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Books The habits of champions

December 23, 2018

“Living the life you want to live. Serving and empowering others while being at the top of your chosen discipline. That’s being a champion,” says Dana Cavalea, Stamford resident and author of “Habits of a Champion.”

Cavalea doesn’t want people to feel intimidated by the word “champion.”

“Personal development is about giving people a mirror they can look into. They can judge for themselves whether they’re being honest with the person they’re looking at,” he says. “I believe we would all love to feel what it’s like to be a champion, to feel the glory and validation of our work, and, most importantly, ourselves, when we achieve the highest rewards in our field and in life.”

As former director of performance for the New York Yankees in the years leading to their 2009 World Series championship, Cavalea has trained and coached some of the highest level athletes, including Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera, and counseled coaches, CEOs, and executives. Cavalea’s mission is to help others reduce stress and improve their overall well-being to maintain stamina and competitiveness.

Defining the word champion and recognizing it wasn’t easy.

“I read many books on leadership and personal development and felt I was doing everything wrong, but after watching and working with the best performers in the world, I felt very close and not as far as the books made me feel,” says Cavalea.

“Habits of a Champion” shows people how champion behavior is about daily little things. Growing up, Cavalea learned this from his parents.

“The little things were the big things — making my bed, doing laundry, cutting the lawn. All were my responsibility and I was taught to do them before I was asked to do them,” he says. “Take 100 percent responsibility for your life and outcomes. If you want something, work for it. Growth is the key to life. Striving to be more is a great thing. Be more without letting it take over your life.”

Cavalea suggests designing a custom routine.

“Over time you will look back and say, ‘wow, look at what I accomplished.’ Many people today are chasing an extraordinary life at the cost of everything else.”

With a forward written by Joe Girardi, former manager of the Yankees, the book offers 15 life lessons on achieving the next level.

Cavalea called on noted performers in sports, life, and business, to share their stories. Jeter, a five-time World Series champion, was one of them.

“One lesson Derek taught me was, if somebody does not respect your time, they do not respect you,” says Cavela. “How we use time, who we decide to use it on, is our choice. If you’re late for meetings without calling, you’re not respecting the other person. If you blow off meetings because ‘something came up’ you’re not respecting the other person. These lessons are about living your best life. By living up to these standards, you’ll thrive.”

To embark on a path toward being a champion, start each day with a clear plan.

“Put yourself first. Exercise your body and mind first thing in the morning. This will improve your chances of making great choices through the day and being in the best spirits,” says Cavalea. “Physical movement is the catalyst for an even temper. Physical movement plus flexibility will reduce stress and anxiety. Physical movement plus flexibility plus hydration will keep your energy higher. All of this, combined with positive self-coaching and a clean diet of whole foods will give you the foundation of championship performance in life, sport and business.”

The book’s best piece of advice?

“Be consistent. Be passionate about what you’re doing. When you’re no longer passionate about what you’re doing, change,” says Cavalea, acknowledging athletes struggle when their sport becomes their identity. “Your sport is what you do, it’s not who you are. You can really fill in the word ‘sport’ with any career path.”

The values and philosophy in sports is a springboard for life.

“You win and you lose. Never bring yesterday’s negatives into today. Use yesterday’s positives to create positive momentum. Every day we get to play again. Put your uniform on, get dirty, play hard, and play to win.”

Cavalea calls it competitive confidence.

“Most days we shouldn’t fear others; we should fear ourselves. The game is about competing with ourselves. Competitive confidence is about approaching each day with your win in mind,” he says. “It’s about getting up, attacking your plan, and feeling really good about your execution of process and plan. That, over time, leads to winning.”

Pamela Brown is a freelance writer.

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