Several months ago, I listened to a Podcast interview with Hugh Jackman where he talked about Carl Lewis and what he calls “the 85% rule.” Over the course of his career, Carl Lewis won 10 Olympic medals (9 gold) and 10 World Championships medals. In fact, he is one of only a few Olympians who won gold in the same event in 4 consecutive Olympic Games.

Beyond Lewis’s remarkable career, there was something fascinating that researchers found when watching the tape back of Lewis running the 100-meter dash. As the story goes, Carl Lewis was commonly well behind the leaders at the halfway point in the race. However, as the medals show, Carl Lewis closed the gap in the second half of the race and often won by substantial margins. While that’s an interesting reality, what’s most compelling is what Lewis did differently.

When the researchers watched back the races over and over, there was a clear difference between Lewis and his fellow competitors. While the other athletes visibly strained as the race went on, Carl Lewis’s posture remained unchanged. His facial expression, muscle action, foot cadence, and breathing rhythm were the same at meter 10, 50, 75, and through the finish line.

“It’s like Carl Lewis was running at 85%.”

A Change in Thought and Behavior

Over the last several months, I’ve sought to function at 85%. From the structuring of meetings throughout the day to providing extra time to make it to an appointment or event, leaving some extra margin has made all of the difference in the world. Even changing my expectations of when I might arrive somewhere or what I might accomplish by a certain time has had an enormous impact – in my mind, in the way I’m present with those around me and in my response to something adverse.

A quick example – a couple of weeks ago, I was making my morning smoothie and went to put the lid on and spilled the entire cup all over the countertop. When I’m running at 100% and without a moment to spare, this is pretty frustrating and not the way to start the day. There’s not space to clean up a mess and most certainly not space to make a replacement. So I’m left with feeling frustrated and behind.

The reality is that nobody wants to follow a leader who’s frustrated and behind before the day begins.

I’m by no means there yet and I find myself often with too much to do in too little time, AND the mindset of moving at 85% has been immensely helpful in reducing anxiety and creating a more sustainable path to life.

Cheers to leading well over the long haul!

Josh Block

Josh Block

Josh Block is a Michigan native, husband, father of two, speaker, company president, and leadership advocate. He believes that healthy leaders, thriving teams and fulfilling work carry remarkable power to transform people and families.

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