6 Keys to Success From an Olympic Champion

If you're not familiar with Bode Miller, he is the finest male alpine ski racer America has ever produced. He has won World Cup titles, world championships, and Olympic medals. He is also known as someone who has chosen to take a nontraditional path to athletic greatness. As Bode prepares for the 2014 Winter Olympics (likely his last), he has stunned just about everyone -- except perhaps himself -- with a remarkable start to the race season. This path leading to Sochi not only provides a compelling narrative, but it also offers valuable insights on what it takes to find success in any walk of life.

Should we really be surprised that Bode Miller has begun this Olympic season with such success? Three World Cup podiums to start off the season? In some ways, I am really surprised, while in other ways, I'm not at all surprised.

I'm surprised for several reasons. First, Bode is not, by ski racing standards, a young man. Sure, there have been some great results by guys over 35 in recent years. At the same time, more than 15 years of pounding takes its toll. Second, Bode is returning from a major injury that caused him to miss the entire 2013 race season. So, while Bode was, for all intents and purposes, stagnating, the other guys on the circuit were training hard both on- and off-snow and continuing to develop. Third, life in the "White Circus" takes its toll psychologically and emotionally. Travel, living out of a suitcase, and, now, being away from his wife and children, not to mention that he is probably quite well off financially, could easily have taken the edge off of his passion and determination.

I'm not surprised for several other reasons. First, Bode is Bode; he lives to the beat of a different drummer (here's a video worth watching). That "I chose the road less traveled" quality of Bode makes him unpredictable. Second, as another great video describes, Bode is driven by inspiration, an emotion that enables him to harness his prodigious talent and overcome many challenges in his career. Third, Bode has tremendous pride and wants to end his career with a flourish. Finally, Bode has the remarkable ability to rise to the occasion and ski his best when little is expected of him. It certainly happened in 2010 in Vancouver. And it certainly is happening as he approaches Sochi.

With the Sochi Games upon us, I wanted to share what I believe are six essential lessons we can learn from Bode that have made him, well, Bode.

Be Unconventional

If you do what everyone else does, you'll be like everyone else. Bode is different because he thinks differently and does things differently. As he has noted, "uncommon methods prepare you for unexpected reactions ... and because my habits are not typical, neither are my results." The lesson from Bode is to figure out who you are and pursue your goals in a way that works best for you.

Recognize Your Flaws

People don't like to admit they have flaws. Instead, they prefer to focus on their strengths. The problem with this approach is that, because your strengths are already, well, strong, you limit yourself in how much you can improve. Says Bode, "It is because I am flawed that I continue to chase excellence." He is constantly looking at his imperfections and looking for ways to improve on them. This approach makes much more sense because, weaknesses being weaknesses, they have much more room for improvement. And that great improvement is what will raise the level of your performance, whether in sports, school, the arts, business, or what have you, to new heights.

Challenge Your Limits

When you accept your perceived limitations, you limit your dreams. Rather than setting a ceiling on his limits, Bode has always opened up the sky to those limits. "What are my limits? How far can I push them?" Bode asks. He knows that the only way to find out what his limits are is to cross them; his amazing recoveries over the years are a testament to this philosophy. Rather than setting limits on what is possible, open yourself up to what is possible and find out what is out there for you.

Be Driven by Inspiration

Bode has never been motivated by medals, fame, or wealth. He is driven by inspiration to ski his fastest regardless of the results. Bode knows that if he allows his inspiration to guide him, he cannot fail, even if the results suggest otherwise. The one time he lost touch with this drive was at the 2006 Turino Olympics. He was the face of the Olympics with the Herculean expectations placed on him -- however unrealistic -- of five gold medals. As he put it, "I was struggling with the obligations ... when you're in the spotlight." And the results were predictable. Bode regained that inspiration in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver where he won a complete set of Olympic medals. And there's little doubt that this inspiration is driving him toward the Sochi Olympics.

Surrender Your Mind to Your Body

Prior to the 2010 Games, Bode had planned on retiring and had trained little compared to his competitors. There were also no expectations on him from the media. Yet, he won three medals. Says Bode, "It was absolutely above and beyond what my ability should have allowed me to do at that moment." How did he do it? As Bode noted, "I surrendered certain parts of my ego and I was allowing my body to be more of a conduit for the collective energy that was there ... I was in harmony." His comment may sound pretty New Agey, but it is grounded in a simple reality: Bode allowed his mind to step aside at that pinnacle moment and gave his body permission to do what it knew how to do so well, which was to ski free and ski fast. This approach of getting your mind out of the way of your performances is fundamental to your performing your best when it matters most.

Get a Life

The pursuit of your dreams can require a single-mindedness of purpose. At the same time, that narrow existence can actually prevent you from achieving your most deeply held goals. Why? Because you are putting what has become your entire life on the line when you, for example, compete in a sports competition, take an exam, or have a job interview, and that can create immense pressure that can ultimately sabotage your efforts. What Bode has learned since becoming a husband and father is that having a life outside of ski racing can actually improve his skiing by taking away that threat of losing his "life" if he doesn't ski well. Yes, you can still be hugely committed to your goals, but, as Bode suggests, "The balance ... is important to me, feeling totally at peace and comfortable is really critical." Knowing that your life isn't on the line can liberate you to perform your best with freedom, joy, and abandon, and without hesitation, doubt, or worry.

Ski racing is such an unforgiving and serendipitous sport that making predictions is an exercise in futility. Sure things turn out to be not so sure. And long shots somehow, sometimes win the day. And when an Olympics rolls around, it seems like the unpredictability increases dramatically.

I'm no psychic, and, as we know from the predictions you read in The National Enquirer, prognosticating is neither exact nor a science. At the same time, predicting Bode's future may not be quite as haphazard as it might appear. There's a saying in psychology that "the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior." Following that old truism, though, I'm not going to make any specific medal predictions about how Bode is going to perform in Sochi, I will say two things. First, good things are going to happen for him. That may come in the form of medals, courageous skiing, or simply a gracious swan song of a remarkable athlete. Second, regardless of his results, Bode will end his ski racing career (assuming he retires after this season) the same way that he started it and has lived it for the last 20 years: on his own terms and in his own way, inspiring many of us along the way.

Now, Bode, experience the Sochi Olympics with the credo that you have lived by your entire career: "Go fast, be good, have fun!"