I am a huge Jordan Peterson fan, and watching this YouTube clip of his sparked an idea of how this principal has been applied throughout my life, and what an amazing tool for growth it is. In a world where everyone wants everything as fast as possible, I fear this mindset is falling by the wayside, so I am hear to help reverse that trend, hopefully anyway.
Despite our desires to be great at something the first time we try it, or to understand a new concept the first time we encounter it, the world doesn’t usually work that way. And this is by design, if everyone was good at everything right away, how would we differentiate ourselves? Additionally, how would we have any appreciation for anything if all we had to do was snap our fingers and we’d have what we want?
When you were a little kid and first learning to walk, did you go from a crawl to a run in one moment? Of course not, after a bunch of attempts and failures you slowly learned to walk and then jog and eventually run after lots of practice and incremental improvement. This is how pretty much everything works, so embrace the process. Whether learning to drive a car, understand Calculus, or make the team in a sport , all of it requires time and consistent effort. This is the secret to success, being slightly better than you were last week at something. In the book Atomic Habits, author James Clear discusses this same principal, that you need to be big picture aware while being this moment focused. You need to strive to get a little bit better with your habits, your thought and your actions each day. This is how new habits and better performance occur. It is no secret that athletes and musicians and dancers and everyone else rehearse their craft every day, some for most of their lifetime, to achieve true understanding and near mastery of that skill.
If you watch this Jordan Peterson video clip you will hear him discuss the same things, but he adds an idea to the process that I really like:
Incremental improvement scales exponentially
Once you learn the secret of this approach, meaning the focus on daily improvement, this not only helps you with the specific task you are focused on, but it works forever in that endeavor and ANYTHING ELSE YOU APPLY IT TO. I have hit a million forehands and a million backhands in my career as a racquetball player, and eventually I not only figured out the correct way to execute each stroke, but I slowly engrained them into my game to the point that I could rely on them not to fail. I only missed a shot because of something my opponent did or because my brain missed it. My body knew what to do, but sometimes my brain would get in the way and I would miss. I can say that I have mastered the stroke mechanics as well as I am ever going to. The physical mechanics are within the realm of my control, I can work and practice until I have this part mastered as much as possible, but that does not mean I am the number one player in the world. When another person is on the court doing their best to ensure I cannot use the mechanics I have mastered to my advantage, things get exponentially harder.
Life works in the same manner. When you go to school you learn concepts and principals that you will use in the work force, but you do not usually learn the real skills you need until you are already in that job or profession. You will do “on the job training” for a couple of years until you really own the skills you need on the daily. I have been giving the same presentation for nearly five years to prospective customers, and I can do it with my eyes closed, or in a few cases even when my laptop is not working. I have done more than one presentation where I did not have my presentation on screen or on my computer. I know it backwards and forwards, and I can recite all the points I wish to cover for a prospective client while barely looking at it. Does this guarantee me a win every time? No, of course not. But I do win way more often than not, and as a salesperson, that is about as good as it gets. I slowly refined and improved my approach to this until I had it mastered. Each day, each presentation I did got me closer to the top level that I could operate in. I practiced and polished, retooled and practiced again until I had a winning combination. Then I worked on this one version until it was a rock solid as my backhand is.
Regardless of what you are pursuing in life, this is the key. You need to figure out the most streamlined path to where you wish to be to set the path in place. You need to be aware of the macro, but operate in the micro all the time. You need to have a focused game plan for each week, and then execute your practice each day. You need to look at all things related to this journey and add them into to fold; if you need to get stronger or more flexible or expand your vocal range, whatever, you need to be sure you work on these things as well. I could not just hit forehands from a static position and think this would be sufficient, I needed to work on footwork and court position and the strategy on the shots and serves as well. I was not going to be successful if I had a one dimensional approach to improvement. Nonetheless, ALL OF IT was done in an incremental improvement approach. This is laying the groundwork for success, creating a good foundation of skills that can be built upon and expanded throughout the process as I continued my climb up that proverbial mountain.
And in reality, this approach has no end. There are two shining examples of this from the sports world that you can do a little research on if you are not very familiar with their stories: Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods. Despite these two athletes being the most dominant player in their sport, they still outworked everyone around them. There was no “I made it” mentality with either, they were always looking to get incrementally better. This mentality is why they were better than everyone else who also wanted to play at the highest level. There are a lot of common threads in the pursuit of success in any type of pursuit, and this is without a doubt one of the most repeated thought processes you will find. If you want to master a skill, this is the blueprint to follow. While I am not suggesting that I was on the same level as the aforementioned all time greats, I followed this same approach in my own career and I coach these same principals both on and off the court.
The better you get at something the harder it is to still improve. That is the challenge that trips up a lot of people only halfway up the mountain. You have to keep chugging along, even if your steps have gone from major strides to a shuffle. Yes, there will be sidesteps and backtracks on occasion, that is unavoidable. But as long as you continue down the path, you have a shot at getting there. Forward progress is all that matters, and as long as you can still measure the improvement, you are on the right track.