Achieving Excellence

Where I was is destroyed, where I am stands condemned, where I shall be is just now being built.

When we all have the potential to succeed at almost anything we choose, why do so few people attain a high level accomplishment? What do the top achievers know that others do not? What habits do the successful individuals bring to their life patterns that ensure their attainment of personal and professional goals?

It has been said we use only 6 percent of our mind power, and the latest research shows it may only be 2 percent for normal daily behaviour. We are like powerful computers with no instruction manual for success. The great minds of past and present may not have been as great as we all thought, but were merely men and women wise enough to delve into their untapped potential and uncover a limitless supply of possibilities. What was it they discovered? What is the key that unlocks our otherwise dormant abilities? How do we master this technique?

The concept of self-fulfilling prophecy is one that every one of us must deal with in our quest for excellence. In truth, we get what we expect. We never do better than we think we can. The pictures and visions we place in our minds influence our lives.

There have been countless Pygmalion experiments over the years all yielding the same result: If we can change the self-concept of the individual, the behavior results will match. We become who we think we are.

The implications of this understanding in the world of education are far-reaching. If we know, for the most part, that students will not perform beyond our expectation levels, then we also know the same is true of us. Are we constantly learning and grooming ourselves to be the best we can be, or have we opted to fall into the comfortable trap of “it’s good enough?”

Do we see ourselves as producing a high-quality environment where we can constantly improve the understanding and performance of our students, or are we simply glad just to get through the day, week, month, and year? In short, do we hold high expectations for ourselves knowing it will determine the success of our classes? These can be very uncomfortable questions, for they
confront the very foundation of our values as teachers who effectively bring new insights to our students so they will live more prosperous lives. At the same time, they offer us an opportunity to take an inventory of our present situation and either move forward or make necessary adjustments according to the findings.

Success is not an accident. It is a predictable pattern and, like any good, tested formula, it works when the individual works. In many cases, the price of success is doing what others don’t want to do, or going the extra mile when others have chosen to give up.

If it is so easy, why don’t more people participate? Why do most people live far below their potentials? The number one reason: the inability to delay gratification.

Many are tempted to choose fun and easy over difficult and necessary, or tension relieving over goal achieving. We know that bad habits are easy to form but hard to live with, while good habits are hard to form but easy to live with. The obvious choice is to create positive habits that avoid the quick fix and offer long-range benefits. Every self-improvement program, from Weight Watchers to time management, is useless without this fundamental ingredient: the personal belief and self-discipline needed to delay gratification until the envisioned goal is attained. Once this is in place, the journey begins. Even after arrival, the next step is a wise maintenance program that continues the process in the future.

Where does one start? What is the first step? Is this just more mumbo-jumbo, or can it really work for me? Different programs work for different people. However, every success story has one common theme: the commitment of the individual to see it through to the end. A half-hearted effort produces half-hearted results.

The following guidelines serve as a launchpad:

1. Set clearly defined goals. There is little or no personal motivation without goals. The more detailed and defined the goals, the more energy you will produce to reach them. So often, goals are too general: “I want to be happy.” “I want to be successful.” “My goal is to have people respect me.”

These are admirable, but goal-setting needs to be specific. Use calendar dates as goal markers. Create personal deadlines. Make certain the goals are measurable and attainable, and be certain to write them down. They serve as your road map to success. Perhaps one of your goals would be to learn how to set goals. It is a very exciting process, but it takes delayed gratification to accomplish the task.

2. Commit to your area of excellence. Unless we commit to excellence, we are doomed to mediocrity. Throw yourself into the pursuit of excellence. Spend time studying and learning everything you can about your chosen area of expertise. Beware of complacency. Surround yourself with others who have a like interest and passion and support this mutual interest. Rekindle the childhood enthusiasm that offers direction to inquisition. Become an expert in some facet of life and invite those around you to participate and enjoy the benefits of learning and growing toward a higher level of competence.

3. Review your goals and measure your daily progress. Out of sight, out of mind. Remember that the mind leads us in the direction of its most dominant thought. The positive effects of “self-talk” are well known to those who practice the art of visioning. See yourself achieving the intended short-range and long-range goals. Keep your success-pictures at the forefront of your conscious mind.
Much unhappiness comes from not knowing one’s destination; therefore, constantly remind yourself of how far you’ve come and where you still need to go. Build on what you know. Success builds success. Be faithful to your master plan. Treat it as you would the most important thesis assignment of your career: it could well be.

4. Stay on task: persistence is self-discipline in action. If you want to increase your success rate, increase your failure rate. There will be adversity; accept it, even embrace it. Every time you meet a situation that slows your progress, ask yourself, “What is there for me to learn?” Within the problem is certain to be the clue for the next forward move.

Unfortunately, it is popular to quit after so many false starts or thwarted efforts. In the classic words of Winston Churchill (who repeated a grade in school, by the way): “Never give up. Never, never give up.” Where would the world be today if Sir Winston would have chosen to quit after his educational setback? Every breakthrough in our modern world is a result of some persistent
(and often stubborn) person who refused to accept defeat. There is no substitute for fulfilled commitment. It is the primary fuel for a healthy self-esteem.

5. Accept total responsibility. See yourself as the cause, not the effect. This simple premise offers a very strong personal power base for motivation. When something goes awry, accept the responsibility and avoid the temptation to blame someone. Blame gets us “off the hook,” but it also violates our responsibility factor. Focus on solutions, not problems. Count on yourself to come through in every situation. Pay the price, and pay it in advance. This is where delayed gratification is put to the test. The more responsible we are, the better we like ourselves.

6. Acknowledge your supporting cast. Dynamic people have the ability to uplift the spirits of those around them. Your personal health is in direct proportion to your ability to get along with others. Let other people know and understand your goals so they can support you in the effort. You can’t go at it alone. Eventually you are going to need someone’s help, expertise, direction, or whatever. Everyone likes to be around a successful person, so share the glory of the victory with all those who played a role in your accomplishment. You will quickly discover an eager group of people awaiting the opportunity to work with you in the future.

A person with clear, focused goals will outstrip a genius every time. Success awaits us all. Will we take the road less traveled? The game of self-discipline takes lifelong study, practice, and discipline. It may not be the “will to succeed” that counts as much as the “will to prepare to succeed.” The above six-step formula is a preparation course aimed at achieving success. Once we have reached the summit of this mountain (goal), we quickly see other mountains (goals) that require further self-discipline.

A more simplistic approach came from a friend who has enjoyed success throughout his life. I asked him one day, “To what do you attribute all your many accomplishments in life?” He smiled and said quietly, “I found out what unsuccessful people do, and I don’t do it.”

Enough said.

This article is adapted from the book “Everyday Wisdom for Inspired Teaching” by GIA Publications, and reproduced with permission from Tim Lautzenheiser.

Tim Lautzenheiser
Tim Lautzenheiser

Tim Lautzenheiser presently serves as Vice President of Education for Conn-Selmer, Inc. His career involves ten years of successful college band directing at Northern Michigan University, the University of Missouri, and New Mexico State University. His books, produced by G.I.A. Publications, Inc., continue to be bestsellers in the educational world. He is also co-author of popular band method, Essential Elements, and is the Senior Educational Consultant for Hal Leonard, Inc.

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