We’ve all heard Dave Tate, elitefts founder and CEO, say that he has always positioned elitefts to cater to the people who place strength training as one of their top four priorities in life. I have always liked that statement and have regularly used it when explaining the expectations my small training group has of prospective members or when someone asks why, at 39 years old, I put myself through the punishment of training heavy when my life is full and my joints are shot. I used the “top four” statement as an easy way of explaining that training was very important to me and, for the most part, it has seldom let me down. No further questions needed. The response is, ”Mike thinks that this stuff is important." Next topic, please.

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It was after one of these conversations recently that I spent some time wondering why Dave picked the number four when it came to his top priorities. Why isn’t it a top six or a top two? I listed my top four to see what my priorities were and, in doing so, I came to appreciate this concept all the more. I do a lot of things and I wear a ton of hats, but my top four priorities have over the past ten years been my family, my faith, my work, and my training. These aspects of my life make up my identity and define my purpose. They govern my decisions—both large and small—and those decisions deliver consequences, both positive and negative.

So why is this important enough to write about?  Let me provide an example to help clarify.

One of my favorite things to do is to target shoot with my friends. It is a tremendous amount of fun and I look forward to doing it every single time we plan an outing. However, if for some reason this was no longer possible, though I would certainly be disappointed, my life wouldn’t change all that much. There wouldn’t be a genuine sense of loss or tragedy. However, if any of my top four priorities were to disappear, I would be devastated. It would feel as if a part of me was removed. I would be incomplete.

When all is said and done, your top four priorities in life make up who you are. Everything else is simply things you do. I don’t believe that human beings possess the cognitive bandwidth to take on more than four defining priorities in our lives. And if we dare to try, the old axiom that states, “when everything is important, then nothing is important” takes effect.

So how do you know what a defining priority is? Conceptually, they are incredibly simple to identify as long as you are intellectually honest with yourself. What this always comes down to is what your choices are when it comes to the various aspects of your life and the level of maturity you approach them with.

top 4 priority

When discerning your top four defining priorities, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Am I willing to put in the time? All priorities require time. Defining priorities should require the most time. Going back to my college football days, the offensive line always prided itself on being the “first ones on the field and the last ones off” and those extra hours always paid off during game time. Whether it is parenting, a marriage, powerlifting, or your work/profession, you will generally get out of it what you put into it.
  2. Am I willing to stick with it when it’s hard? I think that it was Mike Tyson who once said that, “Everybody has a plan until you get hit.” Whether or not you are willing to fight through the setbacks and hardships dictates what your defining priorities are. If being a good and attentive parent is important to you, then you will have the tough love conversations with your kids. If your job description changes suddenly and requires you to learn a new technology or skill, then you will open your mind and acquire the knowledge to continue to be successful. We don’t typically give up on the things or roles that are important to us. If we truly care, then there are times when we have to grit our teeth and do the things that we don’t want to do.
  3. Am I willing to accept the consequences for placing this priority above others? All of our choices have consequences, both positive and negative. You must be willing to accept that making one thing a top priority is a choice to make something else less of a priority. For example, the professional who is working eighty hours a week to get a promotion is choosing to sacrifice time spent with their spouse or on their golf game. An elite powerlifter who is chasing after a world record is placing that pursuit/priority above all others. It takes a tremendous amount of maturity to understand what your defining priority requires and not be a victim to the cost.

Defining the type of people Dave wanted to serve with elitefts continues to give laser like focus to the company. Those of us who place strength training in our top four defining priorities are, beyond a doubt, beneficiaries of that focus. We can trust that the content of the articles or the quality of the products are there for those of us who position strength training as a large part of our identity and not just something that we do. I would encourage everyone to take the time and honestly identify what your four defining priorities truly are. Define them and then strive to unapologetically live by them. While it will not make life easier, it will certainly give it more purpose.