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Practice to Mastery

“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Gymnast on balance beam

For 25 years I coached in the sport of gymnastics. I will share with you the one thing that differentiated a top athlete from a mediocre athlete was showing up for and participating 110% in deliberate practice. And the research backs this up. In The Harvard Business Review, an article titled “The Making of an Expert,” clearly demonstrates that the research “revealed that the amount and quality of practice were key factors in the level of expertise people achieved. Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born.” [1]

Whether it is sport, business, or life there are certain principles of growth that are universal. Deliberate Practice is one of those universal principles. Within deliberate practice, there are certain guidelines:

  • Practice what you are good at and what you are NOT good at.
  • Break it down and be deliberate about practicing that one thing until you have it mastered.
  • Be patient with the investment of time and energy.
  • Have a support system of a teacher, coach, mentor, etc.
  • It takes 10,000 hours of practice to realize mastery.

What do you want to master in your life? What one area do you would want to grow and develop in? What one area, if changed, would impact the rest of your life? For me-it is my eating habits. Once you determine an area, do some pre-work before you jump into practicing-so you know what to be deliberate about in your practice.

The Practice

What is practice? To do or perform habitually or repeatedly. We have all heard it before-“Establish a new routine that matches what you want, practice that routine and become consistent in the practice.” And yet, one of the most consistent complaints I hear from people is “I just can’t be consistent!” If I can’t be consistent, what hope do I have to incorporate this new practice?   The reality is that you are always practicing…and are probably pretty consistent at what you are practicing.

If you go to work, come home, have dinner and watch a few tv shows-you are consistent in practicing this routine! If you do something different every day you are consistent in variety. Recognizing that you can and are consistent is the first step to understanding how to change your undesirable habits into desirable habits and then to establish a structure to hold the practice of those habits.

The issue is breaking the consistency of one practice and transitioning into a new one. In Charles Duhiggs book on the ‘The Power of Habit’ he addresses the Habit Cycle of Cue, Behavior, Reward. The Cue is also known as the ‘trigger’ which precedes an action and ends in a pre-determined reward. By becoming aware of the trigger, you can strategize new behaviors/rewards. I will demonstrate this by using my example of eating habits.

What do you want for yourself that you are not already experiencing?

I want to eat healthier.

What consistent routine do you currently practice around eating?

My practice is that I grab eat. I eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack after dinner. I sometimes have a glass of wine with dinner.

I sometimes just eat a snack in place of dinner.

If I am home working, I tend to snack in between meals on un-healthy snacks.

I also consistently grab snack type foods when I am tired.

What do you believe you can change or not change?

I don’t believe I can change my grab eating — it is too engrained in me.

I do believe I could plan better and pre-make healthier food that I can ‘grab’.

I believe I am aware of my triggers (tiredness) and could acknowledge the trigger and re-condition myself to either drink water or grab a pre-made healthy snack.

Looking at what you believe you can change, what will you commit to doing?

I will commit to planning ‘healthy foods’ for the week and making them on Sunday to have to grab and re-heat during the week.

As a gymnastics coach, practice was not only mandatory for advancement, but it was a safety measure against injury. I had a standing rule that a gymnast had to perform a skill 10 times in a row technically correct before they could move to the next skill level. You can imagine the grumbling! However, we rarely experienced serious injury in the gym. How does this translate to life? With the above example, every time I did not follow my protocol (planning/preparing on Sunday), it would be considered a ‘fall’ and the count would restart. I may be at 6 weeks of doing it and took a fall! Back to #1! The point here is that at the point of 10 weeks of practicing my new commitment consistently, I am more grounded in the practice and my risk of injury (not eating in a healthy manner) is minimized.

While you can use this guide of powerful questions to help you self coach and self discover, remember that experts have a strong support system of teachers, coaches and mentors. If you are ready to make a change in your life and you are in transition, give me a call, I will support you in new practices to make that happen!

 You are what you practice……and you are always practicing something!

“Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.” – Matt Biondi



[1] Harvard Business Review; July 2007, The Making of an Expert; K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, Edward T. Cokely

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