Dr. Jeff Spencer has consulted and provided guidance for top-performers in sports and business. As a former Olympian himself, he’s spent a career studying the science of success and helping others implement those principles in their lives with his Champion’s Blueprint training. Today on the podcast, Jeff and I discuss the science of success.
- How Jeff ended up coaching Olympic athletes and business CEOs
- How success is a skill that anyone can learn
- Why some people are afraid of success
- Why you should be vision focused and not goal focused
- The seven steps of the Champion’s Blueprint
- Why you need a team to be successful
- The perils and pitfalls of success
- Daily practices that can prime you for optimal achievement
- And much more!
While the subject of success is often talked about in banal platitudes, I think you’ll find that Jeff has got some really useful insights into the topic. You can find out more info about his Champion’s Blueprint program here. Also, check out Jeff’s book Turn It Up! It’s a quick read, full of actionable information.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. We all want to be successful in our lives and it’s not just economically successful but we want to be successful in our personal lives, our family lives, our fitness, our community service, church service, whatever. Our guest today argues that success is skill that can be acquired through practice. His name is Dr. Jeff Spencer and he’s coached world class athletes, including Olympians, he’s also a former Olympian himself, as well as CEOs. Today on the podcast Dr. Jeff Spencer and I discuss his program called the Champions Blueprint, we discuss the science of success, the mindset you need to develop, the systems you need to put in place, the teams of people you need around you, in order to be your best selves. Even if you’re not a high-level CEO, how you can apply this for the average Joe. It’s a really fascinating discussion with lots of practical takeaways. I think you’re going to like it so let’s do this, Dr. Jeff Spencer.
Dr. Jeff Spencer, welcome to the show.
Jeff Spencer: It is such a pleasure, I can’t thank you enough for the privilege.
Brett McKay: Tell us how did you wind up doing what you do? Because it’s a unique thing. You basically coach success to Olympians, professional athletes, CEOs … How do you wind up doing that?
Jeff Spencer: It’s interesting. Number one the path was through a very interesting background where my dad was an artistic genius and he died homeless on the streets of New York City. I realized that talent and will and technique and technology are never going to save anybody. That is certainly a requirement but that’s not the answer.
I also realized when I was a kid that wanted to be an Olympian that the biggest and the baddest didn’t win. It was always the people on paper that shouldn’t that did. I was curious about that. Then when I had my mentors come into my life, once my dad had abandoned the family, they shared with me all their secrets on how they became iconic in their industries and I realized it’s not the industry it’s about them and it’s about how they show up. Because they don’t have the best pedigree but yet they’re always first in line to grab the brass ring. Where all the people with the best pedigrees are still scratching their head when these guys have already grabbed the brass ring and moved on.
As the result of that I did become an Olympian. I know what it’s like to compete at the top. Unless you’ve been there you can’t possibly understand it and you cannot go out and study successful people and necessarily help people become one. You have to have lived that experience itself.
I also was successful almost as a scientist, as a … I have a Master’s Degree in exercise … Physiology. I really understand the body, I know what it takes to get the top, I understand what’s required to have the physical resources to be able to make your dreams come true. Whether that’s in the locker room or the board room it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to really have physical capacity.
As a result of that I had people come to me that were very interested in how do I get to the top of my game but how do I finish that off by staying there and creating a long and lasting legacy of contribution and meaning. I got asked a lot of other questions about health and fitness, injury prevention, injury management, so on and so forth. I went back and I became a chiropractor, I was international sports chiropractor of the year. I really became that go to guy that could look at the entire universe of an individual and dissect it and see what had to happen to be able to move them forward into their greatness and their greatest leverage. What the discovery really was is that the people that had the readiness for the pivotal moments, there are maybe three or four or five pivotal moments, that occur each year that will determine the success or the failure of a person’s business and of their life.
