High level performance essentially comes down to two things: 1) preparation and 2) execution.  It is all too common for someone to work their butt off in preparation only to perform far below their potential.  This lack of achieving one’s potential, or in other words lack of execution, is most commonly due to self-doubt and negative thinking.  Trevor Moawad is one of the most trusted mental coaches in the world of sports, and in his book “It Takes What It Takes” he outlines his approach to getting the best in the world to reach their full potential, be it in sports, in the military / special operations, or in business.

I got exposed to Moawad through Eric Cressey’s podcast just a couple months ago.  I listened to the podcast twice in one weekend, after which I immediately went and bought the book – needless to say I was impressed.  Fair warning: the podcast does include a fair bit of adult language, so be aware of that if you choose to listen.  Moawad’s approach emphasizes what he calls “neutral thinking” – that is not falsely positive, and also not dwelling on the negative or what could go wrong.  It is accepting the circumstances and events as a neutral truth, and using that information to devise a plan on how to navigate towards the best possible outcome given said circumstances.  In the first chapter Moawad explains,

“What happens next will be determined solely by what you do next, and what you do next will be the absolute right thing, I promise, if you focus on that thing and that thing alone.  The past isn’t predictive.  The past isn’t prologue.  If you can absorb and embrace that belief, everything can change.”  

Later in the same chapter he continues,

“That’s neutral.  Staying in the moment, giving each moment its own history, and reacting to events as they unfold.  It takes away emotion and replaces it with behaviors.  Instead of asking ‘How do I feel?’ you should be asking yourself ‘What do I do?’ You can develop these skills if you’re willing to let go of a few things.  Negative, cynical thinking doesn’t make you more realistic.  It just makes you negative and cynical.  Biased thinking doesn’t help you either.  You need to steer clear of your feelings and make an honest assessment of each situation you face.  Don’t worry about what you feel.  Rely on what you know.”

This book was timely for me, as the business my wife and I own was hit very hard by COVID-19 and there was no shortage of negative thoughts and worst-case-scenarios playing in my head every single day.  That said, it was hugely helpful to have an internal dialogue around “What do I do” rather than “How do I feel” and it led to me being significantly happier and also more productive.  It helped me re-frame the situation as another obstacle than can be overcome and adapted to instead of sulking and feeling sorry for myself about my circumstances.

One of the most fascinating aspects to me was his approach towards minimizing negative energy in your life – both from external stimuli that you take in and from your own words.  Moawad remarks, “Negativity, in any form that we choose to bring into our lives, is poison.”  In particular, there are two statistics he shares that really stand out to me:

1) “The human mind absorbs negativity seven times more easily than it absorbs positivity.  We also know that language is the most powerful carrier of negativity.  Thinking about my struggles is nowhere near as powerful as verbalizing them.  When it comes out of my mouth, it affects me tenfold.  If it’s negative it may be seven times more on top of that.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the reason my chances of a negative outcome increase by up to 70x … so as Moawad says many times over in the book, stop saying stupid shit out loud.  I believe this to be both key to success with his teachings, as well as difficult to abide by for most people.  I think a distinction also needs to be made between verbalizing neutral facts about things that aren’t going your way, such as “it’s half-time and we’re losing by 10 points” or “sales were down 20% last quarter” versus saying negative things that will not help the outcome, such as “there is no way we can come back and win the game” or “I just don’t see how we can get our sales back up.”  The former is neutral thinking that can form the groundwork of your strategic planning, which can ultimately lead you to success.  The latter is negative thinking which has no productive value and will probably leave you feeling sad and depressed.

2) From Eric Cressey’s podcast on which Moawad was a guest, “When I consume negativity … three minutes of cable news before 9:00 AM increases your probability by 27% that after 8:00 you’ll say you had a shitty day.” (Note, I think this is also somewhere in the book, but as I am writing this I am having difficulty tracking it down).

I found this fascinating, highly probable, and to me was sort of the last straw that pushed me over the tipping point of something that had been in my head for a long time now – it is permissible to remove negative stimuli from your life.  This can be in the form of apps on your smart phone (especially social media), news channels or websites, and even people.  At the end of the day, all of us want to simply have a happy life.  How each individual defines that can vary quite a bit from person to person, but under no circumstance is constant exposure to negativity going to improve your life or help you be happier.  So, I encourage you to give yourself permission to remove negative or “toxic” energy and stimuli from your life, in whatever form that may take.  I’ve taken some big steps in this direction, and while I have more that I’m working on, I can say emphatically that it has been a huge help to my overall happiness and well-being.

