put in the hard work. There is simply no substitute for solid preparation.

Consistency Comes from Preparation

As an athlete, I know if I practice the same drill over and over again, eventually, I stop thinking about it. The routine is in my body. Like when Bobby Petrino taught me how to snap correctly, I have since snapped the ball so many times that I'll never forget it. It's in my muscle memory.

Similarly, when you are the most prepared, the most practiced at whatever you are doing, you don't have to think about technique so much. Instead, your mind and your body simply know what to do. As a result, you develop a level of consistency that is only possible with diligent experience, drilling, and discipline. When that happens, you can focus on the task at hand without consciously worrying about your technique or skill. Essentially, you can perform at an optimal level.

Michael Gervais was a guest on my podcast, and he had some fascinating things to say about optimal performance. Michael is a high‐performance psychologist who works in the trenches of high‐stakes environments with some of the best in the world, including Olympians, Fortune 100 CEOs, world‐class athletes, and internationally acclaimed artists and musicians. On a scale of 1 to 10, he explained that everyone performs optimally between a 4 and a 6 in intensity. Anything higher than 6, and you're going to play outside of your ideal state potentially. For example, it might be too much passion or anger taking you out of your technique and fundamentals.

It takes a foundation of solid preparation and practice in the hundreds of hours before the game to stay in that optimal sweet spot between 4 and 6. At that point, you've firmly established the fundamentals in your body and mind. You can put your intensity right in the middle of that sweet spot, not needing to go maximum intensity because you have your technique and fundamentals solid.

I do believe that technique and fundamentals are in service to a long‐term vision. Yet, on a day‐to‐day level, it's essential to focus on your process goals, the things you need to do every day to get to that vision. You need to break it down and do those steps to make your day‐to‐day consistent so that your performance on the other end will end up being consistent, too.

Let's get back to Jason Selk's process goals. A vision and plan are great, but you're going to be completely overwhelmed if you're always just thinking about three to five years out. Eventually, if you're like me, you're thinking, “I'm too far away, and it's too much time.” Instead, think, “What could I keep doing every single day to get you there? What's my 1% each day? What's my 20% over a year?” Whatever you're tracking, how are you getting to that every day?

The world of sports is such a great place to see the fundamentals of process goals and consistency physicalized right in front of you. You can't deny the performance statistics of incredible players. Tiger Woods is a perfect example, a man who practiced relentlessly every day on both his short and long games. Between 2002 and 2005, Tiger Woods faced 1,540 putts from three feet—and made 1,536 of them. If you can make the three‐foot putts in your life, over and over with consistency, that can almost always take you further than occasionally making the highlight shot where you focused all your energy.

Preparation leads to consistency. Consistency is practiced on the day‐to‐day with incremental improvement. Consistency over the long term wins.

Be a Champion for Your High Standards of Performance

One of the elements you can control is the standard you set for yourself and keeping yourself on task to perform at that standard. No one maintains your standards but you. Your execution level will be naturally high once you have prepared for thousands of hours at any charge in any profession. Anything less than that, and you're playing way below your potential, not to the standard it should be.

I say this because low effort should never be a reason why you fail at something. If it is, then you have no one to blame but yourself. No one controls your effort but you. An optimal effort performance does not guarantee success, but a low effort performance pretty much guarantees failure.

One great example to illustrate the point is Jerry Rice, widely regarded as one of the top receivers of all time. He became one of the best receivers ever despite not having nearly as many physical gifts as so many others who played the position. He became the best because his work ethic was legendary. Jerry Rice once said, “Today I will do what others won't, so tomorrow I will do what others can't.”

Until my last year in the NFL, the final game of the season was pretty much irrelevant. Whether we won or lost, it did not affect whether the Bills were going to the playoffs—and those were the games that were tough to get excited for. The way the NFL draft works, where it's simply slated, the teams with the worst record at the end of the season get the better draft picks for the next season. And so, often, some people in the regime don't even want you to win.

I believe you have to play to your personal standard no matter what. I would constantly preach to the offensive line: “Hey, we're judged by how all five of us play today. If one guy gives up two sacks because he's going to be lazy today, then the whole offensive line gave up two sacks today.” And I would say, “Look, we have to play to our standard today. It does not matter what's going on around us. We want to keep our jobs, and we all still want to be a part of this organization. So we need to play to our standard.”

Playing to our high standard wasn't always easy, especially when the high‐stakes emotions weren't there because we knew we weren't making it to the playoffs, no matter what happened in that particular game. Our emotions were hurt because we didn't achieve the goals we set out to accomplish that year. But, all of those hurt feelings didn't matter—we would be betraying ourselves if we didn't push through to play to our particular standard (caffeine can help in these instances).

