Professor Greg Whyte portrait in a suit ()Professor Greg Whyte portrait in a suit () © Copyright

How to be good at stuff

Even if you don’t recognise Greg Whyte, you’ll know his work. The professor of sports science and one-man motivation machine is the person who defeats the impossible. He is responsible for getting David Walliams to swim the Channel and the Thames, and Eddie Izzard to run an unfeasible number of back-to-back marathons, among many other things.

From next month, the Prof will be penning a column designed to get you jacked for life, whether you need a career boost or are thinking of taking on a ridiculous challenge.

To begin, he tells us the ten biggest lessons he’s learned from life so far. Pay attention at the back…

1 – Nothing good comes easy

What is the foundation of success? Hard work. That’s what you’ve got to be prepared to do.

There’s a mantra now that’s been taken from sport and has evolved into all of life, and that’s this concept of marginal gains. It’s about looking at nuances, and trying to fix little things. Why do people love that concept? Because it’s easy, and they’ve only got to change a little bit and all of a sudden, their performance is going to change. You completely ignore hard work. Sorry but you can’t polish a turd.

If you haven’t got the groundings and the foundations of success, it doesn’t matter what thin veneer of marginal gains you put on top of it – it’s going to crumble at some stage.

“The more I practise, the luckier I get,” golfer Gary Player used to say. We often look at people and think ‘they’re lucky’, but they’re not – it’s all about hard work.

Professor Greg Whyte portrait in a suit ()


2 – True success takes time

If you’re trying to lose weight, for example, those who lose it over a longer period of time are more likely to maintain their weight loss. Ninety per cent of people who lose a stone in three weeks will put it back on. And half of them will actually put more weight back on.

The longer you build and the more work you put in, the longer you will retain excellence. That’s the same in business, lifestyle and performance.

Resilience is an in-word at the moment in business development. But it’s always been important. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. You will have a shit day. The question is can you pick yourself up and carry on from that bad event? Those people who can pick themselves up and dust themselves down are the people who are much more likely to be successful.

3 – Take opportunities – you never know where they might end up leading

I spent much of my early career working for free. I was the physio for the national triathlon squad up until Sydney 2000. That was a huge amount of work with lots of weekends away. I was one of the first physios to work in F1, too, with Benetton drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Alex Wurz. Why for free? That was the opportunity, the thing that makes you stand out from the crowd and makes you unique.

All of a sudden when I talked to people, I’ve got experience working in F1 and elite sport – I haven’t just got an undergraduate degree, but I’m something different.

Nowadays, the most enjoyable things I do in my career are for free. The reward of working for charity is so much greater than anything else you’ll ever do. The input for that is just time but the reward is amazing.

Professor Greg Whyte flexing muscles in swimwear ()


4 – Your name’s not down so you’re not coming in? Nonsense, anything is possible

There’s an awful lot of social inequality in society, so there are plenty of reasons why you can’t achieve – but you have to forget those. Anything is possible. It might take time and it might take you longer than anyone else, but you will get there in the end.

I come from Luton, I went to a state comprehensive and I went to the Olympics for Modern Pentathlon, for crying out loud! It’d be hard to  find a more upper class sport! When you come from Luton, there isn’t a great deal of show    jumping or fencing that goes on.

Don’t worry about what other people are saying, either – just keep ploughing through.

5 – Let your actions do the talking

This is the best advice I’ve ever been given, and it was given to me by my absolute hero – my dad.

I started off life as a swimmer – there was a lot of stuff said in the gallery but my dad said to me, ‘You let your swimming do the talking because when you win, nobody can take anything away from that.’

It’s definitely about what you’ve done, and if what you’ve done is excellent, then people respect that.

I always ask students if they have a job, and to get one if they haven’t.

As an employer, if you look at a CV and it says ‘I’ve been employed at Dorothy Perkins and Costa Coffee’, it might not sound like much, but  compare it with the guy who’s been sat on his backside for six months, and guess who I’m going to employ?

Professor Greg Whyte with David Walliams ()


6 – Don’t let the bastards grind you down: believe

If you ask me to characterise elite athletes and entrepreneurs, the one thing that drives the successful ones is belief. They fundamentally believe that they can achieve their aims.

But it’s a competitive world, and there are some people who don’t want you to achieve. A lot of readers will experience that to some extent at work – there might be somebody above them who doesn’t want them to succeed because they want to maintain their position of power.

It can happen with friends – that classic thing when you tell your mates you want to run a marathon,  and they fall about laughing. By the end of their laughter, you think ‘that’s a shit idea’ when actually it’s something you really want to do.

What you’ve got to be able to do is differentiate between that and good advice from people who you trust to ensure you make the right decision.

7 – Nothing good is achieved alone

If you’re the leader of a team, then how do you lead it? If you’re part of that team, how do you become a better part of that team?

Be nice, because good things happen to nice people. There are lots of people out there who think you’ve got to be a w****r to achieve.

And remember – some people carry more responsibility than others, but everyone is equal, from the top dog down to the cleaner – if the toilet’s dirty when I walk in, that’s the first impression I get of your business. So everyone is equally important, and that’s why that respect issue is really important.

8 – Don’t dwell on the past because you can’t change it – just keep moving forward

There are two parts of any venture, whether at work or a challenge you take on: one is the process, and the other is the outcome.

One thing you should never do is dwell on any failures.

But what you should do is dwell on the process. Why was it that I didn’t succeed? And actually do dwell on that, because you’re then able to make sure that doesn’t happen again going forward.

It’s the same with success. What we should do is unpick why you were successful. And actually even when you’re successful, there are still bits that didn’t go right.

A great example is Team GB last year at the Olympics. People said, ‘How can they get better?’ There were 16 fourth places, and the margin of difference between fourth and third is so small that you’re just looking at moulding it slightly and moving those 16 fourth places into bronze medals, then maybe eight of those bronzes into silvers, then four of those into golds. Next thing you know, you’re more successful.

9 – Success is so much easier if you love what you do

So many people run the marathon and say they hate running – so why are you running the marathon? There’s no written rule that you have to run a marathon or do a triathlon – do what yanks your chain because if you do that, you’ll love it so much more, and actually achieving it will mean so much more to you. And because it means more to you, it means more to those around you.

I’m not saying you have to love every moment of it – the truth is you don’t and you won’t. To some extent, the more misery that is built into it and the harder you have to work for it, the greater that reward tastes – it’s back to the first point: nothing good comes easy.

Don’t do something that you don’t like, though. If you hate work, change your job. Be brave. I know we have responsibilities but actually, there’s nothing worse than being unhappy because the people closest to you will also be unhappy.

10 – It’s difficult to hear when you’re talking

This was beautifully articulated to me recently when I was having a conversation about soft drinks with an 11-year-old daughter of a friend. She said to me, ‘Fanta has got Aspartame [sweetener] in it,’ and I said, ‘No, diet Fanta has it in, but full fat Fanta hasn’t got it.’ She said ‘No, it has, it has.’

The conversation moved on, but I kept thinking ‘does it?’ On the way home I stopped in a shop and the two-litre Fanta had 126g of sugar and also Aspartame in it.

On the one hand, my response was ‘are you joking? They’re driving this dopamine response to addict you to sugar, so they increase the sweetness of the drink.’ But that was secondary to the fact that an 11-year-old had taught me that.

I dare to say that my five-year-old has taught me stuff, too. The only way that happens is by listening.

Professor Greg Whyte OBE, Director of Performance at CHHP and author of Achieve The Impossible


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