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Showing Up

Mike Mangino

July 1, 2022

Business motivational words on a book – Don’t decrease the goal. Increase the effort. A flat lay concept with cup of coffee, a book, pen and laptop on white and yellow table background.

When I was a kid, I loved to play soccer. It was by far my favorite sport. At a certain point, there weren’t any more recreational teams for me to play on. The only way to continue playing was to try out to be placed on a club soccer team. After unsuccessfully trying out for a few teams, I decided I just wasn’t good enough at soccer to keep playing. It took me until my early 30s to realize that it wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough, I just didn’t practice

At that time, I had recently moved to Philadelphia. I was somewhat of a runner and joined an organization called “Back On My Feet” where I met early in the morning to run with men from a local homeless shelter. I became friends with a group of the other volunteers and was quickly impressed by how fast they were. As I became better friends with them, I asked them about their training. While there was a lot of variety in how they trained, there was one consistent aspect of it: they were always training. It’s not that they didn’t take days off. They did. What they didn’t do was to take a month off, or even a week off. James Clear says it beautifully in his book Atomic Habits: “If you can’t learn the basic skill of showing up, then you have little hope of mastering the finer details.”

This had an incredible impact on my life. As I contemplated the things I did and didn’t do well, I realized that there weren’t things that I “just wasn’t good at.” Instead, there were things that I worked at and things I didn’t. I was a good programmer, but a terrible guitar player. I spent years programming every chance I got. When it came to the guitar, I practiced halfheartedly for 20 minutes a few times per week. No wonder I wasn’t better!

Looking at the state of my running, I realized the same thing was holding me back. I was putting in effort, but not as consistently as I needed to.  I was going through the motions at best, and not always even doing that. It took me a while to understand why. Once again, we’ll turn to James Clear: “The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.”

Doing something new is fun! Running the same path 500 times is much less fun, but it’s this repeated effort that makes the difference between an average runner and a good runner. After training seriously for several years, I made consistent improvements to my marathon time.

It’s easy to say that you get better by showing up and working hard, but it’s difficult in practice. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to make it easier. For me, one of the most important practices is to plan my days in advance. If I just start my day with no plan, it’s easy to get to 5 p.m. and realize I still haven’t run. Instead, I can look at my meetings and see if there is a good time during the day to get out. If not, I know I need to wake up a little earlier to run.

I do this in many other areas of my life as well. After a full day of work, I know I won’t want to plan a meal for dinner. Instead, I use the weekend to make a meal plan for the week and to make sure I have all the ingredients I need. This way, when I reach the end of the day, I can just follow the recipe directions without having to make decisions. By removing thought and friction from tasks, you make them more likely to get done.

So, give it a shot. Find something you want to improve at and make a minor change. Think ahead to make it as easy as possible to keep up with your habit, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you improve.

As to soccer, I started playing again when I turned 39. In the last five years, I’ve gone from being the worst player on my team to solidly in the middle. It turns out I was good enough, I just needed to learn how to work.

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Mike Mangino
About the Author

Mike Mangino

Mike Mangino is the Chief Technology Officer for TriumphPay where he leads the development and dissemination of advanced technologies that improve and increase business for our customers and TriumphPay. Prior to joining TriumphPay, Mike was the Chief Technology Officer for HubTran where he was responsible for designing and building software to automate back-office payables for the transportation industry and built and managed a team of engineers including software development, DevOps and customer support.

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