9 Mindset Shifts That Separate The Average From The Exceptional

Barry Davret

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By my early thirties, I had grown disgusted with who I had become. I languished in a cubicle job, unmotivated, and with no transferable skills outside my employer. I had never done anything noteworthy, nor had I even tried.

To the neutral observer, I was the personification of mediocrity. But I resolved to push my way to the front of the pack.

I quit my job and moved out west, determined to make a new life for myself full of riches and accomplishment.

Twelve months later, my Hollywood ending failed to materialize.

In a desperate attempt to energize my struggling business, I hired a mentor. I worshipped him at first, but the honeymoon period passed, and this guy began to grate on me with his habit of calling me “superstar” instead of addressing me by name.

“Hey superstar, how’s it going?”

My bills piled up while my bank account dwindled, so his words felt like sarcasm or a sick way of taunting me as a means of motivation, so I called him out on it.

He explained, and it became clear that he used the term with seriousness and sincerity. I may have been a struggling salesperson, but my mentor thought of me as a superstar because I had given up a stodgy and safe career to embark on an uncertain path with great potential but real risk of failure. No matter the outcome, he said, I had escaped from mediocrity and become exceptional.

In truth, I wasn’t exceptional, and I’m still on my journey. But I’m sure of one conclusion.

The distance from average to exceptional is measured in inches, not miles. It has nothing to do with wealth, popularity, or any other culturally defined metric. It’s about continually pushing past your boundaries in whatever domain you apply yourself.

These nine mindset tweaks will get you there.

1. Develop a zero-tolerance for plausible excuses.

Last night, a thunderstorm woke me up at 3 AM. It boomed relentlessly for an hour before subsiding. I laid awake until 5 AM and then slipped out of bed to make some coffee.

The old me would have written off the day. I didn’t get enough sleep. I’ll be useless.

When it’s inconvenient to work, we concoct plausible reasons to avoid it. These excuses prove hard to resist because they sound so reasonable.

But to escape from mediocrity, you must push forward on days when it’s inconvenient, on days when laziness seems more appealing. The plausible excuse is, perhaps, the most insidious roadblock to growth because it’s so hard to argue against it.

2. Be mindful of dead-time.

Recently, I watched an interview with the author, Dan Brown, who said that he wakes up around 3 AM to begin his writing. He gets a lot of flack about his writing from critics, but even his haters can’t knock his work ethic.

It’s tempting to hit the snooze button or veg out in bed for a half-hour before you start your day. If you do that every day, you’re wasting 180 hours per year. How much could you get done with those extra hours?

The simplest way to recover productivity is to eliminate dead-time. That’s the time you spend in bed before getting up, the time you waste getting ready to do your real work, the time you blow on mindless distractions. To become exceptional, be mindful of your dead time, and eliminate it.

3. Resist the allure of shortcuts.

I’ve been a writer, entrepreneur, investor, salesperson, copywriter, finance professional, and computer programmer. In every field, I’ve found books and courses promising a shortcut or quick way to success or mastery. I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve tried a few, and none of them ever panned out.

After getting burned so many times, I’ve accepted that mastery and success require years of hard work, practice, and diligence. That’s the only way.

Shortcuts are nothing more than detours that end with road-closure signs. The more time you waste on them, the longer it takes you to acquire the skill and experience to achieve excellence.

4. Allow yourself to be scared.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.” He was right, but I’ll add a footnote. The problem with fear is that we try to pretend it doesn’t exist, thinking it’s a sign of weakness.

Back when I was in sales, my mentor asked me if I feared rejection. I answered, no, demonstrating my ability to lie with a straight face. I didn’t think it was okay to admit being afraid.

Fear is normal. Nobody has ever figured it out. Exceptional performers, however, have learned to push forward when they’re scared. I learned to overcome it by practicing the experimenter’s ethos.

If you pretend fear doesn’t exist, you’ll come up with elaborate excuses as to why you can’t do the thing you fear. That’s what mediocre people do.

5. Cultivate the 1% knowledge belief.

In Robert Greene’s book, Mastery, he writes, “To learn requires a sense of humility. We must admit that there are people out there who know our field much more deeply than we do.”

The world brims with people whose expertise consists of impatience and arrogance. They read a few articles, take an online course, spend a month practicing, and think they’re experts who know enough. Then they complain about their lack of success.

It’s tough to commit to neverending improvement, especially when you don’t have a boss who demands it of you, but that’s what the exceptional ones do.

Never rest on what you already know, even if you’re the brightest in your field. Adopt the attitude that, in any discipline, you can never know more than 1% of what there is to learn. It keeps you humble and hungry.

6. Recognize the cons of “safe” options.

Every time a writer publishes a story or pitches an idea, they risk rejection. But what about the writer who chooses to work on their piece until it’s perfect? They think they’re playing it safe, but they’re taking a risk — a low-quality one.

In his book, Principles, Ray Dalio writes, “The best choices are the ones that have more pros than cons, not those that don’t have any cons at all.”

Waiting for perfection, or close to it, might seem sensible, but that decision has its cons too. You risk never achieving anything worthwhile.

Facing the possibility of rejection or failure is a high-quality risk since you’re giving yourself a chance to succeed. Never taking a chance is a low-quality risk because the potential return is zero.

7. Redefine the meaning of commitment.

The most difficult commitments to keep are the ones we make to ourselves. If nobody holds us accountable, it’s too easy to push aside our obligations.

Mediocre people commit and then give it a shot. Superstars commit to the end. They survive the inevitable dips, the slow progress, and disappointing outcomes, while the 99% give up.

It takes only a split second to make a commitment, but exceptional people understand that it’s an act you must do every day, not a one-time event.

8. Take responsibility for your outcomes.

Subpar writers blame their struggles on algorithms. Struggling salespeople blame their problems on their prospects or their product. In every domain, average people spout their favorite excuses when things go wrong.

It may not always be your fault, but most likely, your lack of success does not stem from an unnamed, invisible force. It’s almost always you, and if it’s not, own it anyway, and learn from it.

Most people accept credit for their successes but deny responsibility for their failures. The exceptional ones take responsibility for all their outcomes.

9. Accept an imperfect report card.

Exceptional performers are humans too. They mess up and experience bad days. Remember, it’s not about getting a 4.0 GPA on the superstar report card. You won’t need a note signed by your mother if you get a bad grade.

Don’t beat yourself up when you break a commitment you made to yourself or when fear gets the better of you. You’re human. It happens. Dust off your pants and resolve to do better the next day.

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Experimenter in life, productivity, and creativity. My work can be found in publications across the internet

Summit, NJ
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