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  • Writer's pictureMatt Symes

Success Hinges On These 3 Steps

The Lead Yourself First newsletter is a deep dive into what keeps leaders healthy and performing at their peak. Every fourth week, I'll distill one or more points to help you prioritize self-leadership and personal growth.

Man walking in nature during the early morning hours

This Friday is Quitters' Day.

It's time to calibrate.

According to Strava's 2019 analysis of over 31.5 M users worldwide, the second Friday of January is precisely when the wheels come off.

This is the first instalment of a three-part series.


New Year's resolutions date back 4,000 years to the Babylonians. While their top concern was returning borrowed rakes to neighbours, contemporary resolutions often focus on health. Leaders and high achievers also embrace professional commitments. This year, my themes are Relationships, Rigour, and the Right Kind of Revenue.


Ultimately, success hinges on three key steps:


  1. Connect the Three A’s with B=MAP

  2. Anchor the Cadence

  3. Surround yourself with the right community


Let’s break those down, beginning this week with:



The first critical step is aligning your Aspiration, your Ambition, and your Actions.* 


Aspiration is the infinite game - What you are becoming.

Ambition is a finite game - The quantifiable outcomes.

Actions are the inputs - The controllable efforts daily.


Let's translate theory to practical application with my own health as an example.


My Aspiration: To say yes to life. To increase my healthspan. To win the centarian decathlon so that I can mentally and physically join my daughters in the activities they love and see the world through their eyes.


My Ambition: To run a marathon on every continent (3 down). To run the Abbott Majors (1 of 6 completed). To battle father time by breaking 3 hours in the marathon (3:15 in Chicago is my best time so far).

My Actions: Running. Lots of it, and for longer on Sundays. Never fewer than 100 miles/month and mostly in the Zone 2 heart rate (sometimes Zone 5). Strength training twice a week. Sleeping at least 7 hours. Eating mostly whole foods (with daily Athletic Greens as insurance).

Both Ambition and Action can and should be measured. Ambition is the output that can't be directly controlled, only influenced by the input. Daily execution of the actions, then, is the input you can control. This is where things tend to fall apart.


And so, I’ve relied on B=MAP to anchor the actions.**



B = M x A x P

Most of us start in the wrong order by trying to control motivation, inevitably chastising ourselves for not executing. This is both unhealthy and ineffective.


Successful high-performers who are content with their lives balance high self-discipline with a healthy dose of self-compassion. Think about it – would you be friends with the voice in your head? Would you speak to a loved one that way? The way I treated myself had to change for me to achieve my goals while showing up for myself and others in a positive way.


High-performers don't rely on motivation as the primary driver of change; it's usually the last piece of the puzzle. The real culprits are often the Prompt and the Knowledge of how to complete the action.


The Prompt


Consider pushups as an example. Armed with knowledge and motivation, I needed a prompt. For a year (2022), I anchored it to my coffee routine – every time I made coffee (3-5 times per day), I did pushups. It worked, increasing from 11 to 30 reps per set over the year. 


What derailed it? The success of our coffee shop and delightful moments with my daughters. Our shop in Moncton, Epoch Chemistry, became a hit, making better coffee than I do. Small breaks turned into getting coffee made for me, and the prompt vanished.


At home, playful pushups with my daughters evolved, but their increasing weight made it challenging. The moment is too precious, and we all laugh as I struggle to even lift my body with 50lbs lovingly hugging me. The inconsistent prompt left me searching for a new one. I know I will, though. 🙂


Anchored since 2017, another prompt is improving my balance. Tim Ferriss’ Tribe of Mentors inspired me to adopt Greg Norman’s habit of balancing on either foot while brushing my teeth. 


If you have a nailed Prompt but struggle to execute, dig into the  Knowledge that may be lacking. 


The Knowledge


For example, this is the snag I ran into with strength training. I had the prompt for squats (30 reps when turning on the shower), but I wasn't doing them correctly and injured myself. Since learning to do them properly, I never re-incorporated them into my routine, until writing this article prompted me to do so.


A friend and colleague used his dog's exercise needs to prompt his running commitment (2-3 miles of running rather than walking), leading to cascading health benefits.


Closing the Gap


What's your prompt? Do you have the knowledge? If motivation is lacking, revisit the connection between Aspiration and Ambition; perhaps your path isn't aligned with your best life.


I've amassed countless prompts that seamlessly integrate into my daily life, nudging me toward a better future. 


They bridge the knowing-doing gap. In fact, they help me cross the knowing-doing-being bridge.


As a reader, my consistency surpasses speed. I strategically position books to prompt reading, whether in the car, on the road, or by my nightstand.



I keep my daily commitments minimal, focusing on monthly activity goals with a flexible approach, a strategy that's proven to be effective for me.


Reading Katy Milkman's How to Change was a game-changer, as her behavioural science insights revealed that rigid, prescribed commitments yield short-term results. Instead, I embrace flexible rigidity, committing to running 100 miles a month, a concept Brad Stulberg terms Rugged Flexibility.


Life's unpredictability is a constant, as illustrated by the events that unfolded in my life over Christmas: my daughter's RSV admission, a suspected runner's fracture, and a sudden client opportunity during our annual shutdown. Rugged flexibility allowed me to adapt, ensuring I could be there for my family and still complete my long run on Sunday.


In the infinite game of pursuing aspirations, long-term habits matter most. Anchoring these actions has led to a redefined identity – I’m a family man, I’m a runner, and I’m a curious serial entrepreneur, investor, and change agent. I spend my life refining these roles by aligning Aspiration, Ambition, and Action, relying on the BMAP formula to anchor micro changes.


See you in Part 2, where we'll delve into the Cadence.


*Full credit to Marshall Goldsmith for the wonderfully simple model.


**Full Credit to BJ Fogg and Tiny Habits for the BMAP formula.


Are you ready to take your business to the next level?


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