Everything is practice. – Pele
Practice is Everything
I didn’t want to use a quote related to sports to begin this post. After a long search, I found A-lot of great sports quotes and a small handful of life quotes related to practice. Eventually I came across a quote from Pele. He really nailed it on the head, the quote says it all…”Everything is practice.” Practice is everything. For most people, practice is just for physical acts. Long survived has the myth of having a positive attitude is all we need to accomplish the mental side. This notion recently caught my attention when I came across a video of young teen practicing to be a DJ. Needless to say the context of this video being popular is to ridicule this young man. We all know that the Internet has more than its share of trolls but I imagine the sentiment is not too far off from general society. It’s cool to practice physical activities with your body. However, mental activities are an afterthought. Check out the video for yourself.
I agree there is a slight air of humor to it, but I honestly found myself more inspired than anything. He viewed his role of a DJ as a performer. It seems to he knows how to work the equipment just fine. Perhaps he wasn’t confident in getting up in front of others but WAS confident that his delivery was the key to being successful. Regardless, he felt compelled enough to create a video to use as a tool to make himself better. That’s awesome! When was the last time you watched a video of yourself so that you could perform better at something (non-physical)?
The Practice We See
I recently sat down to watch Simone Biles apply an unprecedented thrashing to the women’s gymnastic field. While watching, I am constantly aware in the back of my mind of all the practice it took for her to do what she did. This is reinforced by the announcers and interviews with Simone about her grueling training schedule. Is there some natural ability involved? Absolutely. However, I think it is safe to say that it is significantly more practice than than natural abilities.
You may have also heard some of these stories. Phil Mickelson doesn’t leave the course until he sinks 100 putts in a row. Steph Curry has to swish, not just make, 10 free throws in a row before he leaves practice. Just google the name of any great athlete followed by work ethic and you’ll come across countless articles and quotes about their insatiable appetite to get better at their craft. Obsessive? Possibly, but I imagine many people watch sports from their couch secretly wishing their hand was a little heavier with some championship rings as they change the channel.
More than Sports
It’s not just sports either. When we watch a band or a symphony we inherently know that everyone on that stage has spent an insane amount of time perfecting the play of their instrument. Most probably couldn’t even conceive the amount of time they have spent practicing. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Outliers” and how the 10,000 hour rule is an infallible concept when it comes to rising above the rest. My favorite story from this book is how the Beatles (before they were famous) played in strip clubs for 8 hours straight, 7 days a week for months at a time! Now that is a a lot of practice.
The Practice We Don’t See
There are also many great masters of crafts that we don’t particularly tend to recognize the practice they put into their performance. Why are certain speakers so mesmerizing? What makes a politician’s handshake different from most others? When we are watching there is rarely, if ever, that little voice in the back of our mind telling us how much this individual practiced to make their delivery so good. I was recently at a conference where the key author/speaker was about to come on stage. Through a little gap in the curtain I could see him jumping around backstage for several minutes. When it was finally time, he burst on stage in a frenzied, energetic like way. However, I could tell he wasn’t completely comfortable performing in that manner. Yet he had the presence of mind to “pump” himself up before he went on stage. I imagine he has tried several different methods to find what works best for him. Either way, he had great command of the room and it was an overall “Tony Robbins” like moment for the rest of the folks.
Who do you find yourself able to listen to the most? Is it Ben Stein or Bill Clinton? Political differences aside, if you did some research about public speaking and then went back and watched a speech by Bill Clinton (or any great orator for that matter), you might start to notice a few of the intricacies of his delivery. Eye contact, hand gestures, posture, pitch and tone are all on point. A few of the little things necessary to deliver a captivating oratory. How many hours do you think ole’ Billy has stood in front of the mirror and practiced these attributes? I’d be willing to bet the number has a few zeros behind it. Who do you think would land the next big client deal? The droning genius Ben Stein or the charismatic former Mr. President?
Why We Value the Physical Over the Mental
I’m no scientist, so take this as food for thought. The mental side of things are unseen. We can’t read the thought processes of someone who is a great speaker or monitor the brain waves to the rest of their body. As a human, we can’t readily transpose why they might be great because we can’t see ourselves from the outside doing the same things. We CAN see when someone jumps higher than us quite easily. Or run faster, or longer. It’s obvious when someone is bigger, faster, stronger. In these situations we can easily see what the results are. We know we would have a hard time making 20 jump shots in a row like Steph Curry.
I’ll admit (and part of the reason I’m writing about this) that in the past I’ve suffered greatly because of this very conundrum. Practicing golf and basketball several hours a week seemed like a no-brainer. I would be very deliberate about what I wanted to work on. What if my short game’s having a tough go? I would take as many shots as it takes (or until my wife calls) on the driving range using the same club, making slight adjustments until I saw the consistency I wanted. It made sense to show up early before games and work on my basketball shot, fine tuning my footwork and the rest of my body to get my shot down consistently. Was I practicing everything in my life in this manner…not really?
Less Practice = Less Success
Early on as a business owner, did I practice before making a big presentation to the team or speaking in front of a large group? Nope. I didn’t think I was a bad speaker, but was I a great one? Absolutely not. How much more effective would my message have been if I had practiced? Could I have earned more credibility, just by some simple cues and gestures, if I had practiced my posture and carried my voice more? It may sound trivial but there are pure psychological underpinnings as to why we are drawn to the Tony Robbins’ of the world vs the Ben Steins.
Profit Comes After Practice
Fast forward a few years to now and I prepare for everything. Preparation before meetings? No-brainer. I play out scenarios in my head of what someone might say so that I can respond in the way that I would want if I had time to think it out. It’s a given now that I take time after meetings to analyze how I could have done better. I reflect on opportunities that exist for improvement. More than half of the world’s golfers can’t shoot under 100 but the practice to get from 100 to a 90 can happen in one’s first year. 90 to 80 can happen within a year after that. 80 to 72 might never happen for most or take 10 times the practice it took to get from 90 to 80. Just like a pro-athlete, I’ve gotten to the point where any improvement I make from here, to be the best at what I do, takes a lot of practice for a little improvement. That’s what it takes to be the best…at anything.
Find Ways to Practice
As much progress as I have made to practice specific skills related to my role as an entrepreneur and business owner, I imagine there is still much to be desired. More progress to be made, rest assured. The question remains is how do I find these areas to practice and/or why don’t others find these opportunities either? Malcolm Gladwell asserts in his book “The Outliers” that in order for work to be satisfying one needs 3 things:
- Complexity (the right amount)
- Clear distinction between effort and reward
The answer seems obvious in #3. With certain activities we can better quantify the expected results. The mental practice is simply harder to measure the progress and the results, or at least takes more effort to do so. So the key is to find an upcoming action that is important, determine the benefits of this going successfully and identifying ways you could better prepare for it. Throw out any reservations of your practicing being embarrassing or “cheesy.” Film yourself, do it in front of others, find a stranger, etc. Whatever the activity is, give yourself the best opportunity to succeed and eventually you will.
Thanks for reading.