August 13, 2017

So You Want To Be A Champion?

I was listening to an interview with paragliding champion Chrigel Maurer and wrote down notes on what makes him so darn good. 

The behaviors of champions are strikingly similar across all disciplines, from flying a paraglider to running a business.  I thought you’d enjoy this perspective of how a champion, even in a fringe sport, follows the path to excellence.

Visualization leads to success

Chrigel is inarguably one of the best paraglider pilots ever.  He’s won world competitions in each of the different paragliding arenas: As a World Cup racer, as an adventure (paragliding) racer, and as an acro pilot.  That’s like running to Olympic gold in the mile, and winning the marathon, and winning the World Parkour Championships.

He’s legendary in the sport both for his incredible technical skills honed as a former test pilot and his decision making. 

Here's a video of him (courtesy of a Swiss-German TV program) taking off in conditions that other professional and highly skilled pilots are packing up in. Chrigel's in the orange, and the guy in the blue is packing up.  Chrigel makes this look super easy, but 99% of the world's paraglider pilots wouldn't even attempt this, let alone pull it off so casually.


We’ll skip past his technical skills for two reasons.  First, in competitions, the top pilots are very close in technical skill levels.  Second, technical paragliding skills aren't likely to translate to making YOU a champion.

Let’s focus on decision making, something applicable to success across all endeavors.

Good decisions involve 3 elements:  Healthy mental patterns, assessing risks, and being extraordinarily aware of the environment.

Good decisions lead to great success.

Healthy patterns involve visualizing the challenge and all the ways it can manifest.  Whether it goes right, wrong, or sideways, if you’ve visualized it beforehand along with lots of practice you are significantly likely to make a much better decision than just practice along.  

Assessing risks is a bit more difficult.  Again, it’s not complicated and Chrigel says it well: “I like to risk.”  Now, if it was just that he liked risk, he wouldn’t be a champion, he’d be a gambler subject to the usual vagaries of luck. 

His risk taking behavior is backed by how much he stands to gain (there must be significant gain in order to justify risk) and the final piece of good decision making:  Extraordinary perceptiveness of the environment.

This perceptiveness is what sets apart champions.  They visualize as many possible scenarios as possible, take risks that can pay off hugely, and then follow through on their decisions by maintaining exceptional connection to the environment, responding very quickly and accurately to changes.

It’s where many of us stumble.  We study very hard, visualize lots of different scenarios, and even take risks, then stop paying attention once we’ve made the decision to risk, saying “It’s in the hands of Fate now.”  It’s not.  Risk requires thorough follow through to be consistently successful.

How do you develop your ability to follow through after taking a risk?  Practice.  Practice focusing on what the environment is telling you.  It’s a skill like any other, and you can become better at it

Focused practice leads to success.

Go slow at first.  Visualize something small.  Take a small risk.  Write down what you’ll need to pay attention to, what will affect the outcome, and what signals you need to see in order to be successful, then execute.

You’ll see that focused attention is enormously taxing, especially when you first start doing it.  Continue on, focus on what you need to see, make changes if you don’t see it, and you’ll find that success will begin to come your way more and more frequently.

As you build focused attention into a default pattern, you’ll start to see the world through a champion’s eyes and opportunities will present themselves to you daily.  Capitalize on those opportunities by visualizing them beforehand, assess risks when they present, then follow through to create a virtuous circle.

If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably done this sometime in your life.  If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  Sharing successes is one of the best ways to help others.  If these are new concepts to you please go out and test them, then report back on what you found. 

I’m looking forward to hearing about your path to excellence, now get out there and make it happen!

Nik @ PT

Liked this article on becoming a champion?  Here are a few more you'll dig on self improvement and how (usually) eating Paleo supports that.

Nik Hawks


Nik Hawks helps run the show at Paleo Treats. Fascinated by humans in all their strange glory, Nik is harnessed in and pulling hard in pursuit of excellence with the rest of the PT Crew. Enjoy!

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1 Comment

Robert Michiels
Robert Michiels

August 15, 2017

That video of Kriegel taking off was super intense! I have never seen anything like that. This post is very inspirational. Thanks for taking the time to write this. I know that you are a busy man on a mission for greatness! See you in the air my friend!

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