The best way to improve yourself comes from never forgetting you at your worst

What if, instead of getting angry when someone utters the phrase we hate the most, we use it as motivation to improve?

Think back to the moment when you decided you needed to improve something in your life. Doesn’t matter what. Can you pinpoint the exact moment when you decided change needed to happen? Can you remember exactly where you were, and what was said to flip that switch in your brain? If you can’t, you should. It could have been anything – Someone doing something better than you, a realization you couldn’t afford something you wanted, whatever. It could have even been a phrase you heard sometime. You have to remember it. If you don’t, you won’t improve.

For me, it was three words simple words: “On your left.” I was sick of hearing the words “on your left” as many times as I did.

I completed the Atlantic City Ironman 70.3 race this past Sunday. Despite blowing up on the run thanks to a bad hip, I finished in a respectable (for me) 7:10:00. My best part of the race, however, was my bike – I held an 18:42 mph pace for the entire 56 miles, giving me a bike time of 3:02:27. This was over 45 minutes faster than my last half-Ironman, and the reason is simple: I didn’t want to hear “on your left” as many times as I did last time.


“On your left,” when shouted by someone during a bike race, means you’re about to be passed. And if you’re not fast, you’re going to hear “on your left” a lot. And over the course of 56 miles, hearing “on your left” a lot can demoralize the shit out of you.

So I spent the past year cycling on my trainer, in the park, or at the gym. And I spent a ton of time lifting weights, all with the goal of not hearing “on your left” as much as I did. And it worked.

Every time I’d be on the bike in the gym and want to quit, or want to slow down, I’d mentally replay my last race, and hear “on your left!” in my ear. That would keep me going for another mile, and another mile after that. It would give me another set of lifting, it would force me to conquer another hill.

It sounds so ridiculously simple, but it’s really not. Motivation to improve is fleeting, because the brain is fleeting. See, the brain tends to block out bad things after they’re done. It’s a form of self-preservation. Think back to your last relationship – It’s hard to think about all the bad times, right? The good times are much more memorable, they stay with us in our brains, they’re the reason we drunkenly call our exes at 2am talking about “all the good times we had.” It’s the same reason we go “I’m going to lose 20 pounds and go to the gym every single… Is that cake?”

The bad times, though – you need to remember those. If you don’t, you can’t improve. If you truly want to improve, you need to internalize how you felt at the moment you were at your worst – That moment you heard “on your left” for the 400th time, and you were about to break down and cry. That’s what you need to remember. That’s what you need to recall.

If you want to improve any part of life, you can never forget why you want to do it in the first place. (Tweet this!)

I’m already building my race calendar for next year. Once that’s done, I can work backwards to build my training calendar. The goal? To hear even fewer shouts of “on your left”  next summer.

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