A Recipe for Success

Olympic gold medallist Marnie McBean outlines a strategy for setting and achieving goals that can be applied to business – or any aspect of life

By George Hartman | June 2012  for Investment ExecutiveHow often have you set a goal and achieved it? Chances are this has happened to you a number of times. Feels good, right? Now, how often have you set a goal that others have said was too high for you – beyond your grasp and capabilities – and achieved that one? Not as often, I bet. But how good would that feel?

Marnie McBean, three-time Olympic gold medallist and winner of numerous other championships, knows all about setting audacious goals and, more important, what it takes to defy the limits that are imposed on us, either by ourselves or by others.

In The Power of More: How Small Steps Can Help You Achieve Big Goals, McBean describes her journey to world dominance in the sport of rowing – the dreams, the challenges, the pinnacles of success and the depths of disappointment. Part autobiography and part confessional, the book also is invaluably instructional and inspirational for anyone who has set their sights on personal accomplishment in sports, business or life.

As the title suggests, the book’s theme is about breaking large goals into smaller pieces and doing “just a little bit more” when the task seems too difficult. That is, pushing yourself one notch closer to your goal, whether it is connecting with that elusive new prospective client, perfecting an important presentation, completing a tedious project, climbing the CN Tower or running your first 10-kilometre race. (Which, coincidently, I did one week after reading this book, with McBean’s words – “Just one more step” – carrying me to setting a personal-best time.)

McBean follows a logical path from goal-setting through preparation, teamwork, commitment and accountability to the actual “test” that determines success. Here are just a few of this book’s many memorable insights that stand out for me.

– Grains of rice in a cup. This metaphor runs through many parts of the book, beginning early in the process – that is, in our preparation for a task. McBean likens preparing for a goal to filling a cup with grains of rice, with each grain representing some time and effort that we contribute toward that goal. The contributions could be in the areas of physical conditioning, mental awareness, emotional well-being or health. The more grains of rice we add to our cup, the greater the likelihood of meeting our objective.

It’s also important to know there will be times when we take grains out of our cup through failure to maintain a development plan, lack of commitment or reduced focus.

– Cable vs chain. In the chapter on teamwork, McBean notes that great teams come together not because the individual members are similar to each other but because they complement each other’s strengths and have shared goals. Almost inevitably, however, as we become more comfortable in our own role within the team structure, we begin to look more critically at the strengths and weaknesses of our teammates. If we allow ourselves to focus too much on the perceived weaknesses of others, we begin to think of them as “weak links in the chain” and anticipate failure if they falter in any way.

At times like this, it is important to think of the team working as a cable rather than as a chain. In a cable, every strand does not have to be perfect. Winding all the strands together is what gives the cable strength and, even if one strand breaks completely, the cable can still withstand great strain.

– Can I? Will I? In the chapter that deals with the test that proves whether we will achieve our goal, McBean suggests we will be confronted regularly by moments when we question our ability and our commitment. She describes three possible reactions to these moments of challenge: we quit; we close our eyes and pray that things work out; or we attack the challenge with all the vigour, skill and intensity we have.

The first choice is the easiest to make and to justify. Perhaps, we argue, the goal was too big in the first place or circumstances beyond our control have made it more difficult to achieve. Whatever the rationale, we give ourselves permission to quit. And the more often we do that, the easier it becomes to quit again.

The second option is somewhat more difficult because it doesn’t allow us to let go of the goal – just our accountability for achieving it. In other words, we begin to rely on luck and fate to determine our success. The problem with this choice is, in the end, we are left wondering, “What if?”

The third choice is, of course, the most difficult. It means driving forward, breaking our self-imposed limits and giving more.

The Power of More is much more than a motivational story about a great athlete. It is an opportunity for all of us to look inside ourselves, decide what we want to achieve, big or small, and plot a path to get there. We may not aspire to be Olympic gold medallists; but that doesn’t preclude us becoming champions in our own lives. IE

The Power of More: How Small Steps Can Help You Achieve Big Goals

by Marnie McBean,

Greystone Books;

251 pages,


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© 2012 Investment Executive. All rights reserved.

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