Make the Decision to WIN

February 18, 2019
James Whittaker
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“Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought, for the human spirit is colored by such impressions.”

Marcus Aurelius

Living Each Day Anew

From the moment our eyes flicker awake each morning, it’s on. The day’s first fork in the road.

Get up or stay in bed?

The path we choose from this, and the hundreds of other daily decisions we face, determines our month, our year … our life.

As the day progresses, everyone hears the same voices. You know the ones:

“Just a bit more sleep.”
“I’ll do it later.”
“Let’s put it on the credit card.”

High performers quickly ward off these negative voices with positive and purposeful action:

  • Getting up as soon as the alarm goes off
  • Expressing what they’re grateful for
  • Fueling their body with healthy food
  • Outlining what work they’ll do today to support their mission
  • Completing those tasks during their most energized hours
  • Being discipined with their personal finances
  • Engaging in an activity for their mental and physical well-being
  • Making time for their loved ones

Experience has taught me that when my own mental and physical health sputters, the rest of my life unravels too. When I wake up feeling good, I will include some form of physical exercise into the day, usually a gym workout but occasionally a surf or yoga session. On those days, because I want the best result, I make a point of eating extra healthy.

Then, with a successful day in the books, I sleep well. The next day, I wake up a little happier for progress and feel confident knowing that I can push a bit harder.

But what happens when life sends one of its faith-testers along?

Whether it’s ill health, relationship problems, or even something simple like work travel, these variables can add up. Excellence is not a single act, but a habit—and so is failure.

Before you know it, when wrong decisions are compounded, plans derail, and you lament having to start from square one … again.

When It Comes Crashing Down

Seven years ago, on Thanksgiving Day in Vermont, I was invited for a social game (and my first ever attempt) of American football. Growing up in Australia, I played every sport I could, and loved any opportunity to get on the field, so looked forward to this new challenge.

Above: That's me in the Tom Brady jersey.

Half an hour into the game, I let ego creep in and dove well beyond my limits for a catch. I’ll never forget the feeling—it was a bone-chilling crush, like an NBA player stomping on an empty Coke can. The pain was all-consuming.

The result? A grade three shoulder separation.

Above: Brady's down.

Over the next few weeks, I swallowed the powerful prescription pills that swapped pain for haze. Doctors were overcautious and said I needed to rest, eliminating any hope I had to stay active. I struggled through course work (it occurred while I was studying an MBA program in Boston), and I was eating for convenience rather than nourishment.

I wanted to dispose of the painkillers, but they seemed to be the only way I could sleep. Besides, I had about three months’ worth in my possession—why would the doctor give me that much if I shouldn’t take it? When friends invited me out drinking, I obliged, staying out late and feeling miserable the next day.

It was ‘Win the day’ in reverse, and at 28 years old it ultimately led to the most depressed I’d ever felt. 

This is the dichotomy of life: unless we decide each day to live in the light, darkness will take over. Our exposure to this darkness is evident in how our career, health, finances and relationships are progressing. After all, without a clear purpose in each area, we’re easily lured to short-term gratification.

When a tragic event outside of our control happens—like my football injury—it’s even easier to absolve ourselves from making the decision to win. Today, I’m grateful for that period because it taught me so much about consistently applying positive action, trusting your instinct (and avoiding unnecessary medication), and being kind to yourself.

Aligning Actions with Mission

The most successful people on the planet are experts at making the decision to win and ensuring their actions align with their dreams.

Think about SEAL Team Six, one of the world’s preeminent special forces units. When they received confirmation that Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted person, had been positively ID’d in Pakistan, they built a life-size replica of the house and repeatedly simulated the raid. This allowed them to play out every possible scenario and get increasingly comfortable with the unknown.

It only took nine minutes for the team to find and neutralize their target. A near flawless mission.

While people on their couches criticize high achievers for “being lucky” or “having it easy”, Usain Bolt works on shaving one-tenth of a second off his time and Tom Brady combs through mundane game footage looking for any advantage. Oprah Winfrey and Elon Musk give no energy to all those who say it can’t be done, instead choosing to act bolder than ever before, possessed by their own self-will.

The results speak for themselves.


Instead of picking apart those who achieved great success, we should be piecing together their habits and modelling them in our own lives.

Make the decision to win or you’ve automatically made the decision to lose.

Onwards and upwards always,
James W.

In case you missed it: ‘10 Questions to Transform Your Life’

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