This guest post was written by Lewis Howes, former professional Arena football player and current USA Men’s National Team member for team handball. Lewis is a lifestyle entrepreneur who built a seven-figure business in two years while starting out sleeping on his sisters couch. The views expressed herein are his and his alone. Learn more about Lewis at his website and his iTunes show The School of Greatness.

One of the greatest lessons I learned as a professional Arena football league player is that thinking small sucks.

Where does small thinking get you?

    • It gets you clapping for other people who are winning awards you could be winning.
    • It makes you believe “luck” is the biggest factor to success. False!
    • It causes you to set low expectations for yourself. And that hurts growth.
    • It makes you view failures, injuries, and unfair setbacks as “signs” that you’re not meant to continue doing what you’re doing — which is a big fat lie!

All of those limiting beliefs are a choice.

I don’t mean to sound cliché, but you’re the prison warden. Which means you need to ask yourself one question: Are you ready to free that inner greatness you’ve been keeping locked up?

What Is Greatness?

If you were going to build a business, raise a child, or play a simple game of checkers wouldn’t you want the best parts of you to step up and help? That’s what greatness is all about: getting the best parts of you to show up, while constantly becoming better. True greatness has nothing to do with fame, money, or social prestige. It’s about constantly evolving and performing at your best.

Don’t get me wrong. You can be good at a lot of things, but greatness is a choice. A choice only you can decide if you’ve achieved or not. Which means…

    • You could win employee of the year — but still not be a great employee.
    • You could win the lottery — but still not be rich.
    • You could provide for your family — but still not be giving them the best parts of you.

Only you know if the best parts of you showed up.

How to Unleash Greatness

Olympic athletes train to win medals. But even if they don’t win, it doesn’t mean greatness was not achieved. Becoming great at something will take time and commitment, but the first step is to unleash what you’ve already got.

Here are 9 ways to accomplish that.

1. Focus on things in your control. This is common advice, but not commonly practiced. In sports, you can’t control what the other team does, what calls the refs make, and what is happening in the stands. The only thing you can control are your own thoughts and actions. This means you shouldn’t waste a moment worrying about the thoughts and actions of others. Yes, they’ll have an effect on the overall outcome, but your job is to focus on your part and deliver your best effort.

2. Play to win. Playing to win awakens those inner strengths and talents which can make all the difference. When we play “not to lose” we aren’t utilizing our natural talents, making it impossible to play our best game.

3. Leave everything on the field. The only way to lose with your head held high is to know that you left everything on the “field.” Winners don’t hold back, but winners must also learn to lose gracefully with their integrity intact.

4. Forget the failures. I suffered a career ending injury which left me broke and living on my sister’s couch. But had I allowed my mind to focus on what I had lost, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Learn from your failures, but don’t obsess over them. Your goals need 100 percent of your attention — this leaves no room for doubt.

5. Don’t compromise who you are. People tend to believe they need to “become” someone in order to achieve success. But the only person you need to become is you. Think twice before trading your identity or integrity for any amount of fame, money, or momentary gains.

6. Celebrate small victories. Every one of your goals is a collection of smaller goals — so celebrate them. Use platforms like Facebook and YouTube as rewards instead of time wasters. That’s how you get Mark Zuckerberg to work for you!

7. Don’t be seduced by your own success. Success breeds more success, but only if you keep moving and keep evolving. If you let your ego get in the way and decide you’ve “arrived,” that usually means you’re standing still and will soon be passed by.

8. Always, always, always keep improving. When an archer hits the bullseye they don’t say “OK, I’ve hit the bullseye. I’m now a perfect archer.” Instead, they draw back another arrow and shoot again, and again, and again. Sometimes they hit it and sometimes they miss, but the more they shoot the better they get. The same goes for greatness — you improve by continuing to shoot for it.

9. Mentor others. Passing along your own skills, tips, and advice is the biggest sign of greatness. It shows you understand there’s enough success to go around.

At the end of the day, true greatness is in you and within your reach. You’ve just got to decide to let it out.

What are your favorite ways to unleash your greatness? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, or tweet them directly to the author @Lewishowes.