Keeping and maintaining your standard requires you to live in that uncomfortable place sometimes, where you are tired or in pain, or you don't feel like it. Remember when I mentioned in Chapter 12 that you need to be willing to be uncomfortable if you want to be coachable? Your standard is that high coachable level you've trained yourself to reach. Don't ever betray all those hundreds of hours of work, your routine, and your core values just because it feels like it's too hard or you're not “feeling it.”

Even if, at times, I feel like doing other things, I keep that personal standard because I don't want to go backward in life.

With Great Preparation Comes Great Confidence

For me, most of the confidence in my life comes from preparation—and that bleeds into everything. That's why all the chapters in this book lead back to preparation. Everything, absolutely everything, leads back to preparation.

If I didn't have the confidence I built from preparation, I would be an anxious wreck heading into a football game, knowing that they could throw something at me. If we could have won the game instead of lost if I had prepared better—that would just eat me up.

There are maybe, on average, about 50 plays on our call sheet for the offensive coordinator to call in a football game. You have to know those 50 plays against so many various defenses and understand them all. That's where it becomes crucial to understand concepts in football as opposed to just straight memorizing. You can see how one play relates to another, for example, concept A is very similar to concept B. I could relate it to that, and then we can block it or throw these routes against these defenses. It would work. Each play will have its different variations depending on what was going on right then.

If you're a quarterback and get up to the line of scrimmage, you could have four receivers going out on a pass route. That could look like four different plays to the crowd. It could look like a deep shot down the sideline or like a check down to the running back. Much of that's dictated by what the defense gives you, which is honestly no different than circumstances that life throws at you.

You think you might know the play because you're so prepared, but you might have to improvise. You're ready and confident to hit that home run throw deep down the field, but sometimes, it's just a check down to the running back. A short little pass that keeps the momentum going on a drive is comparable to short steps that keep the momentum going in your life. Sometimes that's all you get that day. You metaphorically moved the ball a little further down the field.

The more prepared you go into the game, the more muscle memory you've created, and you're not thinking about your technique, so you can better adapt to the defense moving before the snap and what the defense is going to do. But if you're worried about “What foot do I step with first on this play? Oh, am I going to use my left hand or right hand to engage contact?” If you're worried about all those things, you can't possibly be concerned with what the defense will do and analyze all the other variables at play. It's vital to be prepared on the front end. You create so much muscle memory so that all that stuff is on autopilot. Then you can truly focus on what the defense is doing.

Armed with all that preparation and information, you're better equipped to make big moves on the fly. Your brain is processing things incredibly fast, built on a foundation of hundreds of hours of practice and homework. It can connect points A to B more quickly before you realize what just happened. All that work enables you to deal with storms in life and to make pivots and changes.

You don't know when that big promotion is coming for you. If you're an employee, you don't know when that big break is going to happen. But if you prepare every day, and you keep stacking wins each day, you're going to be ready for that moment in life, just because you're controlling what you can control. It's the best thing you can do because you don't know when that opportunity is coming for you.

Sometimes the Bills were backed up on their two‐yard line. That's a tough spot to be in during a game. When you're in that position, the number one goal is to get the first down because then, if you punt, you can get further away from your end zone. But if you don't get that first down, you can't even worry about scoring points. If you don't get that initial first down, the other team's chances of being the next team to score in the game are approximately 90%. So rule number one, when backed into a corner, get a first down.

When you're backed up in a corner in life, quit thinking and take action. Don't think, “I got to go from dead broke to a hundred million.” Instead, think about making a slight improvement first. Then, think about your next step and how you can better prepare for the one after that. And so on.

Maybe I took preparation too seriously and still do to this day. But if I didn't have that relentless preparation mentality, I probably never would have made it to the NFL in the first place or even college football. I strive to leave no stone unturned as far as preparation goes. And neither should you.

Because when God puts those opportunities in your life, you want to be completely prepared to run with them.

Key Takeaways

Here are the key takeaways from this chapter:

  • The most significant part of success is preparation—the art of controlling the things you can control.
    • Preparing takes intentionality, self‐discipline, and willingness to change. In addition, you have to want the long‐term goal enough to make those changes.
    • There is no substitute for hard work and preparation.
  • Consistency comes with preparation.
    • Focusing on process goals helps you get to your long‐term goals.
    • Success is won on a day‐to‐day basis.
  • Be a champion for your high standards of performance.
    • You alone control the effort you put into anything.
    • If you're not going forward in your efforts, you're going backward.
  • With great preparation comes great confidence.
    • Preparation enables you to better strategize and improvise in the moment.
    • Preparation better prepares you to handle setbacks and pivot.
    • Sometimes focusing on a small improvement is the best thing you can do to move forward.
    • When God gives you great opportunities in life, you want to be prepared to run with them.
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