Mental Cross Training

By: Brian Tracy

World-class athletes have known for many years that the only way that they can perform at their very peak is by developing all of their various muscles and abilities in a balanced way. In its simplest form, physical cross-training requires that you work on endurance, strength, and flexibility in a rotating format. When I was lifting weights as a young man, it was quite standard for us to work on the muscle groups that were less developed to keep them growing in balance with those muscle groups that were further ahead.

In mental cross-training, you must do the same thing with your repertoire of knowledge and skills. First of all, you need to determine the subjects that you have to be good at in order to be in the top ten or 20 percent in your field. Your job is to make the decision, right now, to go all the way to the top. And the fortunate thing is that, if anyone else has done it, you can do it as well. You simply need to follow in their tracks.

Harvard Business Review did a study some years ago on a subject that they called, Critical Success Factors. The idea of critical success factors revolved around the discovery that to dominate any field of endeavor there are seldom more than five to seven skill areas that you absolutely, positively have to be good at. There may be a hundred or a thousand things that you have to do, but there are basically only five to seven areas where you need to commit yourself to excellent performance in order to move way ahead of the rest of the field.

These critical success factors are where you begin your program of mental cross-training. If you are in sales, for example, your seven critical success factors may be prospecting, getting appointments, establishing a relationship with the client, identifying the problem that the client has that your product or service will solve, presenting your product or service as the solution, closing the sale, and personal management. You will have to be absolutely, positively excellent in every one of these areas for you to be a great success in selling any product or service in any market.

And here’s one of the most important discoveries about mental cross-training. If you are weak in any one critical area, that one area will set the height at which you use all your other skills. It will be the chief factor that determines your income and your level of success in your field. If you are absolutely excellent in six out of seven critical success factors but you are terrible in the seventh, you will be held back from ever realizing your full potential in whatever it is you do.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you are absolutely excellent in every single part of selling except prospecting. Because of fear or negativity or competition in the marketplace, you are poor at getting appointments with new prospects who can and will buy your product or service. You may be outstanding at everything else but if you can’t get in front of people, you will ultimately fail.

In another example, let’s say you are good at prospecting and getting appointments and establishing rapport, but when it comes to actually getting the client to take action or to closing the sale, you tense up, you are unable to do it, and you leave empty-handed. Again, you could be outstanding at everything except closing the sale and that alone will sabotage your entire career.

If you are in sales, or in any other field, here’s an action strategy for assessing your current level of performance. First, identify your critical success factors, the key areas in which you must be excellent if you want to be successful. Then give yourself a score from one to ten¾with one being the lowest and ten being the highest¾in each area. You will find that areas in which you have given yourself a low score are primary areas of stress, frustration, anxiety, and underachievement in whatever it is you are doing. You need to have a score above seven in every area for you to perform excellently in a well-balanced way.

It is essential that you be perfectly honest with yourself. It will do you no good to pretend that you are good at something when in reality it is interfering with your success in your career. Once you have worked out your critical success factors and you have given yourself a score in each of the five to seven areas, take your score to someone who knows you and ask him or her to score you. The best person for this is your boss, but if you have a friendly customer, ask if he or she will give you a score as well.

If you are in management, there will also be seven critical success factors that determine your level of achievement in your position. They could be a variety of skills but the most common, what I call the big seven, are planning, organizing, staffing, delegating, supervising, innovating, and reporting. If you are poor in any one of these seven areas, that could be sufficient, in itself, to hold you back from using all your other talents.

Fortunately, if you feel that you are not particularly good in a critical success factor area, like delegating, you can read books, listen to tapes, and take courses, thereby bringing up your skills to above seven out of ten so that this area is no longer a problem for you.

In mental cross-training, the areas where you are weak are the sources of your major problems in your career. They are the areas that preoccupy you and concern you the most. And they are often in the activity areas where you get the worst results. You are likely to become anxious when it comes to performing those activities. If you are not careful, you will have a tendency to avoid performing in those areas, or even go one step further and convince yourself that you are already quite good in those areas. This is why it is so important that you ask other people around you to evaluate you in an objective way and tell you how well they think you are doing.

There is a new management technique that is becoming quite popular throughout the country. It is called the 360 Degree Method. In this managerial method, managers and subordinates are evaluated by all the people who work around them. Questionnaires are sent out to everyone within an organization, and each person is asked to evaluate their superiors and their subordinates. These questionnaires are then collected and analyzed for presentation at a meeting where each person sits in the middle of a 360 degree circle and is critiqued and evaluated by all the people with whom he or she works.

If this is done properly, it is extremely helpful to people. It comes as a great shock to most people that in areas where they think they are quite good, their coworkers and subordinates think they are quite poor.

For example, I had an executive working for me some years ago who felt that he was absolutely excellent at hiring people. He would not take any advice or input from anyone. He made his hires from the seat of his pants. And every single person that he hired turned out to be a disaster. Eventually, his right and authority to hire people had to be removed completely. This inability to learn how to properly interview and select the right people eventually proved to be fatal in his career. He had to go back to working on his own because he was simply incapable of picking people to work with him, no matter what position he had.

So here’s the question: What are the areas you need to work on to bring yourself up to a high level of performance? If you are not sure, have the courage and the honesty to go to other people and ask for their feedback. Remember, feedback is the breakfast of champions. You can’t get better unless someone is willing to give you an honest critique and help you see yourself as you really are.

If you are in sales, it is absolutely essential that you get your sales manager or someone else to go out with you at least once per month for an entire day to evaluate your sales performance. When this person comes out, he or she should sit there quietly and say nothing, just watching the way you interact with the customer. Afterward, this person should tell you exactly what he or she saw, both the good and the bad. Unless you have this kind of honest feedback, it is impossible for you to improve. But once you get this feedback, instead of being defensive, make a decision to go to work on yourself and improve that skill area so that it is no longer a limitation on your performance.

There are three rules that I want to emphasize with regard to mental cross-training:

First: It doesn’t matter where you are coming from. All that matters is where you are going. The future is more important than the past. You can’t change the past, but you can change your future by changing what you do today.

Second: For your life to get better, you must get better. If you want to earn more, you must learn more. Knowledge is the chief source of value today. If you want to improve the quality of your life, you must improve the quality of your knowledge and skills.

Third: You can learn anything that you need to learn to become any person that you want to become and to achieve any goal that you can possibly set for yourself. There are no limits except the limits that you set on your own mind.

From this day forward, make yourself a do-it-to-yourself project. Begin and continue the lifelong process of continually getting better in all the areas that are important to you. Just as a champion athlete develops all of his or her muscles symmetrically and in balance, you must develop your mental muscles in a balanced way as well. Mental cross-training is truly an important step toward gaining control of your destiny.