3 Lessons In Greatness From Muhammad Ali

Posted on June 19th, 2016

Perhaps the greatest sporting icon of the twentieth century, Muhammad Ali deserves to be remembered around the world for his flying fists and indomitable persona. “Muhammad Ali was the greatest” wrote Barack Obama in one of the more significant tributes to the late superstar athlete: “He shook up the world, and the world is better for it.”

Without attempting to do justice here to the incredible range of Ali’s life, we would like to draw attention to three lessons from Ali’s peak performance arsenal that we can take and use immediately.

Lesson 1: Use Great Self-Talk

“I am the greatest!” thundered Muhammad Ali again and again over the course of a 21-year career which saw him become heavyweight champion of the world on three separate occasions.

“I’m not the greatest, I’m the double greatest” said the boxer. “Not only do I knock ‘em out, I pick the round… It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”

Notice that Muhammad Ali did not say “I am going to be the greatest”, he used the present tense – and that’s important with self-talk. We don’t tell ourselves what we want to be; we tell ourselves that we already are what we want to be.

Ali had a clear image of who he was, and reminded himself of it (as well as anyone else who would listen) at every opportunity.

Of course self-talk doesn’t need to be announced to millions of TV viewers to be effective. It is about how we talk to ourselves.

What is it that you wish to be or achieve? What kind of self-talk can you create to help reinforce that goal? (see video below to hear Ali at his best)

Lesson 2: “I said that even before I knew I was”

This is perhaps the most insightful learning point for achievement training. Ali ‘dared’ himself – he had a picture of who he wanted to be and conditioned himself to believe it with powerful self-talk, saying he was the greatest, even before he knew he was. “What you are thinking about, you are becoming.”

Many years ago Earl Nightingale introduced a similar concept. He made a recording entitled ‘The Strangest Secret’, which became the biggest selling non-entertainment record in history. What was the secret?…. “We become what we think about”.

In the words of sports journalist Greg Baum, Ali “created an impression of greatness, a persona of greatness, and played up to it, and lived up to it.”

In any field of achievement, you become the part by dressing the part, by acting the part, by holding a picture of what it is you want to be. Not only does this encourage other people to see you in this way, it allows you to begin to see yourself in this way too.

Whether you are a salesperson, manager or public speaker, ask yourself: “What would I say to myself if I were already excellent at what I do?”

Lesson 3: “The will must be stronger than the skill”

To take yourself to the top is of course about more than just talking the talk. Ali said : “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

Anyone familiar with the way we work at LDL may recognise here the essence of our own Skill+Will philosophy. Skills and abilities alone are not enough; to achieve success you also need the desire and self-belief to apply them. It’s what Angela Duckworth in her new book calls ‘Grit’ – Talent counts, effort counts twice.

Skills are essential, but it is will and grit that determines your success.

Learn more about LDL Leadership & Management Training, including peak performance training

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