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Athletic Bookworm Blog Motivation

The One Thing: Athletic Bookworm Review + Highlights

December 30, 2018

The One Thing: Athletic Bookworm Review + Highlights

This month’s Athletic Bookworms was similar to November’s choice, The Motivation Manifesto: Not 100% athlete oriented, but a lot of lessons that we can take from it with our training (and, of course, in our everyday lives). This one was The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.
I enjoyed the book, and as one person already said to me on Twitter, it has a lot of great general principles and concepts… but his ideas are super hard to put into practice for a normal human. Even Keller contradicts himself slightly: he talks about THE ONE THING, but then has one thing for plenty of different segments of his life. So, take the ONE THING concept with a grain of salt. I thought about it like I think about my one-word resolution. It’s more about asking what’s important and focusing on that, but not ignoring the rest of life. (I’d love to just train, or just work on my new novel, but emails do need to be answered…)

OK, so what were the best takeaways? Let’s dive in!

Go small. Don’t focus on being busy; focus on being productive. Allow what matters most to drive your day.

This is probably the biggest takeaway from this book for me. The One Thing concept is great, but sometimes it felt too broad to actually be effective. For me, I have this site, Shred Girls, my writing for other outlets, the coaching I do at camps and with Peter, my own training… My life, like most people’s, isn’t boiled down to just one thing that makes sense to focus on. So, I took most of what he said about that with a grain of salt — think about the One Thing for different aspects of your life — and paid a bit more attention to some of the more general advice. So, this part really spoke to me: “Don’t focus on being busy; focus on being productive.”

I am terrible for busy-work. The worst is when I have my to-do list totally cleared for the day and it’s not that late. That’s where I go sideways, playing the email and newsfeed refresh game instead of using that time to shift focus to projects like one of the three books I’m currently working on. This book was a good reminder to, in those moments of ‘what should I do now?’ to think about what will make me productive, versus just looking busy. If I can’t get excited about any of those things, maybe it’s OK to shut down for the day and go for a walk or read a novel, if everything that I wanted to get done is done.

The same applies for training — don’t waste time on junk miles, don’t add tons of volume that you don’t need to add. Be judicious in what’s going to actually make you better, versus what might feel cool in the moment.


We don’t need any more discipline than we already have. We just need to direct and manage it a little better.

Success is actually a short race—a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough for habit to kick in and take over. When we know something that needs to be done but isn’t currently getting done, we often say, “I just need more discipline.” Actually, we need the habit of doing it. And we need just enough discipline to build the habit…. Australian researchers Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng have even found some evidence of a halo effect around habit creation. In their studies, students who successfully acquired one positive habit reported less stress; less impulsive spending; better dietary habits; decreased alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine consumption; fewer hours watching TV; and even fewer dirty dishes.

Like every other self-improvement book, habits are a big part of this, and I admit, I do like the reminder. The halo effect is super interesting to me, and I’m in the middle of an experiment about it now, honestly. I’m at a cycling camp helping coach some elite junior and U23 racers, and I’m riding with them every day. The riding with them is prompting a cascade of positive habits: I’m getting to sleep earlier, eating more on rides and eating better before and after… Because I have to in order to keep up and stay healthy through the camp but also because the more I pay attention to getting my body moving on the bike for long days, the more I want to do the things that will make that go better.


Failure is Good

“Don’t fear failure. It’s as much a part of your journey to extraordinary results as success. Adopt a growth mindset, and don’t be afraid of where it can take you,” he writes. “Extraordinary results aren’t built solely on extraordinary results. They’re built on failure too. In fact, it would be accurate to say that we fail our way to success.”

As racers, we know this to be true. You can’t win every race, but you can use every race as information, as another piece to the puzzle.


Your big ONE Thing is your purpose and your small ONE Thing is the priority you take action on to achieve it.

The question he posts: “So, based on my goal today, what’s the ONE Thing I can do right NOW so I’m on track to achieve my goal today, so I’m on track to achieve my goal this week, so I’m on track to achieve my goal this month, so I’m on track to achieve my goal this year, so I’m on track to achieve my five-year goal, so I’m on track to achieve my someday goal?”

This one was particularly interesting for someone who can’t necessarily spend all their time focusing on one specific thing all day. There are two ways I’m looking at this:

  1. When I wake up and get going on work, instead of checking off the super easy stuff just to start ticking things off my to-do list, I’ve started looking at the list and thinking about which thing on it is the highest priority. As a rule, I try to avoid procrastinating until the day something is due, so a lot of the time, my days aren’t deadline-based. So I do have the ability to think about actual priorities, versus urgent ones. It’s helped put a focus on my writing, for sure.
  2. Training-wise, I think this is a great question to ask every day, because it makes you think about what your body is really asking for: Is stretching and foam rolling what your body thinks is #1 today? Or is it that hard run on your schedule, a good smoothie post-workout to focus in on your nutrition, or an extra hour of sleep later? It’s a great way to see taking extra recovery as part of the 5-year plan rather than freaking out about the day to day.


Energy is Everything

“When we keep borrowing against our future by poorly protecting our energy, there is a predictable outcome of either slowly running out of gas or prematurely crashing and burning,” he writes. “High achievement and extraordinary results require big energy. The trick is learning how to get it and keep it.”

This was one of the points he made that really made me sit up and take note. I am not the kind of person who can run the tank on empty for long. I get hangry easily, and after a couple of nights with less sleep, I’m grumpy, useless and will likely get a cold. “You need your sleep so your mind and body can rest and recharge for tomorrow’s extraordinary productivity. Anyone you know who gets little sleep and appears to be doing great is either a freak of nature or hiding its effects from you. Either way, they aren’t your role model,” he adds. THANK YOU!

This one is obviously applicable to training, since we all know that without proper rest and recovery, the magic adaptations from training will never happen. And somehow, most of us ignore that. So, take this last point as your #1 reminder heading into 2019: give yourself time to recharge energy in a healthy way, and your body will thank you. You may need to skip the occasional workout to get more sleep but I almost can guarantee you’ll see better results.

Didn’t read it this December? Get a copy here and catch up:


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