Book Review: The ONE Thing

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Title:The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

Author: Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Topic: Psychology, Habits and Routines

Appropriate for: Anyone interested in improving!

Overall rating: 5/5 – go out and get it now!!!


David Cowan – a colleague of mine at the Borders and East Lothian Academy, gave me this book as a leaving present when I left my previous post. I had heard of it on the occasional podcast and it proved to be a worthwhile read, solidifying some previous concepts and ideas I’d been exposed to previously.

The book is prefaced by a Russian Proverb, “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one. The premise of the book is to simplify our lives by focussing on the one area or action that leads to most of the successful or desired result. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard of the Pareto Principle. Pareto was an Italian economist who discovered that 20% of the population owned 80% of the land in the region. Since then this concept has been expanded to suggest that 80% of the desired result we pursue comes from only 20% of our input. This book follows that trend by suggesting that by attempting to be overly productive by multi-tasking, taking on more and over-extending ourselves, we are in fact being unproductive and not doing ourselves justice! The central idea is in fact the question, “What is the ONE thing that I can do, such that by doing it everything else will be come easier or unnecessary?”

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The book is divided into 3 parts:

  • The lies – They mislead and derail us
  • The Truth – The simple path to productivity
  • Extraordinary results – Unlocking the possibilities within you

There was some really great content within the book. Here are a few of the key take home messages I found worth noting:

1.Going Small

“Going Small is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do. It’s recognizing that not all things matter equally and finding the things that matter most. It’s a tighter way to connect what you do with what you want. It’s realizing that extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.”

I thought this was particularly striking as a youth sport coach. There are so many things we could focus on with our athletes, but what is the one thing that we should do? An easy example in rugby is the catch and pass. Without the basics of catch and pass being nailed, all team moves and strategy in the world will fall apart. From an S&C perspective, the thing that was highlighted to me as mattering most was good movement skills. If all I did was give my athletes good movement skills, I leave them in good standing to take on any S&C program.


“We know that multitasking can be fatal when lives are at stake. In fact, we fully expect pilots and surgeons to focus on their jobs to the exclusion of all else. And we expect that anyone in their positions who gets caught doing otherwise will always be severely taken to task. We accept no arguments and have no tolerance for anything but total concentration from these professionals. And yet, here the rest of us – are living another standard. Do we not value our own job or take it seriously? Why would we ever tolerate multitasking when we’re doing our most important work?”

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This is a hugely valid point. I for one am awful at this, having multiple tabs open on my internet browser and regularly forgetting what I was supposed to be doing. I think this can often happen in coaching! This happens a lot when people design training programs. Often they’ll explain that they are “wanting to focus on developing aerobic capacity, whilst also building muscle mass and losing bodyfat. Oh and improving mobility as well.” Sounds a lot like multitasking to me. In the words of Steve Uzzell, “Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.” Keep the main thing – the main thing. Select your KPI and focus in on that and keep it your focus!

3.Your environment must support your goals

” Your environment is simply who you see and what you experience every day. The people are familiar, the places are comfortable. You trust these elements of your environment and quite possibly even take them for granted. But be aware. Anyone and anything at any time can become a thief, diverting your attention away from your most important work and stealing your productivity from right under your nose. For you to achieve extraordinary results, the people surrounding you and your physical surroundings must support your goals.”

We’ve probably all experienced the difficulty of coaching an athlete who didn’t have the required family support required to make the most of their opportunities. Whether this was inadequate nutrition, equipment, travel ability or simply parental interest,, we know this hampered them. Whilst this is extreme, we will all have some significant impediments to our progress, either in our physical environment or social! A simple one for me is that I know I do my best writing for this blog when I get away from other people for 60-90 minutes, put my headphones on, get some music on I can lose myself in and ignore social media and test messages. This helps me create an environment that supports my goals.

So from a coaching perspective – what things do we need to curate to optimise the training environment for our athletes or for ourselves as coaches? It could be a more effective way of organising our sessions, setting up equipment, training groups or even getting rid of some personnel that aren’t contributing positively!

These were just some of the points that I took from this book. I’d really recommend it as a worthwhile read for coaches and athletes alike, especially if you are running your own business!

You can find the book here: The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

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