by Niall Doherty

There was never a better time to be in New Orleans than this past weekend, with Mardi Gras really kicking off and the Saints winning the Super Bowl for the first time in the franchise’s 43-year history. It has been a magical season for the Saints. Here are a few things we can all learn from them:

Finish Strong

This was the mantra for the Saints all season. Quarterback Drew Brees gave each of his teammates a copy of Dan Green’s book of the same name last April, and they all took the words to heart.

From Green’s finishstrong.com website:

The Finish Strong attitude is about choice. Only you have the power to choose how to respond to the challenges before you. How will you choose to respond? Will you lie down or will you choose to fight? The choice is yours and I challenge you to always choose to Finish Strong. The great philosopher Epictetus said, “It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react that matters.”

Indeed. Everything is a choice. You can use what happens to you as an excuse to give up, or you can use it to get better, grow stronger. The Saints took all the setbacks from the past few years and learned from them. How they responded to those blows helped them triumph in the end.

Take Risks

Saints coach Sean Payton has taken a lot of heat over the years for not playing it safe. He regularly pulls the trigger on fourth downs and calls unconventional plays with the game on the line. I thought he might play a little more conservatively on Sunday’s big stage, but was delighted to be proven wrong by that on-side kick at the beginning of the third quarter.

Payton’s aggressive play-calling sometimes backfires, but I love that he’s not afraid to take those risks. He’s willing to fail and to take full responsibility if those risks don’t pan out. Those qualities make him a great coach.

The same principles apply to personal development. You can only grow so much if you’re afraid to take risks. To really make leaps, you have to push the limits and be okay with falling off the edge every now and then. People might label you obsessive and think you’re crazy, just ignore them. The vast majority of the time, those very critics are simply afraid to fail (or even afraid to succeed) themselves. Don’t let anyone project their own limitations on to you.

Demand Excellence

There are fascinating tales of the hard work and preparation Drew Brees puts in. As a recent ESPN The Magazine article tells it, Brees is the guy sprinting harder and longer than anyone else at practice, and he gets mad at himself when he botches a single pass, regardless of the fact that his previous ten throws were flawless. It’s that constant drive for excellence that separates the good from the great. Lots of players are happy just to make the NFL and collect a fat paycheck. That’s good enough for them, and that’s why their names and deeds are soon forgotten.

Do you strive to be great? Do you demand excellence from yourself? How can you be better? Are you willing to put in the countless hours of work and study required to reach your potential? Imagine the payoff if you were to make that investment. Drew Brees would tell you that it’s worth it.

Believe

A quote from Brees in January:

“The strong sense of faith in this city makes you think this is destiny, that we’re going to achieve what we set out to achieve. It’s only a matter of time.”

What Brees and the Saints had was ultimate faith in the endgame. They absolutely believed that they would prevail as long as they kept working. They laid all the groundwork, and reaching their goal had become a simple matter of persistence.

Whatever it is that you’re working towards, don’t ever doubt that you can get there. Only when you stop believing in something does it become impossible. Yes, reaching your goal may also require great amounts of time and effort, but a foundation of unshakable belief is crucial to making your dream become reality.

Have a Higher Purpose

The Saints had extra motivation to win it all. New Orleans is an unparalleled place full of great people, people who endured the destruction and heartache of Hurricane Katrina yet managed to use the tragedy more like a springboard than a stumbling block. The Saints understood that winning the Super Bowl was about more than football and trophies and rings. They wanted victory more for their fans and hometown than for themselves. They had a higher purpose.

What higher purpose do you have? Does your motivation come from a desire to be rich and famous and adored, or do you strive to succeed with the ultimate aim of lifting and helping others? Work towards something bigger than yourself and you’ll have an automatic advantage.