Practice Makes Perfect

“Practice makes perfect,” is an old saying, that we all have heard many times over the years. In looking at these three words, two questions come to mind. What does practice look like? What does perfect mean?

You see, you may habitually practice, whether it is the piano, a gymnastic routine, or preparing a business report or a sales presentation. Practicing does not always mean that you are practicing the correct way and therefore improving. Sometimes it feels like you are going through the motions and not progressing at all.

It is when there is mindful, deliberate practice that improvement is realized. In her book, GRIT The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth speaks of four basics to the idea of deliberate practice.

A clearly defined stretch goal with full concentration and effort, followed by immediate and informative feedback, and all are repeated with reflection and refinement. Let’s look at what Duckworth means and how you can apply it to the daily practice of your business profession, craft, sport, or whatever is important to you.

The idea of a stretch goal is not necessarily the ultimate goal. It is what you strive for and are challenged by. It can be a short term goal within your longer term dream. What does the route to that stretch goal look like? What are the steps you need to take to attain that goal?

The practice needs to be deliberate with the utmost of concentration and energy applied. It needs to be designed in a way that the goal has been broken down into smaller steps and each step leading to mastery, to reaching the “stretch goal.” World-class athletes, artists, business leaders have all taken time to master their skills; they developed those skills by honing them.

An important part of honing our skills with meaningful practice is to incorporate immediate and informative feedback. Thomas Crane, author of The Heart of Coaching, talks about effective feedback as being “Delivered in the moment – or soon;” being “Authentic – candid yet compassionate;” and “Describes observed behaviours and impacts.” This allows us to view what we have done and ascertain whether we have reached the stage or goal for which we were striving or if we require more refinement, more practice.

It is this habitual repetition with the deliberate practice, feedback, and refinement with our goal constantly in mind that moves us to success.

What does this mean for everyday practice? As a salesperson, you may want more effective sales calls which lead to an increase of sales and more revenue. Your stretch goal may be making cold calls which are not always easy or comfortable. How do you turn those cold calls into actual sales? What do you say to grab a potential client’s attention in a meaningful and authentic way? It may mean having a script of questions that engages the person and finding out their needs, or it may mean developing an “elevator pitch” to describe what you offer succinctly and quickly. Once you have developed your approach, you may want to practice with a colleague, friend, coach or mentor to get some meaningful feedback. Better still what’s stopping you from practising “live” on the sales call and reflect how engaged or receptive the person was to your questions or pitch? That becomes your feedback to help refine what you are saying and moving on to your next call. Each call then becomes part of your feedback loop. Reflect on what was said. What would you change next call?

While perfection may never be truly realized, there is always room for continual improvement.

This was first published in my Motivated Coaching eMagazine in December 2016.