I was 10, I grew up on a lake in Michigan and when I was 10 years old my father noticed I was one of the fastest kids on the ice. The lake would freeze in the winter, we'd clear off a space, we'd play hockey and do races and my father noticed I was pretty quick. So he thought alright this is a good idea, let's bring you to a speed skating race. And I thought that sounded like a good idea so I can remember lining up in a beautiful oval of black ice, you could see your breath in the air, it was a beautiful sunny morning and lined up against eight or nine other not particularly aggressive looking kids and I thought this is gonna go well. They shot the gun, I scrambled across the line, and then I watched as these graceful figures disappeared around the corner in front of me. By the time I hit the backstretch I couldn't see them anymore. It was a three lap race and by the end of the second lap as I was coming around the finish line, they all lapped me, finishing their race. So I did what an...
y good competitive kid would do, I skated to a stop and proceeded to exit the ice, race was over right? Oh no, the parents and coaches weren't having that, no you're gonna get back out there, finish the race, you can't quit. So they made me get back out there and finish that race, all alone, in tears, vowing never ever to speed skate again. Now it was a good thing I didn't quit because by the end of that year I actually managed to get 3rd place in the Michigan State Championships at age 10, at age 11 I won the Michigan State Championships, at age 12 I won the nationals for the first time and at age 13 I made the national team for the first time which then led itself to going to the Olympic games where I brought home a silver medal, I have it here, would you like to see it? Okay I'll pass it out. True story about winter Olympic medals is that they're way cooler than summer medals. Double entendre intended. The reason that's actually true is because summer medals area all identical, so the design spec hasn't changed for I don't know, 80 years. On the summer medal, they're all the same weight, height, heft, and material. Winter medals have no design spec other than they must have something from the home country inside. This one has granite from the mountain that they hollowed out in Lillehammer, Norway. So each one's a little bit different, but I'll pass that around. So you won't remember me, you won't remember my event but you'll definitely remember those Olympics for three reasons which I will share with you now. Her, her, and wait for it, this. Why me? The most watched piece of TV for 16 years running until the Super Bowl beat it about five years ago. And of course the biggest story in the 2018 games was Tonya Harding yet again, because of the movie. Have you seen it? It's great, it's fantastic, you should see it. You'll think none of it's true but it's actually all true, it's quite crazy. So when you achieve some level of success and you bring home something like that, sometimes people will ask you what's the secret to your success. And the easy answers is all of these things that we've heard since we were kids. Never give up, never give in, quitters never prosper, good things come to those who wait, and this is all fantastic advice, until it's not. Or as Scott Adams from Dilbert puts it, persistence is awesome until it's stupid. But first, why is this good advice? Who's familiar with the Stanford marshmallow experiment? A number of you, yes. So longitudinal behavioral psychological study of kids starting in 1972. Give kids the age five to eight years old the choice of one marshmallow now or two in five minutes. Now you remember, and as it turns out they've been studying this cohort since then for the last 40 plus years. And what they have found is that the two marshmallow kids have been more successful in every way. Level of financial income, level of education, health, wellbeing, relationships, you name it. The ability to delay gratification has lead to good things. But the thing is these two marshmallow kids, it's only measuring a certain thing. And I think sometimes the same great advice for kids about never giving up or never giving in, or quitters never prosper, becomes a collective adult neurosis. Now if you're here in the room or you're watching right now, chances are you have this neurosis. Yes I did just call you crazy. Now why are you crazy? Well because when one marshmallow now for two in five minutes becomes one marshmallow now for 10,000 in two years becomes one marshmallow now for 10 million in 200 years, at what point have you delayed gratification beyond all temporal boundaries and what you're actually doing is simply this. You ever done this? We've all done this, right? Why do we do this? Because we're trained to. We have been trained through operant conditioning since we were kids to never give up, to never give in, to never quit, and sometimes the obstacle you're facing is so large that you're never actually going to overcome it, and all you're doing is banging your head again the wall. So let me prove to you that this is actually crazy. This is the audience participation part of the program, so I'm gonna give you a phrase, first some childhood guidance. Then some adult wisdom, and I'm gonna ask you to fill in the blank, okay are you with me? Awesome, here we go. So, if at first you don't succeed?
