Drew Brees threw for four touchdowns Monday night against the Colts for a total of 541 career touchdown passes, two more than previous record-holder Peyton Manning and three more than Tom Brady's current mark.

The 13-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl MVP already holds the record for most career passing yards.

All this from a player once considered too short to be an elite quarterback, and whose torn rotator cuff and labrum made his future doubtful, causing Brees to leave the Chargers, where he had been selected to a Pro Bowl, to sign with the Saints as a free agent. (In fact, the Dolphins passed on Brees after their doctors wouldn't clear him.)

Brees was told it would take eight months to start throwing again, and two years to feel normal. 

"That's overwhelming to hear, that type of prognosis," Brees says. "So I said, let's not look too far out, let's set short-term goals. When can I get out of this sling? And he said, 'Well, that's four weeks,' and I said, 'I'm going to beat that.'

Brees worked hard to get out in three. Told regaining full range of motion would require nine weeks, Brees made it in six.

"Whatever they told me," Brees says, "I said I was gonna beat that, and they'd get mad at me, tell me, it's got to heal, and I said we can beat it."

Fourteen years later, Brees has thrown more touchdown passes than any quarterback in the 100-year history of the NFL. 

Drew's career is a testament to the power of determination and willpower... but it's also a testament to the power of numbers. In order to break the record, Brees had to be great.

Yet he also had to last: In a sport where the average career lasts less than four years, Brees has played for nineteen. (Other "older" quarterbacks like Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning make it seem like lasting into your late thirties is normal, but few quarterbacks manage to stay at an elite level in their late twenties and early thirties.)

But while longevity is clearly key to eclipsing an all-time record, luck plays a role in avoiding injury. No matter how much time and effort Brees puts into nutrition, fitness, etc. in order to help prevent injuries and actively recover from the physical toll on an NFL player's body, still: Luck matters.

Which is why Brees controls what he can control: How he prepares, how he plays, and how he recovers. 

And how focusing on short-term goals -- this season, this game, this play -- helped Brees build a long-term, Hall of Fame-worthy career.

The Power of Numbers

The distance between a dream, and the reality of the present, presents a major problem.

Setting a huge -- even crazy -- goal is intended to be hugely motivating, but comparing your current state to your eventual goal turns out to be hugely de-motivating and demoralizing.

And is usually the reason we give up.

For Brees, the months required to recover from his shoulder injury seemed daunting. (And if he had hoped to someday break the all-time record for touchdown passes, that would have been daunting as well.)

So he broke the process down into chunks.

And you can too.

Pick a huge goal. Starting a business. Changing careers. Getting a degree. Running a marathon. Any goal where daily effort, consistently applied, will someday result in major achievement.

Then break that goal down into chunks and create a plan to knock off those chunks. Establish a routine. Stick to your routine. 

With time and effort -- and a commitment to keeping your head down and grinding out those chunks -- you'll get there. 

That's how Ryan Holiday writes bestselling books. That's how Warren Buffett beats the markets. That's how I accomplished something silly, like doing 100,000 pushups in one year.

Just make sure you also focus on creating balance in your life -- and on active recovery. Sure, you can work 14 hours in a day... but can you do that for months on end? You can make 50 cold calls in one day... but can you do that for months on end?

Longevity requires sustainability -- so make sure the routine you set is one that you can stick with. And that you actively recover from, by ensuring that you solve the work-life balance formula in the only way that actually works.

Because you can't win the race... if you aren't still running at the end of the race.

Published on: Dec 18, 2019
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