In my decade long coaching career, I’ve had talented students who have make big improvements in a short period of time all of the sudden tail off while students who had less talent improved steadily over time. So why do some find success so quickly yet fail to maintain it while others have a slower steady climb to the top?
It’s call continuous improvement, the science of doing the little things each day which at first may not seem like much but over time it builds into something more significant. Think of it like rolling a snowball down a hill. When it begins its descent, it moves very slow but as it gathers momentum, the snow ball rolls faster and gets larger. Continuous improvement works much the same way. This valuable principle can be applied to the areas of business and athletics.
All too often, people get impatient; they want success quickly and right away. However, it rarely happens without some form of challenge; and many of times it may take years before tasting success. Very few individuals have the discipline to spend years toiling away without seeing a reward. This requires tremendous mental toughness.
The world class performers truly understand the importance of incremental improvement. They take their time mastering the fundamentals, doing the little things everyday believing one day if will pay off. In contrast, average performers tend to set a large goals; attempting to fast track the process. When it doesn’t work out as planned they become discouraged, frustrated, and give up. We live in a world of instant gratification; wanting everything now without working for it. I will tell you nothing comes this easy so set aside this way of thinking if you are serious about success.
In the martial arts, we stress focusing on mastering the fundamental movements before moving on to advanced techniques. Average students become impatient as fundamentals can be a boring due to its repetitive nature. However, staying focused on doing these little exercises each day will help you improve a percent or two. Now this may not seem like much but if you did this every day for a year or more it will add up. Think of it like putting money into a long-term investment. With compound interest, you will not see much of a return initially but after 30 years that small investment will see a significant growth.
From my experience, I have seen the incremental daily growth process work in sports and business over and over again. All the success stories have the same theme, they did the small things each day to reach their greatest potential. In the beginning, doing these little tasks will be tedious and you will not seem much of a difference. However, as the months and years go by you will begin to see yourself separate from the people who don’t practice this principle. This is when you realize…” wow this is amazing and I don’t want to stop.” It’s a motivating feeling that never leaves you; driving you to want more.
Here are 3 ways you can practice daily incremental improvement:
1. Stick to the Basic Fundamentals
There is a reason why they are called fundamentals; that is because they have been put through the test for many years. These are core principles proven to work over time. The problem is most of us get shiny object syndrome, wanting to move on too early to exciting new things before we are ready to do so.
In the martial arts, I still use many techniques I learned as a beginner. Since I have a strong foundation, I can counter many of the new techniques by sticking with the basics.
For business, it can mean making more sales calls instead of looking for the latest sales techniques. Look at what you currently do; ask yourself how you can improve the process to make it better.
For athletes, you go back to practicing some of the basic drills to keep your game sharp. These are drills you may have learned the first time you played the sport. The biggest mistake you can make is to believe you know it all already and don’t need to practice the basics anymore. I can tell you the high performers are always practicing the basics. Look no further than a team that encounters a losing streak; what do the coaches do to correct the problem? You got it, they go back to practicing the basics.
2. Get Rid of the Unessential’s
Limiting mistakes and errors is a key component to daily incremental improvement. If you are constantly making the mistakes over again then it will subtract from any improvements you make. I remember when I first started practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, whenever I made an error in practice I would order a new instructional video. My belief at the time was if I had more techniques I would be better. However, I became overwhelmed with information overload. As a result, I never mastered any of them. The key is not to add more things to your plate but focus on what you know, and how you can tweak it to make it better. Become a master of what you are good at rather than just knowing a little bit of everything and being mediocre at. In martial arts, the most effective techniques consists of keeping things simple, and getting rid of things that don’t work. An example of this simplicity concept is if you want to reduce your mental errors during athletic competition. For a small business, you may want to reduce the amount of time you spend on clients who don’t bring in much revenue and focus on working with high paying clients.
3. Improve Upon Past Results
When we want something badly we tend to focus solely on the goal we set for ourselves. However, history always teaches us some valuable lessons. If we use this information wisely it can be to our advantage.
When I practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu I always reassess my performance good or bad. If it is good I ask myself what could be done better? It’s very rare that I have a perfect performance. There is always room to tweak and improvement my game If I have a bad performance, I review every mistake; asking myself why it was made and how to clean it up so it does not happen again.
We often measure our progress by looking forward. We set goals. We plan milestones for our progress. Basically, we try to predict the future to some degree.
To improve it’s much more effective to measure performance by looking backward rather than forward. For example, if you are looking to improve the number of pushups you do in a minute. Maybe last week you did 50. This week focus on doing 55. If you run a business but only landed one client last week; make 5 more extra calls per day with a goal of getting for 3 new clients this week. Just think of how much improvement you would make over a decade if you improved a little upon each day.
Your mission today is to pick one thing you would like to accomplish in the month. Write down all the things you need to do each day to reach that goal. Is it reading a chapter everyday day that will provide you with new discoveries such as a more efficient way of doing thing? Forget about trying to hit the home run ball right off the bat. Start doing the little things everyday consistently over the long term.