MINDSET – Road Less Traveled
Bo Eason Says Being the Best Takes Your A Game, All Day, Every Day
By Lashaun Dale
What do being an NFL legend, esteemed playwright, world-renowned speaker and author have in common? Bo Eason is all these things. His achievements originate from a strong drive to win, the willingness to put in the work, and humility that allows him to surround himself with the best coaches and team to help realize a dream.
Even more important, Eason says, is falling in love with the nitty-gritty, often painful work and ever-challenging journey. There may not be shortcuts on the road less traveled, but Eason says it’s OK to rest awhile, too, and even quit—over and over—as long as you are willing to pick back up and continue with a fresh heart.
24Life Editor-in-Chief Lashaun Dale caught up with Eason during his family’s annual lake vacation, a tradition that’s been in the family for 36 years, to discuss his new book, “There’s No Plan B for Your A-Game” (St. Martin’s Press, 2019).
Lashaun Dale: Your accomplishments speak for themselves, but help us understand your truly intense drive and quest to be the best.
Bo Eason: It’s true, I’m obsessed with what makes people great—what makes them the best. It takes real commitment, focus and willingness to drop anything that does not serve your mission. This obsession that I’ve had with being the best started when I was 6, or 7, or 8. I’m the youngest of six kids. Our dad would wake us all up really early in the morning—he was a farmer on a ranch, so those days start early. He’d rub our backs roughly and whisper in our ears, “Keep moving partner. You’re the best in there, G**damn it.”
Eventually, we just kind of surrendered to what he saw in us, and we thought, Well, maybe we are the best. Maybe that’s our birthright. Now, we [Eason and wife Dawn] wake up our kids the same way. People can be the best if they want to be. It’s just most people have been taught that it’s not even a possibility.
LD: When you whisper into your kids’ ears or tell your clients they can be the best, it’s like you’re giving them permission to set seemingly impossible goals. Can you speak to that?
BE: A lot of people who teach goal setting talk about realistic goals. Why wouldn’t you reach for the stars, and that way, play the size of the game that needs to be played?
It’s uncomfortable to do because you’re constantly in a state of struggle. Struggle is a biological necessity if you’re going to improve. If you can accept struggle and watch the improvement inch by inch, minute by minute, you’ll end up at the very top—because you’ve fallen in love with the process of struggle and improvement.
Plan A or nothing
LD: Where did the book’s title, “There’s No Plan B for Your A Game,” come from?
BE: I’ve always thought that the more options you have, the less success you have. And the less options you have, the more success you have. If there’s no option but No. 1, you’re taking that.
I learned this as a kid because my 20-year plan was to be the best safety player in the world. My mom and dad’s friends would say to them, “Hey, I hear your boys have these dreams, but they better have a plan B because their hearts are going to be broken.”
These people were probably well-meaning, but I knew my mom took our dreams seriously when she kicked these people out of our home. I thought, She must really believe I’m going to be the best, so I better up my game too and fulfill on this thing. This book talks to people exactly the way my parents spoke to us, the way I speak to clients.
Step 1: Declaration
LD: Your process for living your A game is four steps. What are they?
BE: The first step is declaration. You can think of it as simply as the Declaration of Independence—it’s the principle that drives everything you do.
Your declaration has to be big. Dreams that aren’t a stretch, that don’t scare you a little, won’t turn you on enough—so you won’t do the work. Imagine if John F. Kennedy said, “OK, America. We’re going to put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth. And if that doesn’t work out, we’ll just get a guy into space and that’ll be good enough.” The NASA engineers would have said, “Well, OK. He just gave us an out. So let’s take it.”
Here’s how simple my declarations have been. When I was 9 years old, my declaration was, I want to be the best safety in the world in 20 years. Then when I was 29, I said I want to be the best stage performer of my time. When I was 49, I said I want to be the best speaker in the world. Even though I give myself 20 years, I usually fulfill my declarations sooner and I start doubling up on them. So now I want to be the best at creating the best.
You start by answering the question: What do you want to accomplish? Write it down, and mentally put yourself there. Really feel yourself inhabiting your version of being the best. This is how you make the game more important and fully commit yourself.
LD: You say it’s important to make your declaration with a clear story behind it.
BE: People can refute facts, but no one can refute a story. JFK’s declaration was based on a story of a future that hadn’t happened, and it was so fantastic that people carried it out even after his death. Most people want to belong to a story that seems impossible. When they do that, they help make the story come true.
When I made the declaration to be the best safety, the story of my life was laid out. Now I had to catch a thousand balls a day from my brother. Even if I just did that, I’d reach the top among people who catch balls. But I started studying [everything about] the best safeties who are now 20 years older than me. [I looked at the way they lived and trained, and] I started being the best safety in the world way before I was actually the best safety in the world.
Fantasies live in your head, but a declaration lives in the real world because you’re attaching yourself to it, and you’re dressing like the best safety, and you’re being the best safety. And as enough years pass and you’re being the best safety, guess what happens? You’re the best safety in the world.
LD: How do you develop that story?
BE: Say they were making a movie about you becoming the best ballerina in the world. If you were the costume designer for your character, which is called the best ballerina in the world, what do the best ballerinas in the world wear? What do they say? Who does the best ballerina in the world surround herself with? Who teaches her? What does she eat? How many hours a day does she train?
And what losses she might face in the next 20 years, in pursuit of being the best? Is it certain relationships that are against being the best? There’s a lot of loss in the story, but it’s a story that all of us would want to see and we’d be inspired by it.
LD: That also helps you understand what needs to be done, but how do you bring the declaration to life?
