Two primary things we need to get better at anything: practice and feedback. Practice we can do on our own, but feedback we must receive from someone else. Mentally tough people don’t “just show up,” they use each practice session to intentionally build mental and physical skill sets.
We need the repetition provided in practice sessions to build strength, coordination, endurance, flexibility, and knowledge. Let’s also keep in mind that practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Have you ever practiced something wrong, or slightly technically incorrectly, or simply been lazy about your practice and then developed a bad habit? It takes precious training time to undo unnecessary bad habits created due to practice permanence. Therefore, if you want to be “perfect” you’ve got to practice perfectly. (Note: We’re using the term perfect within the context of practice here to emphasize the highest level of excellence one possibly can aim for, because “perfect” isn’t exactly real…). In perfect practice, precision matters. Repetition of precision matters. Establishing permanent “muscle memory” and accurate decision making within a high-speed, complex environment depends on the perfect practice you put in beforehand. You must practice every detail as close to perfect as possible. Attention to details is what keeps us above average. Most people don’t think about the details! They’re sloppy when it comes to precise nutrition, rest, training, planning, teamwork, etc. They think it will all fall into place (which, lets be honest, would be nice, but it’s not true). If you get lazy with the basics and fundamentals, everything else will fall apart.
Getting someone else to tell us what to correct and how to correct it is absolutely critical. Most of us think that coaching and feedback is only important when we are starting out and we’re just “beginners.” Yes, of course feedback is a critical element of learning a new skill set! As beginners, we have no idea what we’re doing and we need someone else to tell us what and how to do it. Most of us also acknowledge that receiving is also important when we’re “intermediate.” Yes, feedback is necessary in this phase too because we only know enough to be dangerous, but not nearly enough to go solo yet. Most of us think that as we get closer to an “expert” level that feedback isn’t as necessary. Wrong. Your body and brain quickly adapt to the demands placed on them, and as a result plateaus in skill development and progress occur when we are no longer receiving feedback. Even the most self-aware person won’t be aware of certain aspects of their performance because they can’t see themselves in action. Even experts need feedback to continue progressing towards epic performance. You can’t be the best observer of yourself at all times, and outside expert opinion goes a long way.
Purposeful practice and getting regular feedback from others are a necessity when you want to improve at anything in your life.
Step 1. Practice with purpose. Remember that your brain and your body are remembering the repetition you put in during practice; practice what you want to remember (not what you want to forget). Challenge yourself to make every rep as precise and as close to perfect as possible. Always seek excellence — your highest standard — every practice session. Give yourself a mini-goal of what you want to specifically work on that day during your practice session to help you focus on practicing with a purpose.
Step 2. Seek out strategic feedback. Recognize that you may or may not have access to consistent coaching at every practice session. That’s fine! Simply identify areas in which you wish to improve and ask for feedback from a trusted person or coach regarding that specific area. Ask for process-, strategy-, or effort-focused feedback (which is what we learn from the best). For example, “great job” is useless feedback. You don’t learn anything from that. “Great follow-through with your swing. I saw you continue to power through your swing even after the ball made it’s flight” is much more helpful, actionable, process-focused feedback.
Step 3. Reassess. Engage in several sessions of purposeful practice with strategic feedback. Then, consider what you have learned. Where have you improved? What has benefited you the most out of each of those practice sessions. Where do you want to continue on from here? Have you made faster or slower progress since changing up your practice sessions? Intentionally take an assessment of how you’re doing and reconfigure future practice sessions to keep driving you toward epic performance.