In the final of the 110m hurdles at the 2011 World Championships in Athletics, Aries Merritt came in 6th. In the same event in 2012, he placed 1st and set a world record that still stands today.

I’d say that’s success. The question is, how did he do it? How did he go from sixth to world record in one year?

I like to study successful people. When you study people who failed, you hear about the obstacles that sank their ship. When you study people who succeeded, you hear about how they overcame the obstacles that threatened to sink their ship.

The common thread I’ve found in my research is this: People who succeed believe in the goal more than they believe in the obstacles. This is a unique, but powerful mindset.

There’s no doubt that the 110 meter hurdle event is full of obstacles. Ten of them to be exact, not counting the people you’re racing against.

Aries Merritt has been trying to tackle these obstacles his entire life. Sure, he’s won before, but setting a world record is a new level of success. So, what changed?

Did he find a way to run faster? Did he practice an hour more each day? Did he change shoes?

The adjustment in this case wasn’t actually that big. Merritt reduced the number of steps he was taking leading up to the first hurdle from eight steps to seven.

“It was pretty risky to make a change like that, but something had to be done if I was going to compete with (Liu Xiang of China and Dayron Robles of Cuba). The change allows me to maintain my momentum going into the first barrier.”

Merritt doesn’t believe in the ability of the obstacle to stop him and he doesn’t believe in the ability of the other racers to beat him. What he believes in is his own ability to make adjustments and win races.

He can’t move the hurdles and he can’t slow down the other runners. He’s competing at a level where you can’t just “run faster” or “train harder.”

Faced with these unique challenges, he could have easily accepted that he’s not a world record-challenging athlete and called it a day. Instead, he continued to find ways to improve, fueled by his sixth place finish.

Contrast that with most people’s behavior and perhaps your own. How often do you hear people say things like, “I have a slow metabolism” or “I can’t break this sugar addiction.” How often have they repeated, “I don’t like to exercise” or “I can’t afford to eat healthy?”

Now go watch a hurdler who focuses too much on the hurdles and too little on the finish line. What happens? They trip. Or they have a poor run. They certainly aren’t setting any records.

They might worry too much because they don’t feel confident. Maybe they feel uworthy of the stage they’re on. They might fear aggravating a past injury or have the memory of their last fall stuck in their mind.

The bottom line is that they believe in the obstacles more than the goal. And more than themselves.

Every single one of us has our own challenges, obstacles, and problems. You’re not a unique snowflake that’s struggling in a world full of successful people. There’s no easy street. We’re all trying to jump hurdles just the same.

What’s most interesting about Merritt’s story is that he found amazing success both because of the obstacles and in spite of them. If he had placed first in 2011, it’s unlikely he would have made the adjustment that allowed him to break the world record in 2012. 

Thats a stunning realization. And proof that our struggles make us better, provided we don’t succumb to them. 

Believe in the goal more than you believe in the obstacle and you can find the same success. If you can’t shift your mindset, I can guarantee you this: the obstacle — legitimate or not — will become your destiny.

Founder of Rebooted Body and host of The Rebooted Body Podcast. Kevin helps men and women finally get a body and life they love with his unique blend of real food, functional movement, and psychology. To work with him personally, choose a program.

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