I observed that, and because I had a background in basically everything, I wasn’t really a coach. A coach is someone that helps you on a specific item or a slice of the pie to be applied at some point later. That’s not what I did. I wasn’t really a mentor. I didn’t hold people’s hands down the path to the promised land. But because I was very successful in five or six different areas I take people in any area to get to the top of their game and stay there. Really what I do is more about corner man type of feature where there’s nothing that you can’t talk to me about because I understand just about everything and I can take your universe and I can dissect exactly what the path is so you have the readiness to be able to convert those opportunities and carry momentum forward to your bigger and your greater future.
Brett McKay: Okay so you started off in sports. How did you get with CEOs? Did they come to you? Was that something …
Jeff Spencer: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Yeah? Okay.
Jeff Spencer: They did. Because their deal is okay, you’re an Olympian so you must know something about getting to the top. Which they’re absolutely correct. Even though it was sports, sports was the technical side of it. Business has a technical business side to it, right? But what about the CEO? How do you show up in leadership? How do you guide a team to a bigger future? That’s all about you. It’s exactly the same thing in sport as it is in stage, as it is in the board room. It’s exactly the same thing. It was a very easy transition.
Brett McKay: Okay. You argue in your book Turn It Up, and you say that success is a skill.
Jeff Spencer: It is. Absolutely.
Brett McKay: That anyone can learn. If success is a skill what are the practices that make up that skill and how does one become skilled in success?
Jeff Spencer: Let’s define what a champion is first and foremost, whether that’s in business, sport or whatever. Someone that can consistently deliver on a promise of their skill and their talent and a bigger, better and vital future in contribution of other people. If I look at that level definition, that’s someone that has the readiness for the pivotal moments to be able to achieve their champion goals, to avoid preventable problems. That’s a big deal. You got to be able to avoid preventable problems without losing time and momentum.
That being said, having the success that I did with people, sports, business, board room, locker room, on stage, off stage, it doesn’t matter to me. I look at, having done this for 40 years, what is the common thread that they all share? I recognized, because I actually drew what it looked like on a napkin in a restaurant, and there were eight different steps that every prolific performer goes through without exception, there are no exemptions, that develop the capacity to be able to develop that readiness for those pivotal moments to carry momentum forward to the bigger future. There are eight very specific steps that every performer goes through.
Brett McKay: Is this your Champions Blueprint then?
Jeff Spencer: It is, yes. That’s the Champions Blueprint.
Brett McKay: What are those steps?
Jeff Spencer: Step number one is legacy. It’s important to have a broader context for what it is that you are ultimately going to achieve and what you actually are going to leave as an individual. I always think it’s important to lead with the end in mind. If you have a legacy statement then you have a context that keeps you in integrity and keeps your decision making in integrity to make sure that you’re moving towards the future and a legacy that you want to leave. Most people don’t do that. Most people start and they begin the process of pursuing a goal with the idea of getting to the top. The top is really, in the Champions Blueprint, not the finish line. The top is actually at nine o’clock. There are two steps above top, there’s master and then there’s also champion. That’s step one.
Step number two is vision. A vision is not a goal. A goal is, again, getting to the top, a destination. Vision is really how do you see yourself once you achieve your goal. What does that do to you? What is the level of credibility? What is the value that you have in your belief? How is it that you call other people to a higher game through the achievement of that goal? The reason why vision is important is that it gives you the clarity to be very clear and have a very well defined purpose for what you get up and commit to each and every day.
Step number three is mindset. I’m not talking about positive thinking. I’m not talking about a perfect GRE or 180 high IQ. I’m talking about do you really have the knowledge and do you really understand and do you have the fortitude to be able to engage all the challenges in the processes that you will engage en route to being able to achieve your goal? Do you really have that? Do you have a set of standards that you call everybody to that you run your process against? You got to have that mindset.
If you don’t have a mindset, you don’t have a legacy, you don’t have a vision, don’t start because you’re not ready. Because what that does, that creates an emotive force that makes actually the ambition to get to the goal actually alive and real.
