Any athlete will tell you, practicing more won’t necessarily make you any better. Just the same, working more hours won’t necessarily improve your quality: “Work smarter, not harder”, they say. Real quality comes from analyzing process, learning from and improving mistakes and rehearsing good behaviors. This is why athletes have a coach…and we need one in our personal lives too.
“Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.”
If there’s one single thing I retained from my high school years, it would be a quote from my band instructor, Mr. Robinson. He would drill into our heads a mantra that still has so much applicability today. Every day during practice he would tell us, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. What you practice is equally as important as how often you practice it.”
a lesson from golf
A golf swing is a great analogy for life. We all have personal flaws. For those who don’t hit the ball perfectly each time, you’re just like me. I have a very predictable, yet frustrating, slice off of the tee-box. Some tell me to just “play the slice”, but that’s really just reinforcing my handicap. Every spring, I am determined that I’ll fix the slice. So, I head to the driving range as soon as the snow thaws and buy 2 or 3 buckets of balls. I take a couple swings and see where I’m at. If not good, I change something (grip, stance, backswing, etc) and take a few more swings. After hundreds of balls and some of the goofiest grips, stances, etc, I still have the same slice. “Ah, better luck next year”, I say.
The reason why I can’t improve is pretty simple. Despite all my crazy adjustments, I am practicing bad form.
don’t practice bad habits
If you have bad habits, or habits that prevent you from achieving your goals, stop them as fast as you can. Every day that you practice those rituals, you further cement them into your routine. Introducing a new habit (e.g. working out) is hard, but stopping an existing habit (e.g. smoking) can be even harder. Even harder than making these changes is sometimes realizing what needs to be changed. This is why you need a coach.
get a coach
Before starting a self-improvement regimen, get a coach. All professional athletes have a coach. Why not have one for your personal life? An athlete may be excellent at what he/she does, but a coach offers a third-party perspective that cannot be seen by an athlete themselves. Sometimes being too close to the problem IS ‘the problem’. This is my golf swing problem. As much as I read about what I should do, I am too close to the problem. I need a coach.
For your personal life, a mentor or even a community of like-minded people can offer observations and help continually evolve your swing. Once you have a coach, you can start to experiment with guidance you receive.
experiment. but with guidance
There is no right way to improve your personal life. There is no single process, advice or phone app that can help every person. It’s very important to try a number of things and record how they work or don’t work. If you’re giving journaling a shot, this is an excellent writing prompt. Give each experiment at least 3-4 weeks to work. Don’t experiment with more than 1 or 2 things at a time. It will be hard to determine what is/isn’t working with too much going on. Report your learns back to your coach and repeat the feedback loop.
Perfect is not a reality that should be feasible
If you are investing in improving your life, you should already be the type of person that realizes it will never be “perfect”. And that’s ok.
“What you practice is equally as important as how often you practice it.”
Self-improvement is a continuous cycle of goal setting, hard work, reflection and refined goal setting. “What you practice is equally as important as how often you practice it.” So getting as much feedback and self-reflection on the what part will pay dividends as you get started.
And, next year, I WILL fix that slice. I promise.