Racing Towards Excellence - by Muzaffar Khan, Jan Sramek

Our right (emotional) brain can emotionally feel value for anything; our left (logical) brain, however, cannot see anything that is not measurable as having value.

There are four separate areas of a human being's personal assets that allow him or her to function in today's society. We call them the Four Accounts: emotional, material, mental, physical. The Four Accounts need a basic level of positivity in order for you to survive, and then a greater level of positivity in order for you to be happy. Success and long-term happiness are one and the same. They are defined as an increase in the Four Accounts, and this is the definition that is used going forward.

While you can be motivated to outperform in something that you do not like or even hate, you can never be inspired to it.

The human brain has 4 parts – reptilian (survival), emotional (feelings), neocortex (rationality) and frontal lobe (advanced/spiritual intelligence). Motivation can originate in any part of your brain and can be fear-based. Inspiration, however, can only originate in the frontal lobe and is always based on an element of positivity. Enthusiasm is the best yardstick for inspiration. It is defined as the consistent state of positive and mild excitement about your goal, and about the journey to it.

Real vision generates enthusiasm today towards your ideas for your future, creating happiness right now.

Those who are self-loving follow habits that create in them a desire for, and then a faithful implementation of, good discipline.

Unloving actions for positive ends are self-defeating, in the long run, because they create resentment on the subconscious level.

The more there is a sense of clarity about what is under your control, the more you will stop wasting time on things over which you have no control at all.

The same thing applies when you are taking an inventory of things that are not going well, and individuals that are not being pleasant, in your life. Once you have made an inventory, you must first change your emotional state to positivity about what is working. It is from this happier emotional state that you look for solutions to the problems. The better emotional state will beget far better solutions. The negative emotional state of feeling helpless or overwhelmed by your problems will actually lead to sub-optimal decisions.

Responsibility is used in many conflicting and confusing ways in today's society; we therefore provide a clear definition. When used in the context of being responsible for something, we define responsibility as having the power to control and change it. When used in the context of behaving responsibly towards something, we define responsibility as behaving in accordance with your intent. Personal responsibility is the ability to control and change yourself, or equivalently it is a contract to act in accordance with your intent. Note that we are separating your self (your intent) from your actions. Many people incorrectly see responsibility as a burden. In fact, responsibility is the understanding that you have the power to do something in a situation, about a situation, for an individual or to an individual. When you see responsibility as something within your power rather than as something with which to criticise, that shift in focus can actually over time create enthusiasm in you to act responsibly.

The very best way to measure if your mental capacity is improving is actually to notice the number of interesting, out-of-the-box and/or inspiring thoughts you have on a daily basis.

One of the best ways of monitoring if you are living up to the responsibility of creating leveraged results is by checking the opportunity cost of your actions.

Efficiency comes from learning from others by watching them, reading relevant articles and books and adopting best practices used by friends and colleagues. You should constantly evaluate the way you do things and try to improve your processes. The key to leveraged results is having the independence to question other people's assumptions.

Long-term negative habits and behaviours tend to act like smoking in that they create a feeling of familiar comfort in us and yet create negative consequences in the long term. We tend to have a natural desire to stay within our ‘comfort zones'. But most comfort zones do not increase our long-term happiness generated by increasing our four accounts. All they do is send a message to the mind that the status quo is being observed, which is often not productive but has the comfort of familiarity.

The outperformer is the embodiment of flexibility – he is always looking for how to become more efficient between motivation and change, to shorten the time between cause and effect, thought and action.

Stagnation is a form of failure; evolution requires a constant change for the better.

Start seeing new habits as experiments, things you would like to try, rather than permanent shifts in your life.

A great way of creating a healthy current emotional state, one that allows you to become inspired, is by constantly telling yourself that the past is ancient history and you just do your best now.

It is possible to initiate virtuous cycles through exogenous influences. Firstly, read an inspiring book or watch an inspiring programme every day. This will lead to a desire to watch and discuss only things that produce the same effect. Interact every day with one individual who is inspiring to you. Being around an inspiring person, if done regularly, will change the belief in you about how your friends, your work colleagues and your family should really treat you. Take at least 15 minutes twice a day, and often take a few minutes every 3–4 hours, to just sit quietly and try to feel calm. It will help you calm your mind so that you can make rational and ultimately inspirational choices. These habits, if routinely observed, will slowly start to reverse the apathetic comfort zones that it is easy to become used to. All three of them will reverse certain key beliefs that have become a rigid perspective in you.

Write stuff down. This is the simplest and best piece of advice we can give you on goal setting.

Your left brain is incapable of monitoring and evaluating anything that is not measured.

It is much easier for your brain to be motivated if the eventual goal is tangible, and if it impacts your senses. Translate your abstract goals into related visual images, smells, sounds, think about them often, and make it clear to your brain in this way that they are important.

One of the most important things you should always observe is consistency of your actions – a person is not truly inspired if they are not consistent. Inconsistency means that you are coming from some negative emotion towards your goal – fear, anxiety or something else. In that case, you need to go back and figure out what is happening.

The 'Four Agreements' used by the Toltec

  1. Be impeccable with your word. Truth is one of the strongest ways of creating and sustaining inspiration. People, including our self, respond well to an honest person, and can be enthused more easily. You have to tell the truth to yourself otherwise your self-saboteur will not believe you and will wear you down with attack thoughts. The same goes for your interaction with others.