BE: It starts with the understanding that you are not a fan or part of the audience, you are a player. Our society and our culture are really good at convincing you to be a fan—not a, participant but an audience.
Here’s why it’s important. First, think about what players do. Do players complain? No. Do they critique? No. Do they cancel their performance when it rains or snows? No. Is the game ever canceled? No. Players do one thing: They play. There’s no choice; that’s it.
Now think about what fans get to do. Fans get to critique. They get to party and have fun. They get to complain. They get to skip the game if there’s bad weather.
But players get to where no one else does. One of the most vivid memories I have of that day I started playing pro football is the sign that was on our locker room door. The sign said, “Players only beyond this point.” What that meant was nobody gets in that room unless you’re a player. So if you’re a fan, if you’re the president of the United States, if you’re the richest person in the world, you don’t get in the locker room.
You’ve got to earn it. It’s that simple. You’re a player, a pro. You only do one thing for the rest of your life—you play your A game.
LD: I love it. We are redefining the word player.
BE: Yes, and the second step to bring your declaration to life is tactical. You put the play into action. A study out of the University of London says if you do something for 66 days in a row, it’s actually harder not to do that thing than to do it. Those chunks of 66 days are great because it’s really hard to tackle themes for 20 years. So you create 66-day challenges for yourself.
I don’t think people should just focus on their strengths, either. The only way to improve is to put yourself outside your current capacity and let your body adapt to the demanding situation. If you’re a really great right-handed basketball player, do everything for the next 66 days with your left hand. It puts you in deliberate practice, moving you outside your comfort zone and pushing you beyond your current capacity.
Step 2: Preparation
LD: You say the second step to your A game is preparation. Is this where the real work is?
BE: It really is. Daniel Coyle, who wrote “The Talent Code,” also wrote a book called “The Little Book of Talent.” I used to read it to my kids. They might have been too young to get the concepts, but still, to this day, they repeat one sentence, which is, “Practice is the center of our universe.”
And so our family’s just made rehearsal and practice the center of our universe. Most people make it the big game or the big performance. All the best performers in the world know that it’s never about the performance, it’s about preparing to perform.
LD: What keeps us from preparation then?
BE: The most dangerous distractions are the ones that you don’t know are distractions. That’s why you need to create your “never do again” list. I love coaching, but I don’t like doing it on the phone. So we took it off my to-do list. It could be things that keep you from being your best, or it could be things that just don’t help you make much progress.
Step 3: Acceleration
LD: We’ve made our declaration and we write our 66-day challenges. How will we know we’re propelling ourselves forward?
BE: That’s where the third step in your A game comes in: acceleration. You have to have the stamina to practice, to keep doing what you need to do for 20 years to fulfill your declaration. If you don’t, let’s address it. If you do, keep going.
LD: Mental stamina, or physical stamina, or both?
BE: There is a physicality to being the best. When you start to live out your story, your declaration, it’s attached to your physical being and it’s attached to your mind. You’re going to be walking around with this for the next 20 years.
Gymnasts are a great example. They’re small in stature, but they’re huge in their declaration, in their dreams, in their work ethic. They are their dreams, embodied. The reason that it’s the most popular Olympic sport is because you can’t take your eyes off them. They’re not thinking, Oh, I hope I don’t look too scary up here on the balance beam. They’re just up there doing what they’ve trained to do for all of their lives.
Step 4: Domination
LD: The final step in your A game, you say, is domination. What do you mean by that?
BE: It’s about dominating your mindset and surrounding yourself with people who have the same dream. They may be ahead of you, they may be a little bit behind you. It doesn’t matter. You’re all going to the same place. Being the best is not about dominating other people, it’s about dominating the space you’re in. You have the special abilities that are needed to make the necessary changes in your life.
There were four kids who supported my dream to be the best safety, and they went all the way to the NFL with me. My high school never had a pro athlete of any kind, yet four of us got drafted and played for a total of 25 years and two Super Bowls. And our school has not produced an NFL player since. This has happened in every discipline that I’ve ever chosen; people decide to go with me, as far-fetched as my dreams might be.
LD: Is there ever a time to actually quit your dream?
BE: Quitting is a part of the game, as long as you know you’re going to re-enter the fray. I’ve done it a million times in my life where I throw my hands up and say, “I can’t do this. I suck. I quit.” And then I quit, and I pout, and I cry, and I complain to somebody that the world’s against me. And then as soon as I’m done with all that, I get back in the game.
If you declare something and then you deliberately practice with the right coaches and the amount of hours that you need for the next 20 years, you’re going to be world class. The only way that that would not come true for you is if you quit [for good]. So quit for an hour and then re-enter the game.
About Bo Eason
Former NFL All-Pro. Actor. Playwright. Motivational Speaker. Leadership Trainer. Author.
Bo Eason started his career in the NFL as a top pick for the Houston Oilers. Continuing on with the San Francisco 49ers, during his 5-year career Bo competed beside and against some of the greatest players of his generation. After his football career ended, he branched out into acting and wrote a one-man play called “Runt of the Litter” that went to Broadway. Now, as a speaker and leadership coach, he trains some of the most successful people in the world—athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, C-suite execs—on how to communicate for maximum impact and success. His book, “There’s No Plan B for Your A-Game, Be the Best in the World at What You Do,” will be published in September 2019 by St. Martin’s Press.
The ability to be the best at what you do is your BIRTHRIGHT. You were born with an immense opportunity to rise to the top. To continue on your journey to being the Best, pick up Bo’s new book, “There’s No Plan B for Your A-Game.” Pre-order today and receive Bo’s special gifts: An exclusive excerpt, companion mini-course, action book and more.
Video and photo credit: Todd Cribari, inspirostudio.com