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Practice

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Practice

One of the books I read last year was a fascinating book by Geoff Colvin entitled Talent is Overrated.
This was one of those books that I picked up at the bookstore as I was simply wandering around. The title seemed interesting and the back cover comments were intriguing. Its one of those treasures you didn’t intend to find but are very glad you did!
In the book, the author discusses the value of talent and much more importantly, the value of deliberate practice. He delves into a vast amount of research in which the idea of which is more important- talent- the “gifts” or innate abilities one might have, and the deliberate cultivation of skill and practice. He looks into the idea of which creates the great performance- nature or nurture…and so then I begin to ponder the idea.
As a child and as a teen ager, I was never particularly interested in sports. In part, this was due to the fact that I thought that in order to excel at a sport, one would have to have some sort of natural inclination or innate talent for the sport. I supposed that I would know if I had this inward talent somehow- and I most assuredly did not.
I remember trying to shoot baskets by myself at the basketball court at the local park near my boyhood home. Why, I am not certain, but it seemed that it might be a fun thing to do. I was certainly not very proficient at it and as such, did not find it much fun. Dan McCall, a friend of the same age and one who was quite adept at most every sport it seemed, came upon me and asked if I wanted to play. I declined stating that I wasn’t very good at basketball. His remark was simply- “Jeff- that’s a matter of practice.”
His remark was noted, but its importance really didn’t hit me until years later when I was reflecting on how skills are developed. I remember his comment and how easy his answer was- simply practice. This idea of practice and more importantly, the quality of that practice is one of the most defining characteristics of truly great performances.
Later in life, as I was trying to improve my skills in business, this idea of practice kept coming up. Indeed, for me, it was the only way of becoming more proficient in the skill sets I needed and short of a supreme divine intervention, it was the only way I would ever get better. One can read books and attend seminars, talk to great people but unless one is willing to hone those skills through constant practice, then the other activities would never add their full value to that persons’ life and experiences.
Now, simply practicing a skill or action repeatedly does not guarantee great performance. The quality, intensity and length of time invested in that practice are key determinants of the outcome of the action. It is practicing the right things, over and over with the right mental commitment that makes the difference. I have long had a saying- perfect practice produces perfect results. A friend once took exception to the phrase “perfect” so I altered it for a while- precise practice produces precision results. If we practice incorrectly a skill, we will be get better at performing that skill incorrectly. It’s vitally important that one practices whatever skill they wish to perform correctly. In the course of getting better, we will learn better techniques and mindsets with which to perform at even higher levels. These new techniques and mindsets also need to then be practiced repeatedly in order to produce the high levels of results one wishes to attain.
What does it take to produce at high levels? Practice. Constant, repetitive, purposeful, precise practice. What does it take to produce at high levels and enjoy the process more? A deep inward desire to perform well. Within each of us, we need to decide how important is the action we wish to perform. Is it worth performing well? Then, after we have acknowledged the desire to perform well, we then need to make a commitment to performing well. We need to commit to excellence. It is in this commitment and the subsequent follow through with the requisite actions that we find within us, the strength of mind and heart to perform the actions necessary to produce a great performance.
Great performances are never by accident. Great performances repeatedly performed are never performed by accident. They are always preceded by precise preparation and practice. Imagine a world class musician climbing onstage and giving a world class performance- do you imagine he or she did not practice? Imagine a world class athlete- how many hours do you think they might have practiced on the field or court to hone and perfect their skills. Or imagine a speaker or a comedian giving an excellent presentation- do you think they just stood up and started speaking in an impromptu fashion. Doubtful at best would be my answer.
How does this impact us? Easily- every skill we wish to develop can be developed if we commit to the precise practice of that skill. It might a business skill such as presenting an idea, researching a project, preparing a paper, hiring staff. It might be more interpersonal skills such as listening, communicating, complimenting or speaking to groups. It might be time management or planning skills, playing an instrument. It may even be sports related such as tennis, golf, martial arts, running, weight lifting. The skill itself does not matter. Any skill, whether it is internal or external can be practiced and practiced well so as to produce a high level of performance.
It is important to mention again that one does not need to have or feel that one has an innate talent for the skill. It does not matter at all. Any skill can be developed if your desire to develop the skill is strong enough. Remember, it always begins on the inside. Do you want it enough to do what it takes to develop the skills necessary to perform well? The good news is that it is all within your reach, all within your choices to be better and perform at excellent levels. You simply need to want it enough and practice enough with precision the skills necessary to perform well.
In order to sustain the actions necessary, then you must at times, dig deep within yourself to reaffirm the desire to do well. Athletes and musicians do not always enjoy the long and repetitive sessions of practicing required to be world class performers, but they do what is needed of them in order to be better. The same principle goes for us. We may not always enjoy the process but we will enjoy the benefits we reap by performing at the highest levels we can. It is important at times like those to look back at the progress we have made and to look forward at the rewards we are receiving and will achieve by our increased skill set in whatever the category we so choose.
In conclusion, pick which skill you wish to develop. Decide how strong your desire is to develop that skill. Research how others who perform the same skill at the highest levels do so. Practice repeatedly that skill. Constantly reassess how you are practicing and performing. Practice before you have to perform so that when you are in the position to perform, you will have an increased level of confidence and have the skills necessary to perform well. Then assess your performance, look for ways to improve and then alter your practice sessions to incorporate the desired result. By doing so, you will enjoy the benefits and rewards! So…enjoy!
Jeff White 8/2009


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