The Strict Boundaries of the Extraordinary Life (and Performance)

By: Jim Murphy


  • The extraordinary life is one filled with deep contentment, joy and confidence, independent of circumstances. It’s a wholehearted life, fully engaged, heart, mind and body.
  • Extraordinary performance in pressure situations is similar. The best performers have an undivided heart, one that’s fully engaged, alive and passionate, at work and at rest.
  • Both pursuits also have something else in common: They each have strict boundaries around their habits of thought and action. They have way less choices than “normal” people. They’re very intentional about their thoughts and feelings, and subsequent actions, saying no to most things in order to be fully engaged in a few.
  • They simplify their lives by making difficult decisions, eliminating countless options that most people take for granted.
  • This allows them to eliminate hurry and be more aware of themselves and their circumstances, their goals and dreams, and the reality of what’s possible to those who believe.

“They all think they have this illusion of choice. Like I can do whatever I want to do. And you kind of have a younger generation now that doesn’t always get told no, they don’t always get told this is exactly how you need to do it. So they have this illusion that they have all these choices. But the fact of the matter is, is if you want to be good, you really don’t have a lot of choices. Because it takes what it takes. You have to do what you have to do to be successful. So you have to make choices and decisions to have the discipline and focus to the process of what you need to do to accomplish your goals.” — Nick Saban, Alabama football coach, 7-time National Champion

Freedom is costly. This is the opening line of Inner Excellence: Achieve Extraordinary Business Success Through Mental Toughness (the first version of the book). It’s costly because in order to have freedom, we must eliminate a lot of things from our lives. We cannot have real freedom without removing most options.

Imagine a fish in a lake. That fish needs the boundaries of water. “Free” it from the water and it will die. It needs the boundaries of the water to in order to be its true self, a fish that swims around and eats wiggling worms and the occasional egg/marshmallow treat (or trick).

Now imagine you’re a tennis player and your dream is to play Centre Court at Wimbledon. Let’s contrast that with someone who has no particular goals or dreams, just wants to have fun. Well, the fun guy has way more options than the tennis player. Fun Guy can watch re-runs of the Simpsons all day long and share one liners at the next barbecue. He can laugh with Lisa and pacify with Maggie all day long. He has the freedom to do that.

The tennis player, however, cannot spend the day bumming around with Bart or hanging with Homer. She actually has very few choices. She has to get up early and practice late. She has to go into strict training with her body, and especially, her heart and mind. If she wants the freedom of playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon someday, she has to eliminate all the other “freedoms” most people rely on every day.

Fun Guy gets the freedom of eating chocolate cake, chips and candy until the cows come home. Tennis gal cannot do those things. She might have one piece of cake before one cow gets home, for example. She has to eliminate nearly all the options Fun Guy has so she can have the potential freedom of living her dream on Centre Court. She must have very strict boundaries. We all do–all of us dreamers.

We need to simplify our lives like Alex Hunnold (AH). Alex lived in a van for 11 years, eating his food out of the pot, camping in the woods, so he could pursue his dream of one day climbing El Capitaln without ropes.

Imagine a conversation with Alex and I in the woods of Yosemite National park, outside his van:

Me: “Hey man, wanna go into town and catch a movie tonight?”

AH: “No thanks.”

ME: “How about we play some Mortal Kombat instead?”

AH: “Hey, thanks for thinking of me, but I’m good.”

ME: “C’mon man, you’ve been living in that van for 10 years and have never gone up that mountain once without ropes. Let’s play some board games and have some pizza tonight!”

AH: “Sorry bro.”

To live an extraordinary life may not mean doing what no one else on the planet has done before, but it does mean doing things you’ve never done before. It means expanding your vision so you can learn and grow, so you can believe in your dreams when no one else does… so you can become someone you’ve never been, the type of person who has more love, wisdom and courage than you did yesterday. It means saying no to most things so you can say yes to your dreams. It means having strict boundaries around those dreams and your true self.

What that looks like

  • Having strict boundaries in your life requires getting clear on how you want to feel, how you want to live, and the type of person you want to become. This clarity allows you to eliminate distractions and create dream-building boundaries.
  • It means studying the greats that have come before you (the ones that lived how you want to live), so you can think how they think, eliminate the things they eliminated.
  • Strict boundaries means controlling what you can control, like where you place your eyes, what you watch and listen to, what you read and who you spend time with, what you allow your mind to dwell on, and leave the rest to God.
  • It looks like someone who does what other people do not, so she can become who only she can.

True freedom is an inner liberation; a sense of joy that’s not dependent on results. This sort of freedom takes discipline and a very strict elimination diet, saying no to much of what the world does every day (and all the instant gratification that goes with it), so you can say yes to your dreams and your true self.

Let me know how it’s going.

Let’s do this!

Love Jim


Nick Saban talks about the illusion of choice.

Books I’m Reading

Just finished listening to Never Broken – Songs Are Only Half the Story by Jewel. (Note: 90% of the book I read or listen to I move on to the next before finishing. This is one of the 10% I stuck with to the end). Jewel was homeless when she was discovered by a producer.

If you want another one of my 10% (that I finish cover to cover), try this one by Eric Blehm. It’s one of my top 5 most recommended books of the year. Very inspiring true story.


I’ll be heading to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico in a few weeks. If you’re in the area say hello! I’m scouting for a Latin American country to live and study Spanish for 3-6 months. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear. The main requirements: Spanish school with most classes outdoors (or a tutor), a golf course, and fast wifi (so I can send these letters to you).

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