I think the information above should also make you evaluate your own behavior when interacting with others – make sure that YOU are not adding negative energy to THEIR lives.  I acknowledge that it can be difficult to be self-critical about this sort of thing, however the juice is worth the squeeze and I encourage you to be honest with yourself here.  If you have a habit of complaining about things out loud to others (the weather, politics, what your spouse / family member did that annoyed you, etc.), then you are most likely perpetuating your own negativity as well as now spreading that negativity to others.  The challenge here is that our brains are hardwired to remember the negative, so if you don’t take active steps to avoid it, negativity will likely be on the forefront of your brain most of the time.  In fact, Moawad even claims that this is an evolutionary trait – he cites a 2001 article published in the Review of General Psychology,

“From our perspective, it is evolutionarily adaptive for bad to be stronger than good.  We believe that throughout our evolutionary history, organisms that were better attuned to bad things would have been more likely to survive threats and, consequently, would have increased probability of passing along their genes …”

On the very next page Moawad cites another publication,

“A 2015 study in the Annual Review of Neuroscience examined multiple previous studies and found that negativity can lead dieters to overeat; can lead people to accept smaller, more immediate rewards instead of bigger, longer-term payouts; and can lead to aggressive behavior.  Negativity inhibits our ability to delay gratification – even when delaying it would help us in the long run.”

Suffice to say, it is not only in your best interest to eliminate negativity from your life as much as possible, it is one of your responsibilities as a good partner / family member / friend / coworker / community member to not spread negativity on to others.  I am sure we all know people who are dieting and trying to lose weight, and we certainly want them to succeed, however this study indicates that we may be unknowingly sabotaging their efforts if we introduce negativity into their life.

One of the other chapters I really enjoyed is titled “It Takes Hard Choices.”  In this one, Moawad refers to “the illusion of choice” and how if you want a certain outcome there really are no choices involved, you know what you need to do and need to have the disciple and work ethic to make it happen.  He shared a quote from the great football coach Nick Saban,

“They (Saban’s players) all think they have this illusion of choice, like ‘I can do whatever I want to do.’ And you kind of have a younger generation now that doesn’t always get told no, they don’t always get told this is exactly how you need to do it.  So they have this illusion that they have all these choices.  But the fact of the matter is … if you want to be good, you really don’t have a lot of choices, because it takes what it takes.  You have to do what you have to do to be successful.  So you have to make choices and decisions to have the discipline and focus to the process of what you need to do to accomplish your goals.”

Again, I find this both powerful and consistent with my own mindset.  If you have goals that are truly important to you, then it should be simple and straight forward to prioritize what needs to happen in order to achieve those goals.  In many circumstances, this involves having the discipline to do things that offer less instant gratification or immediate enjoyment in exchange for knowing these behaviors are critical to the larger objective of achieving your goals.  I am unapologetically a goal-oriented person and set high standards and expectations for myself in pretty much every area of my life.  This leaves me with almost no “choices” because the steps needed for me to achieve these goals are clear, be it in strength & conditioning, jiu jitsu, or business.

Continuing with the idea of goal setting, in the United Sates approximately 2/3 of adults are overweight or obese.  That said, it is reasonable to assume that one of the most common goals most Americans share is to lose weight.  For the goal of weight loss, choices are really an illusion – in order to be successful, certain things are known to work and those steps must be taken.  You need to reduce caloric intake and consume mostly real, whole foods.  This means avoiding the instant reward of drive through food, pre-packaged foods like potato chips, candy and other sweets, and high calorie beverages like soda, mochas, and alcohol.  Another “choice” is how much sleep to get each night.  Getting enough sleep is important for weight loss, and people who succeed at losing weight often make changes to their evening routine in order to go to bed earlier and get as much sleep as they can.  A common behavior of those who struggle to lose weight is staying up too late, often due to optional activities such as scrolling through their phone / browsing social media (many times, while snacking on junk food).  Again, this is an example of prioritizing instant gratification (scrolling through their phone) over a behavior that may be less rewarding in that moment but will be significantly more helpful to the long-term goal of losing weight (going to be earlier).  Another thing most everyone knows is that if you want to lose weight you should burn more calories, either through structured exercise (my method of choice) or through incorporating more exercise into your standard day, such as walking to work instead of driving.  However, this again involves the illusion of choice – people think they have a choice to sit on the couch and binge watch TV or go get some exercise, but in reality there is no choice … it takes what it takes.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say I highly recommend Moawad’s book (as well as the podcast on which I first discovered him).  I think he offers advice that is down to earth and highly practical, and that you will immediately find beneficial.  I have no doubt that it will be a resource that guides you to be both happier and more successful in all areas of your life.  I also enjoyed that the book is generally easy to read and includes lots of great stories that make it relatable and helps you easily see parallels of the shared examples to your own life.  If this review ever makes its way to Trevor himself, then just know that I’ll be first in line to buy the sequel should you ever come out with a “part 2” … hint hint

-Tony Gracia