#1742 Above the Line

Or Below the Line?

The other day I was chatting with a new friend of mine who happens to be the Head Football Coach at one of THE most iconic college football programs in the country.

He’s an extraordinary human being—the living embodiment of what I think a leader in general and a football coach in particular should look and show up like.


In one of our chats, as we explored how we might be able to help his team show up as THE best, most Heroic versions of themselves and, as a by-product/result of that, have THE best shot at winning a national championship, we talked about one of his chats with one of the most legendary football coaches in collegiate history… Urban Meyer.

As you may know…

Meyer is one of only two coaches to win a National Championship with two different teams: the University of Florida and Ohio State University.

He wrote a great book in which he distilled the essence of his approach.

It's called Above the Line.

It’s kind of like a mash-up of elite football coach Pete Carroll’s Win Forever and elite CrossFit coach Ben Bergeron’s Chasing Excellence in that, like Bergeron, he shares his leadership lessons in the context of a single season but only, like, Carroll, he does it on the football field.


Meyer tells us: “It all begins with Above the Line Behavior. It is a Tim Kight teaching point, and it has deeply influenced how I lead and how I think. I was blown away by its force and clarity when he first explained it to me, and, if anything, my appreciation for it has grown.

The performance of a team rises or falls on behavior. Winning behavior is intentional, on purpose, and skillful. It is Above the Line. But it’s easier to be impulsive, on autopilot, and resistant. This is Below the Line. Below the Line is dangerous because it is comfortable and convenient. It is the path of least resistance. Below the Line takes little effort or skill, and the best I can produce is ‘just OK.’ Eventually, it produces failure.”

He continues by saying: “The simple truth is that getting and staying Above the Line is the foundation of success in anything you do—work, school, football, and life. The harder truth is that getting and staying Above the Line is not easy. It must be taught and developed. Every day is a battle for whether we choose to live Above the Line or Below the Line. The choice we make determines how we treat people we love, how we interact with colleagues at work, how we do our job, how we learn and grow, how we deal with adversity and disappointment, and ultimately what we achieve.”

And, finally, he says: “Please stop a moment and take this in: Above the Line behavior is the foundation of success in anything you do. There isn’t an aspect of your life that is untouched by it, and because of that, the decision to behave Above the Line or Below the Line is the most important choice you make every day.”

Those are some of the first words from the first chapter appropriately called: “The Foundation.”

As you know if you’ve been following along, when I read a book, I like to pretend like I’m sitting down and having a conversation with a world-class thinker.

As I read, I’m marking my book up like Twyla Tharp on her archeological dig. I’m sitting up straight and approaching the process like it’s my JOB to extract the absolute best Big Ideas and deliver that wisdom to you as powerfully as I can because, well, it IS MY JOB.

And, when an author says something like, “Please stop for a moment and take this in...” I a) do exactly that b) know I just found a Big Idea for the Note.


Please stop for a moment and take this in: “Above the Line behavior is the foundation of success in anything you do.”

Right before I folded page 27 over to make sure I came back to it for this Note, I wrote a few things on the top of page 28.

First, I drew my “Areté” lines.

Then I drew a line with -1 and +1 at either end.

Let’s take a quick look at each.


Draw a line.

Your actions can either fall Above the Line or Below the Line.

When you are acting ABOVE the Line, you are “intentional, on purpose and skillful.”

When you are BELOW the Line, you are “impulsive, on autopilot, and resistant.”

If you want to win the game of life (or football!), you want to spend as much time as you possibly can ABOVE THE LINE.

Which leads us to my two lines for Areté.

As you may recall, I like to draw two horizontal lines separated by about an inch to represent who you are CAPABLE of being in any given moment and who you are ACTUALLY being in that moment.

If there’s a GAP between those two lines, you will feel regret, anxiety, disillusionment, ick, etc. Close the gap and be your best self and there’s NO ROOM for that negative stuff. You feel EUDAIMONICALLY great.

Which, of course, is why I tattooed my body with the ancient Greek word for that state of expressing the best version of yourself and named my book… ARETÉ.


Let’s take those two lines and draw another line IN BETWEEN them. Let’s make that the line in Meyer’s model. Kinda like this:

————————————— Capable

—————————— ← The Line

————————————— Actual

From that line in the middle, you can either choose to behave ABOVE the Line and CLOSE THE GAP between who you’re capable of being and who you’re actually being and experience Eudaimonia via Areté.


You can choose to act BELOW the Line and experience the painful gap of ick by NOT showing up as your best self in the only moment that ever matters: RIGHT NOW!

Next to that, I also drew my handy-dandy spectrum line that represents Maslow’s wisdom that, in any given moment, you can choose to either step FORWARD into growth or BACKWARD into safety.

-1 ←————————————— 0 —————————————→ +1

-1 or +1. -1 or +1. -1 or +1.

All day every day. We have a choice.

Will we live ABOVE The Line or BELOW the Line? Choose wisely.

Your destiny will be determined by those apparently small decisions we’re making ALL DAY EVERY DAY.

Remember the line.

And live ABOVE it.


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