  2. Do not take anything personally. However anyone treats you has no reflection on you. No trauma justifies shutting down in the medium and long term. However anyone criticises you does not mean that you are beyond correction. You just have to connect with the good in yourself and then you can always go back.

  3. Do not make assumptions.

  4. Always do your best. You can start doing your best right now regardless of your past. You always have the power in the present moment to change the trajectory of your success. Asking "Do I want to do my best in this particular endeavour?" is a fantastic way of staying true to your vision. Does this endeavour make me want to do my best, or does this endeavour only make me want to do enough to pass? This will tell you a lot about whether you are truly inspired, or if it is just a fear-based motivation. This is a fantastic yardstick. Do you want to come in at 9 and leave at 5, or do you really care?

There is a difference between enjoying an activity because it is in your comfort zone and genuinely deriving pleasure from it.

Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.
— Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States

When we are open and honest about how we feel and we do not try to pretend somehow that we are more thick-skinned then we are, then we really allow people to see us as we are.

Be consistent; hold decent values unequivocally. Consistency leads to emotional stability in your relationships with others, as well as in your relationship with yourself. Consistency makes people trust you, and creates charisma.

Consistency must happen regardless of your immediate emotional state. Did someone behave in a way that caused you hurt, anxiety or discomfort? If you respond from the emotional state in which the hurt has been delivered, there will be a tendency to over-react towards the other person. The key quality of great leaders is to take a step back and try to focus at that moment on other things that are going well in your life. This improved and stabilizes your emotional state, allowing you to respond in the most appropriate way. This is the same principle as counting to 10, just a lot more efficient.

‘Good' networking is about inviting others into your life. ‘Bad' networking is about pushing yourself into theirs.

Networking is about putting yourself into situations where you are likely to meet people you would not meet otherwise, or who you would not normally get to know at all. Networking is about going out there, finding out more about others and telling them a bit about you. It is nothing more than that.

How to become better with people

  1. Say hello and smile.

  2. Drop your story.

  3. Learn how to get others to drop their barriers. Find what you have in common with the other person and temporarily become more like them in certain aspects. Language is important too. Not only does it help to use some of the other person's words, it is often also useful to determine how they think and prefer to receive information – are they visual, auditory or kinaesthetic? Phrases and words they use such as "I see", "I hear what you're saying", "I know where you're coming from" are dead giveaways as to how your sparring partner thinks.

  4. Experiment and evaluate.

  5. Fake it until you make it. Do you want to become more outgoing? Behave as if you were. Work on the most important components of your charisma. Be open about your interests, passions and dedication. When others see that you are passionate and dedicated to something, they will tend to assume that you are going to succeed in pursuing your dreams which makes them much more inclined to help you as they will not see their effort as wasted, and they will believe that whatever help they offer will be useful and create goodwill.

  6. Understand what both parties want from the interaction.

Find good buddies who will support you in your goals and vision. Focus on identifying people who are compatible – they should be on a similar level of achievement and motivation, and have complementary skills to your own. There are two approaches to finding mentors. Identify the areas where you want to work on yourself, and find people with the right experience and skills. Alternatively, find people who are just amazing, and go for it with the understanding that there is bound to be something they can teach you.

Effective learning comes down to three key things: understand your objectives (what you want to get out of it,) create the right high-level plan (strategy) and execute well (tactics).


Your brain likes anchors--specific points or key data and information that can be used to create the basic framework of understanding. So it is important to define objectives before you start learning so that your brain has key points around which it can group other information and a way of evaluating its performance. This helps you focus and keep your concentration levels high during your studies. In addition, it creates immediate benchmarks and feedback loops. If you do not have objectives, how do you determine if you need to re-read a particular chapter? The only criterion you have in such a situation is whether you feel that you understand the material or not. That is a pretty unreliable benchmark.


Strategic planning is about mapping out the journey ahead and setting clear expectations in order to ensure a smooth, effective execution later on. To be more specific – once you have decided on your objectives, you need to use these to create the right strategy for learning the material. Always consider the big picture first. Decide on deadlines and benchmarks. Divide the work into smaller pieces--this has the added benefit of making it feel like you are learning effortlessly. If you, for example, set aside just 15–30 min every day as opposed to two hours thrice a week, learning will eventually feel much easier and much less like hard work. Develop a deliberate practice plan, rather than a hardworking one. Continue evaluating whether you are learning effectively, and adjust the course if necessary.


  • Remove distractions and create an environment conductive to learning.

  • Focus on understanding and do not compromise. Thinking "I will look it up later" never works. Learning is a cumulative process--you need to build the basics first before proceeding higher.

  • Develop intuition, particularly in technical subjects. You have to be able to visualise the entire idea in plain language, with examples that a child could understand.

  • Understand how memory works, and make use of it. When you read or generally learn something new, you should revisit the concept the day after, then one week after, then two weeks after and then a month after. This will dramatically increase the amount of information you will retain in your memory, and even more importantly, it will significantly reduce the rate at which you are now forgetting this information.

On leisure activities: Stop saying "I would like to …", learn how to say "I am …".

Excellence is not an event; it is an ongoing process, with all of its ups and downs, losses and victories, easy and difficult parts.

Stop worrying about "what if…?", the opportunities you missed and the mistakes you made. One of my strongest beliefs is in the greatness of man and what he or she can achieve, regardless of the starting point. The distance you have already traveled is irrelevant; what matters is the speed that you gain and sustain from now onwards.