Step number four is inventory. Before anybody begins, before you’ve got any skin in the game, make sure that you have a vetted inventory of skills and knowledge that you must have as an individual in leadership. You must also have a vetted list of material resources, time, space, equipment, team, et cetera, before you go live boots on the ground. If you go through those four steps then you’re ready to go into division two of the Champions Blueprint which is the performance side where you’re actually opening the doors and actively pursuing your goal.
Step number five is climb the wall. When I talk about climbing the wall this is where you’re actually developing the perseverance and you’re developing the critical mass to be able to have your first breakout performance where you perform for the first time in line with your expectation. It’s very similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to develop the capacity to perform at the level consistent with your goal. Once you’ve had your breakout performance it confirms to you and everybody else hey I can actually do this.
Then you have to duplicate that so you own the technical process and that’s step six which is called elevation. This is where you own your product, you can reproduce it, you will never ever not get it right. Once you are performing at that level then you’re at the best of the best in your discipline or in line with your expectation.
Then that begins step number seven which is adaptation. Because once you achieve your goal, particularly at a very high level, once you get to the top, you inherit a whole other set of challenges beyond your technical skill. Those have to do with external forces that will significantly challenge you. People, places, and things, they’re going to come after you because you got a target on your back. If you’re not ready for the acceleration of responsibility at that level then there’s no way that you can run at the top indefinitely. It absolutely is not going to happen.
When you have developed a system and a skill to be able to deal with the external circumstances that can take you out of the game and you match that with your technical skill, then you’ve achieved mastery. You really get the idea of what it really takes to perform at that level. A perfect example is U2, those guys can cut a platinum album just as easily as making another piece of bread or toast. That’s because they’ve mastered the process.
Now if you master the process then you have step number eight. Step number eight is the wave. The wave is where you can pick and choose your ambitions. This is where you have discretionary income. This is where you have mastered the process of creation and this is where you can add the most significant number in magnitude of successes to your legacy.
But there’s a problem, and this is a big problem, because generally people defer health and relationships along the process to get to the promise land and that’s where the balloon payment has got to be paid back in terms of the health that’s been deferred and where relationships have been deferred. I have seen many people, once they got it figure out, they have a catastrophic relationship failure or they have a catastrophic preventable health issue because they deferred that process.
If you survive that then you have to survive the success intoxication. Most people aren’t ready for that. The temptations that you get once you’re at the top are significant and I’ve seen people that can’t manage that throw a lifetime of preparation and achievement away in an instant by doing some preventable amateurish decision that basically takes them out of the game.
If you’ve learned all of those skills in that eight steps then you have the capacity to be able to create the greatest legacy of distinction and be able to create the most valued life and of the lifestyle that you have aspired to achieve.
Brett McKay: There’s a lot of great stuff there and I want to unpack the little things that stuck out to me. I love the idea of focusing on vision rather than goals.
Jeff Spencer: Yes.
Brett McKay: Because in my experience having goals is great but then the problem you run into is that you achieve a goal and you think when you set the goal that when you achieve it that you’ll feel satisfied and you’ll feel happy. Then you get there and you’re just like okay.
Jeff Spencer: That’s so classic that you would say that because actually getting to the top is actually a false summit. Because Hollywood tells you that when you arrive there then you will be enriched and nourished, you’ll fill a void, the vacuum that you’ve been striving so diligently for, and it never delivers. Because the magnitude of the challenge is once you get there you couldn’t conceive in advance. The problem is that if you don’t know that it’s coming, and you can’t outrun your blind spots, that’s the thing that can take you out of the game. You’re absolutely right.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Using the experience from my own life, I went to law school and my goal my first semester was I want to be number one in my class, that was the thing, number one. I worked … I had a system, I got it down pat, and I … When the grades came out and you had to go to the front desk and they handed you a slip of paper and it had your … They wrote the … The lady at the office wrote your rank on it. I got it and it said one. I thought I’d be really elated but I remember the feeling was like it was a let down of how I felt. I don’t know. It was just really bizarre. Then I had to readjust my expectations about things. Yeah, I had to have a bigger vision. Why am I doing this? Why am I working so … Is it just for that number? Or is there some bigger purpose?
