Practice makes great

Posted on 13. May, 2011 by in Conscious Leadership, Personal and Professional Development, Team Development

What have you been practicing lately? Anything other than complaining, whining, or doing the same thing over and over? We all know that when we do the same thing over and over, we get a little better at whatever we’re doing; yet eventually, we hit a threshold that may no longer yield a return on our investment.

This can be recognized in a variety of ways: decreasing levels of engagement and challenge, sloppiness, and boredom. Being a former student in the study of leisure (yes I’m serious), I was introduced to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and the theory of flow. Years later, this theory is showing up again as it pertains to management, work performance, and employee engagement. Who knew the study of leisure and play could teach us so much about engagement and performance.

Well ask anyone who loves sport and creative pursuits in which they lose themselves. Many artists and athletes know that when you practice something and increasingly add new challenges something amazing happens – their performance peaks. They access their skills and become in tune with their experience. As for any superstar performance, we forget the countless hours of practice a person puts in before they reach that pivotal point of success or greatness.

Don’t know about you, I’m just trying to get better at living right now. There are so many ways in which we can look at the topic of performance, human potential and success. It can be from a very personal perspective (i.e. day to day living), or take on a whole organizational focus, and better yet, making this world a better place for all. Point being, let’s get better at focusing on what matters and that’s you and your well-being, what makes you happy, what makes you truly engaged; so you forget yourself and be with the experience that’s waiting for you to take up and learn from.

It’s so easy for us to practice being mediocre, it’s even easier not to try.  We don’t have to be rock stars or superstar leaders and athletes; what we can become are magnets for betterment, for changing the status quo, and increasing the point at which we succeed together.

Too often anxiety and perfectionism get in the way of being great or making great things happen. When we break it down to what we can practice on a specific and incremental basis, then it’s easier for us to experience a flow that moves us along until we are ready to step up or take up another level. Somehow as adults we can forget that as children we naturally understood this. We chose tasks and activities and repeated them till we got it and once the challenge was won, we moved onto the next. Watch a child climb and you’ll see exactly what I mean – and please don’t hover over them – they instinctively know whats within their grasp!

So what about that threshold when we no longer see the return on what we’ve been doing (and unconsciously practicing)? Well if we are awake to it, then we may seek out some coaching, advice or any external form of feedback that helps us find the next challenge or area to focus on. We can stay in the gap for sometime, but often helpful to have an objective set of eyes or ears to help us recalibrate and connect with something far more beneficial and developmental. Once noticed, we can start to shift our focus, make a new choice, discover what is worth practicing and see sparks of greatness begin to appear.

Great organizations understand where to engage their areas of strengths, as do people. If you don’t know your strengths yet, then start practicing something that yields a relatively quick positive return, it’s highly motivating, and if it is easy then guess what? You’re ready for the next level!

Focus on practicing whatever makes you better today!

p.s two books by Csikszentmihalyi you may want to read:

Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990) and Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. (1997).

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