Are you really getting better?

So once again we are wrapping up cheer nationals where the athletes have practiced day in and day out for the majority of the past month. It is a trying time, but so is anything worth achieving. Now that we are finished I just wanted to look back a bit on what does “practicing hard” truly mean. This is going to be using some of Anders Ericsson’s work and other folks on mastery. You might have come across the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell talking about a number of different individuals that achieved great things seemingly overnight when in reality they had been working hard for years. This is done by practicing, and by practicing for a large amount of time. Erikson’s work came up with over 10,000 hours or deliberate practice was required to reach levels of mastery in a given sport.

Deliberate practice

Notice the first word there is deliberate. This means that you are fully focused in the moment and actively participating in what you are doing. You aren’t zoning out or giving less than 100% to the current task at hand. This is how you increase your skill, and a lot of people will let themselves be distracted. This means minimal side conversations and not taking yourself out of the moment with outside thoughts. This is obviously not an easy thing to do, but we aren’t done. It is very easy to be at a team practice for hours and yet spend little to no time actually getting any better.

Pushing your boundaries

In order to make yourself better you need to be continually increasing your abilities. This means to practice right on the edge of what you are currently capable of. This is not an easy task for a number of obvious reasons, but keep in mind that really improving requires you to do more than phone it in, or do what you have always done. Be careful that you don’t overshoot your current abilities too far or you can risk sending yourself backwards, which will undo a large amount of the progress that you are trying to make. Do learn to enjoy the struggle of constantly trying to improve yourself.

Being in the moment

This means that you are only focused on the task at hand. You aren’t thinking about things outside of practice or otherwise. You are simply going to hone in on what you are doing. You are going to feel your body through each step of the skill or really focus on the material at hand if you are trying to do some learning. This requires you to leave the other drama in your life and otherwise outside of it so you can truly focus on what matters. This means removing people from your life that could otherwise distract you from your goal and that is never going to necessarily be an easy thing to accomplish.

Summary

In order to truly build your skill in certain areas you need to focus hard specifically on only skills. A lot of people easily overlook the whole “deliberate” part of deliberate practice. You need to make sure that you are doing everything that you can to make yourself better at what you are doing if you in fact really want to improve your performance.  Take a look at what you are trying to excel at in your life and from there do what you can to enhance the speed of which you will improve by putting more energy in to each of your practices.

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