Try try again. Actually Wikipedia adds a third try. So try try try again, because apparently two is not enough. So here's the childhood guidance, we've all heard it, yes? Okay, so now let's see the paradox inherent in the adult wisdom. The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results. So take a look at these two phrases, they're saying the exact opposite things. So which one is right? Well I have some advice for you from my 40 plus years on this planet I'd like to share with you. I hope you find it valuable. If at first you don't succeed. (audience laughter) You guys have been great, I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. (audience laughter) Alright that's not actually the advice. I will give you advice given to me by an amazing master coach by the name of Mike Walden and I'll tell his story in a little bit. But first I'm gonna share a few statistics about that little talisman floating around the room. This was something our coach shared with us the night before the gold medal round. In the modern era of the winter Olympics between 1892 and 1994 there were about 500 million Americans that came of Olympic age, 18 to 35, and of those about 250 thousand or so tried out for winter Olympic games. And of those about 2500 only had ever made a team and as of 94 only 52 people that had ever brought home a medal. So they're quite rare, it's one in 10 million. So the odds of bringing one of those home is one in 10 million, so this is super rare. Probably never seen a winter Olympic medal, there's tons of summer medals, you know, they're everywhere. So how did a terrible athlete from southeastern Michigan bring that home? Now I can hear your thoughts here in the room and also out there, I couldn't possible be a terrible athlete right? Okay let me prove it to you. This is pretty easy actually. I played 8th grade basketball, I started every game because there was only seven of us. I never scored a point, not even a free throw. I'm not stupid, so I switched to baseball 9th grade and not only did I never bring in a run, the bat never touched the ball. I grew up on a lake, I can barely swim, I have no hand eye coordination, I am a T-rex of a human being, I have absolutely no endurance, I can't do anything that lasts longer than a minute. So all of these weaknesses and yet this still happened. How? Well I had an amazing coach who ignored all of that and focuses on this. If at first you don't succeed, his mantra was race your strengths, design for your strengths, and design around your weaknesses. Don't try to fix them. Let me eliminate through a few stories. When I was 21 I graduated from college in California, training, you know, between classes. And imagine to get 12th place in the world in speed skating that year, so I was pretty sure that by graduating and joining the Olympic team I could go from 12th to sixth to first in the two years I had to prepare for the next Olympics. So I went and moved into the Olympic training center with some of the other athletes and a couple days after arriving they put us through a couple of tests. These sort of SATs of sports as it were. Slid a manila envelope under our door, I had to show up across campus the next morning at nine o'clock for my first test. So I sat at the end of a long hallway and I was putting on my cycling gear and right at nine o'clock the door at the end of the hallway slammed open and one of my teammates staggered out, he could barely walk he was breathing so hard he sounded like a horse, his face was white, his legs were pink, he looked like he'd been beaten with a stick, and whatever he just did I was gonna have to do. So now I'm nervous, right? I'm asking him Chris, what's, how was it? And he just, his eyes were bloodshot, he looks at me shakes his head and he keeps moving past me and I'm like oh god here we go. So I get into this room and it was like a hospital room. It was acoustic tile ceilings, white tile floors, a bunch of machinery around the room, people in lab coats, and they didn't pay me any attention except for the doctor who glanced at me and said get on the bike and take off your shirt. There was a stationary bike in the middle. So I did that, I took off my shirt, and attendants materialized out of nowhere and they start slathering me with this viscous goop on my chest and back and then they stuck suction cups all over my chest and back and each one had wire leads that lead across the room to one of the machines of the room until I was strung up like a wedding gazebo. And then the coup de grace was this weird helmet contraption they put up and over my head, and then they swung this tube down and jammed