Jeff Spencer: That’s what the legacy is all about. That’s why if you establish that up front then you can decide on your current trajectory whether that’s way your race is going to end or not. Really without that integrity filter then by default your passion is to get the top often at all costs. People sometimes leave a trail of destruction 10 miles long behind that never delivered but man did they get to the top, correct?
Brett McKay: Yeah. My health went down. I was surviving on protein bars and diet Mountain Dew.
Jeff Spencer: Classic.
Brett McKay: I don’t recommend.
Jeff Spencer: That’s classic.
Brett McKay: Be vision … Have a bigger vision and don’t be so goal-oriented. You brought up an interesting point about some of the stuff that comes with success. A lot of people they focus on the positive of success. I’ll have all these opportunities opened up to me, people will recognize me, I’ll have money, et cetera. But there are some pitfalls to success. Some of those things can make people afraid of success. What are the things? How can someone be afraid of success? You talked about this in your book Turn It Up.
Jeff Spencer: Yeah, the responsibility of success because once you’ve achieved it then the expectation is that that’s now going to be your new normal. People have an idea and a sense of what time and effort it took to be able to get there and now I got to keep that as my normal. Not in addition to the expectation to be able to exceed that by raising my bar. That can be extremely intimidating to people and quite honestly the reason why it’s intimidating is that they don’t have a plan or a strategy to be able to engage that because they don’t understand that that’s coming.
For example in the Champions Blueprint, since each of the steps is progressive you not only know where you are and you not only know what to do in that step to carry momentum forward, but you also know the next step and you know what’s coming so you’re ready for the brass ring and you’re also ready for the pothole. You always know what’s coming. You’re never taken by surprise. In my experience the punch that everybody should fear in business and in sport and on stage is the punch that they don’t see that’s coming. Without a plan you’re guessing.
The conventional model is dream really big, want it bad enough, work hard and you’re going to close the gap. That’s not true. I know a lot of people that try really hard that basically go nowhere. Really in the Champions Blueprint the void or the empty space that can be closed by a better plan almost by default the plan can close it, and that’s really not what history tells us. That’s a sacred space that has to be managed.
The plan and the conventional work hard and want it bad enough that’s like a GPS. You have a destination, you got a starting point, and then a voice tells you where to go while you watch the picture. Great idea but what it doesn’t show you is the live traffic patterns, it does not show you the weather, it does not show you the perspective from a local that says why don’t you take this shortcut rather than what it says on the map. I know what it says but that’s not right.
Unless you can manage that space to be able to take your plan and implement it and move it forward progressively, unless there’s a vessel to hold that responsibly, to negotiate that minefield, the likelihood of being able to achieve a life of distinction and getting to your bigger goals in my view is almost no. The Champions Blueprint doesn’t take the place of a big vision, doesn’t take the place of working hard and wanting bad enough, it’s about protecting and preserving the path to make sure that you can negotiate and advance the initiative by carrying momentum from where you and where you want to go.
Brett McKay: Here’s something I’m curious about, and you probably have some insight into this because you were an Olympian, if success is the new normal how does an Olympian, for example, or a high performance athlete adjust to life after their career?
Jeff Spencer: Yeah, I can understand that. I can only speak for myself. It’s like when I came back from the Olympics I can understand why astronauts go to the moon and they come back and they’re bent. Because you can’t look at anything else the same again. It just … It skews your vision of what’s possible and it skews your normal. Mediocrity is not acceptable, correct? Because you really understand what’s possible and you understand what it takes to get there. Again, you can’t go back to a normal that once was that’s now irrelevant. You can’t conceive of it. Again you make choices a different way, you place a different value on things.
