How Top Performing Athletes Like LeBron James Become The Best

How many times have you looked at a top athlete, say a LeBron James, a Peyton Manning, or a Usain Bolt and said, “Damn, they are so naturally gifted, I wish I had that talent,” or, “Damn, they are so naturally gifted, I could never do that,” ?

It’s a pretty common reaction when you see someone absolutely dominating their field.


Here’s the cold hard truth: You’re probably right, you could never do that.


What the shit? Aren’t you supposed to be motivating me and stuff? Didn’t you just write me an email telling me “I can. I will.” ?


Okay here’s what I actually mean by that. Some of these top athletes are naturally gifted, and many others aren't. In both cases, they all made a decision a long time ago that they wanted to be the best at something. So they invested themselves in becoming fucking awesome at it, and took on a do or die mindset. If you decide today that you want to play in the NBA, you probably missed the boat. BUT, that doesn't mean there aren't other goals you can set.


I want to share what's going on behind the curtain with top performing athletes. No, I don’t mean steroids.


In my last post, I asked you to write me back with 1 passion project you want to start. Here’s what one of you wrote me back with:


Running in marathons. :)

-Megan J


This got me thinking...why do we look at athletic training as so much different than training for our other passions or everyday skills?


There are 3 very important things that athletes do better than everyone else, and we should all start taking note:


  1. They set a clear goal.

One of my biggest problems historically has been setting clear goals for myself. I tend to use ambiguity as a crutch to allow me to stay non-committal to the outcome, so that if I don’t accomplish it I can get away with saying, “Yeah but I wasn’t really going for that anyway…” Sound familiar?

While making it to the NBA, or becoming an Olympic-level athlete might be out of your wheelhouse, what tangible goal can you set that’s within your wheelhouse, yet still pushes you to perform? Is it to have your artwork featured in a certain gallery? Is it add 5 lbs of muscle, or lose 5 lbs of fat? Run your first marathon? For me, I realized in recent years I had let exercise/working out fall by the wayside in light of everything else I did. So the goal I set this year was to exercise every day.

2) They set parameters around that goal to hold themselves accountable.

Specifically with professional athletes, they know they have a finite window where their body can physically meet the performance demands.
Do you think LeBron said to himself, “I want to be an NBA champion….buuuuut I’m cool if I don’t make it to the NBA until I’m 25….aaaand if I win a title at 40 that’s cool too,” ? OH HEELLLLL NO! LeBron said, “Fuck waiting around, I’m going to the NBA at age 18, and winning a title before 30, and here’s what I will do to make that happen.”
He did make the NBA at 18 and made his first NBA finals appearance at age 22. What puts you in a better position than LeBron is that most likely your skill or passion doesn’t have a biological clock attached to it. You can choose to start right now, and get your art featured in a gallery next month, or run your first marathon at 50, at the speed you deem achievable with enough effort.

I set the goal of exercise every day, and I put parameters around what that meant: A minimum of 50 pushups, OR 200 situps, OR a 10-minute run. That might not sound like much at all, but it holds me accountable to something, and it’s achievable even on days when it feels like I have no time. 50 pushups is accomplishable in an airport terminal while waiting for a flight. There have even been days where it was bedtime and I realized I hadn't exercised yet, so I did 200 sit ups before hopping into bed. It’s not that I only ever do the minimum, but I clearly define what exercise means for me, so that I know at the very least here’s what needs to get done to say I’ve made progress.

3) They surround themselves with the best

This is the point I really want to hone in on, because it’s the least obvious.  When it comes to our skills and passions, we have this tendency to go at it alone. Probably because we want to feel unique in what we’re doing, or we’re just scared to share what we’re working on with others.
TOP ATHLETES NEVER TRAIN ALONE. My roommate had been a triathlete for several years, and then last year decided he wanted to do an Ironman. So he joined an Ironman training group, and he fucking crushed his first Ironman race. He has one of the most ridiculous training regimens I’ve heard of for a working adult, and just the other day I was listening in awe of his most recent workout, but he was frustrated because he wanted to be in the faster group. That will to improve even more doesn’t happen without a training group.

In 2010, LeBron James looked at his professional career to that point and realized he was not going to achieve his goal of NBA champion by staying with the Cleveland Cavaliers. So he made a decision to surround himself with the best and joined the Miami Heat, teaming with NBA All Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He then went on to win back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013, at the age of 27 and 28, respectively.

I incorporated yoga into my exercise practice so that my general flexibility and health would improve, and I would have more energy playing pickup basketball, and joined a studio in March. Now I do yoga damn near every day. I look around at the others in the studio landing their crow pose from a down dog, and I want to land my crow pose from a down dog. The elevated game of others makes me want to elevate my own game, and now as you saw in the top photo I’m doing no-wall headstands in the park (NEVER could do this prior to 1 month ago).


Now, these are all athletic examples, BUT in our other passions like art, photography, music, writing, networking, selling, home brewing, etc, surrounding yourself with the best applies just the same.
Instead of a training group, it’s known as a “Mastermind Group”. This is either a partner or multiple other people who are in the same realm as you, and together you individually work on your own projects, but you mutually invest in each others’ development and success.

Martin and I have a mastermind group for our entrepreneurial endeavors, and a separate one for podcasting. Did you listen to Episode 4 of our podcast with Ben Austin? He’s our entrepreneurial endeavor mastermind partner. We keep each other up-to-date on our progress, share resources and tools, introduce one another to other helpful people (literally, just yesterday I found a new separate mastermind partner because of an introduction from Ben, and Martin and I’s podcasting mastermind partner was also from an introduction from Ben. Today I threw a consulting opportunity Ben’s way and tomorrow am setting him up with someone to interview for his blog). We hold each other accountable, and provide swift kicks in the ass when necessary.

Ben’s success to me means damn near as much as my own success, because as he steps his game up, that in turn makes me step my game up, and vice versa.

Just as the success of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade directly impacted the success of LeBron James. And every member of my roommate’s training group all impact each other’s success. Do you think when fatigue sets in and lactic acid builds up after running seven 800-meter runs, he has the will to run just as fast for number eight if there aren’t people literally stepping on his heels?

At the end of the day, here’s what I’m saying: Becoming great, becoming good, or just becoming better doesn’t happen on your own. It happens when you surround yourself with the best. 

This has been something we’ve long believed as part of Idea Lemon, and have talked to people about in various capacities for years. I actually dug way way way deep into the Idea Lemon archives and found this 57-second video from 2 years ago of Martin explaining why mastermind groups help you avoid failure and step your game up.

(Real talk, I’m pretty sure he has no idea this video exists).

                                        Apparently Martin's 2013 fashion sense was from 1997 with that baggy ass shirt

                                        Apparently Martin's 2013 fashion sense was from 1997 with that baggy ass shirt

Remember, you can let life happen, or make life happen. This approach is another way to make it happen.


Take care and be awesome.




What up! My name is Rajiv Nathan and I'm the Cofounder of Idea Lemon. That banana peel you slipped on to land here came from me. That's because I fancy myself a human Curious George, and the yellow hat I chase is life's authentic moments. I share my chase one story at a time through this blog, our email newsletter, and as a rapper.

Oh and I'm a WWE fan 4 lyf!