it into my mouth and then the doctor looked at me and he said are you ready? I shook my head, he wasn't talking to me, the lady behind me grabbed a hose, attached it to the tube, this is the test, how much oxygen can you breathe while pedaling on the bike. They call this the VO2 Max test. So he then looked at me again he said are you ready, I shook my head, he was talking to me and he simply said three, two, one, start pedaling. So what could I do, I started pedaling. And then he explained, he said John this is simple what we're gonna do here is we're gonna put 175 watts of resistance on the bike, you're gonna pedal at 90 RPMs for two minutes and then every two minutes we're gonna raise the watts of resistance by and we're gonna raise your RPMs by five until you finish. I quickly did that math, that's an escalator to hell. The only way out is to die. To look like my teammate. But what could I do, I started pedaling and I made it through the first two minutes and it wasn't too hard, and right at the end of the two minutes, the first of several strange things happened. One of the attendants, the smallest one, came out with her little white lab coat, she pried my pinky off the bars, jabbed it with an ordinary house pin, squeezed some blood into a vial and walked away without so much as a please or thank you. And every two minutes the vampire's back for a new finger and every two minutes they raise the resistance and I made it to four, and then I made it to six, and right around seven minutes I'm struggling, I'm working pretty hard my pulse is up over 180, I'm sweating, there's spit going into the tube and xylophoning down and I'm thinking about the properties of physics and electricity and water and metal but I survived, I didn't get electrocuted. And about seven and a half minutes in I'm thinking I'll make eight, I'll make eight. Nobody's paid me a lick of attention until now. And then right about eight when my legs start to slow down the doctor walks out, nonchalantly looks at his watch, looks at me, and goes you're about halfway. In a test that only gets subsequently harder, he thinks I'm halfway and I think he's crazy. But that's when everybody comes out of the woodwork and now they're in my face and they're screaming you gotta make it two more minutes, make two more minutes. So I ante up, they raise the resistance, I speed up my RPMs and I make nine minutes and then I'm closing in on 10 and I'm gonna be done and then they start this little game. No you gotta make one more minute, just make one more. So I make another minute, and then they say make 30 seconds. Make 30 seconds, so I make 30, make 20, make 15, make 10, make five, and finally at 13 minutes 26 seconds my legs, my lungs, my heart, everything gave out. My pulse was at 221. And the little vampire was slashing fingers every 15 seconds for the last two minutes, so that was annoying me and I got off the bike and I'm starting to stagger towards the door and she's in front of me and she's all happy, you're like creepy happy, she's bouncing up on her feet, and she's like you have the best lactic acid we've ever measured! And I said that's great, I don't know what that means. And she smiled super creepy, I'll never forget this smile. And she goes, you're good at suffering. Is that a metric, what does that mean? I didn't know what it meant so I staggered down the hallway some guy's trying to ask me questions I can't answer them, I get down and I put on my clothes and I head back to my room and I get my results from the door and I was pretty excited to open them. But true story, the guy that passed me in the hallway was none other than Lance Armstrong. Age 17, he was there for his first cycling camp and as he passed me in the hall he offered me some BPO, testosterone, and steroids, no he didn't. He didn't, he didn't, come on. He was only 17, he'd barely started doping. But I digress, so it really was him and I wish he had offered me those things because I got my test back and this is what the report said. When I was done falling off the bike at 13:26, Lance was only half done. He went 26 and a half minutes in a test that only gets harder. And I had the lowest score by a pretty wide margin of anybody on the team. And this was supposed to be the most predictive of the tests of success in my sports. So I of course did what any good competitive athlete would do, I disavowed the results. Clearly this is not me, can't be my results. I was 12th in the world last year so something wrong with the doctor, the test, the vampire, the bike, something. And then I took this twice more over the next two years and I scored a 52, and then a 52, and a 52.