Because many of the things, quite honestly, that we look at, the mantras of what it should be when we get there, are complete myths. Many of the mechanisms and promises that we follow to get to where we want to go they’re hollow. Working hard doesn’t close the gap. Wanting it bad enough doesn’t get you to where you want to go. You cannot get somewhere that the level of skill that you have will not enable. There’s another reality there.
That’s one of the reasons why performing at the highest level is extremely challenging because you’re facing and asking a different set of questions that not everybody understands. Yet it’s proven itself to be the mechanism to carry you to the extraordinary where that becomes your normal, rather than the exception, it actually becomes your normal. It’s not an accident, it’s a skill that’s learned and it’s a skill that’s maintained by its application.
Brett McKay: Interesting. You mentioned that there’s a point in that adaptation phase where you’ve come to that point where you start making mistakes, where it’s possible to start making mistakes, that can just ruin everything that you built. Are there any examples that stick out to you of highly successful people that threw it all away because of just really dumb mistakes.
Jeff Spencer: Yeah, okay. Let’s look at Lance Armstrong for example, right? He had the world. He was the man. Great story, amazing achievement, correct?
Brett McKay: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff Spencer: But his legacy is probably about as low as it can get. Can he get it back? I don’t know the answer to that yet. But the point I want to make is that perhaps if Lance had had a filter of integrity to look at and make decisions against while he was going through the process to the promised land that he had defined in advance, he may not have made the choices that he did. That’s an obvious chance. Same thing with Tiger Woods. I’ve worked with both of these guys, not in this capacity, but I’ve spent time with them.
Again most of these things, really if we look at it, dreams to me are predictable. If you hold a dream in a certain reality they’re predictable. As are nightmares. But unless where we can locate where someone is in their process, and that’s what Champions Blueprint is all about, if we can locate where you are then we know what’s coming so there are no surprises and we can peek around the corner. Then you’re playing roulette with your life basically.
I look at Lance, I look at Tiger, I look at the mistakes that people predictably make that people say it’s normal. No, it’s not normal. This is a person that does not have the readiness for what history tells us is a very high probability. Unless we have that readiness then we’re doomed to repeat history. There’s no way that you can make it. It’s not possible.
Brett McKay: Yeah I guess when you reach that level of success you have a lot more to lose, right? The fall is a lot harder.
Jeff Spencer: You do. That’s one of the reasons why you need advisors. You can have coaches that show you technical skills to keep it moving forward from a specialist perspective in one slice of the pie. You can also have a mentor that can again hold your hand down the path to the promised land. But where’s the oversight of everything that includes your personal life and everything else that can take you out of the game? That’s a corner man’s issue. The corner man is absolutely the rarest most difficult of all of the advisory species because they have to be so well versed in everything to be able to see the complete picture to be able to make really good judgments about what the benefit to risks are of anything being considered.
Brett McKay: Yeah, let’s go … That’s an interesting point having a team. You emphasize in today’s competitive landscape you can’t become successful on your own. It requires a team around you. I think we can understand that. That’s the case for world class athletes, they have dietitians, trainers, psychologists, individuals like you. CEOs same thing. But what does it look like for the average Joe who wants to go to a better place in his life but he has a corporate job, family … What would a team look like for him?
Jeff Spencer: There’s actually two teams. You need a personal team and you also need a professional team. If we look at the requirements in the personal team you obviously need a tribe. You need a group of people that you can fellowship with on a regular basis that share a level of common value and same altitude. These are people that understand us. We need that engagement to be able to get meaningful feedback from and counsel from. You need that.
You also need a wingman. You need somebody that’s always there watching your back 24 hours a day, you can always call, rain or shine, sleet or snow, they’re always there to watch your back. You got to have a wingman or two.
You’ve got to have a corner man. The corner man is actually a bridge between your personal and your professional team because he’s an expert in everything and he sees both sides of the aisle. He can advise as to the integration of this and how to move forward with everything basically. The corner man, in my view, really becomes the key link.
You also need a family. You need people to be responsible to that will call you to a higher game and perhaps take you to a place you’re not going to be able to go yourself. We need that.
In terms of the performance team, you’ve got to have a management team for sure. You’ve got to have your technicians, you’ve got to have your advisors. Those are the critical elements. When all of those are in symmetry then you have a system that has massive coherence where the output is always greater than the sum of the parts. In my experience no one wins alone. It’s not possible.
Brett McKay: Yeah. It’s been my experience too.
Jeff Spencer: Not possible.
Brett McKay: We’ve been talking really big picture. I’m curious if you have any daily practices.
Jeff Spencer: I do.
Brett McKay: That everyone can take part in starting now that can help them achieve optimal success.
Jeff Spencer: Yeah, I would say the most prized commodity right now is to make sure that you can carry momentum and you don’t get deflected or you don’t get stalled. Either from too many people, places and things, too many obligations, or maybe you’re indecisive. Those are all reasons why we stall. The risk of a stall is you may never get back the momentum, you may just drift into oblivion. Which I find abhorrent. I think a couple things are really critical.
Every morning when you get up I think it’s important to do some level of meditative art where you’re consciously committing and putting on the armor to successfully engage people, places and things, so you start the day from a position of mental and physical strength so that you can make your decisions so at the end of the day it’s a product of your vision. You don’t make everybody else’s emergency your problem. There’s got to be some contemplation whether it’s traditional meditation, maybe it’s chi gong yoga, or whatever, maybe it’s prayer. You decide what that is. But there’s got to be a pause where you’re really connecting with your self and your soul and your body to be able to start the day from an integrated perspective where you’re not vulnerable to people, places and things.
Number two, for sure good nutrition. Because the body and the mind need good nutrition to run and to be able to handle the physical and mental strain of the day. Because it just takes one mental lapse or drop in energy to create a catastrophic amateurish preventable mental error.
We also need a connection with purpose. For example before I go to work each day I look at a picture. The picture that I look at is that I look at a picture of myself and my wife and I also look at a picture of my adopted daughter. What this does this reminds me of why I go to work every day. It’s a purpose outside myself that’s bigger for me. There’s always enough energy to do anything on behalf of others.
The other thing that I always do before I go to work and engage people, I decide how I’m going to show up that day. Am I going to show up and be of service to people? Or am I going to take things that may go wrong for me and make everybody pay for the things that aren’t going right in my life? I don’t do that. I make a very deliberate choice that I’m going to show up from the highest level of service to be able to call people to a higher game and give them the structure and the strategy to be able to do the next couple of steps to be able to move that ball forward down towards the end zone. It’s a conscious choice that I make every day.
Brett McKay: You’re very intentional with your days.
Jeff Spencer: 100%. Only because I know that my legacy is dependent upon what I did with my time or what I did with my talent. Every moment that I waste is a trespass against that. Yeah.
Brett McKay: Jeff, where can people learn more about your work and the Champions Blueprint?
Jeff Spencer: Two places actually. Thanks again for asking. My website of course which is www.drjeffspencer.com. For those that are interested in the workshop it would be www.drjeffspecer.com/workshop.
Brett McKay: Workshop. All right. Jeff Spencer, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Jeff Spencer: I can’t believe that our time is up. Best of luck to everybody. Onward and upward, there’s always room at the top for the best. Thanks again for just a delightful time.
Brett McKay: Thanks Jeff.
Our guest today was Dr. Jeff Spencer, he’s the author of Turn It Up, and also the creator of the Champions Blueprint. You can find out more information about the Champions Blueprint program at drjeffspencer.com
That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoy this podcast I’d really appreciate if you would tell your friends about it, give us a review on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, whatever it is you use to listen to the podcast. That will help us out in spreading the word.
Until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.