A few years ago, I signed up for a triathlon. I had one problem: I didn’t know how to swim, which is literally one-third of what a triathlon is! So, I did what every overconfident young man does: I joined a gym with a pool and jumped right in.
When I started, I couldn’t go more than two laps. I pushed myself to add on another two laps with each practice day and this worked… for four days. Then I hit a wall. Not literally; that happens later.) My plan to improve would obviously not scale.
So I turned to YouTube, and learned how to swim better by watching videos, mostly by Tim Ferris and Phillip Toriello. Voilà! I broke through my 8-lap limit! I did OKAY—not great, but I could swim for a long period, which was my goal. The key learning moment: I modeled my behavior after watching a perfect demonstration.
The only problem was I still couldn’t nail the flip turn. This is when you reach the end of a lane, somersault underwater, hit the wall with your feet, and push off to continue swimming the other direction—literally without stopping. It’s what real swimmers do. What I was doing instead was an embarrassing stop/turn/swim move—next to 12 year olds who could execute flip turns like Olympians.
I watched videos on flip turns and tried them myself. Occasionally I could pull it off, but inevitably I would get water up my nose, then start gasping and coughing and making a scene—to the amusement and disgust of those same 12 year old girls.
Then I made a common mistake when facing a challenge: I lowered my goal. I told myself that I was fine with where I was at swimming long distance and so I stopped there. My skill level remained at this point for years.
Then one day my wife convinced me to hire a swim coach. She worked with me on how to execute a perfect flip turn. She showed me the individual pieces of the move, how to tie them together and how to improve incrementally. In other words, she gave me the PERFECT PRACTICE I was missing!
With perfect practice from an expert coach, I became confident in my ability (#practicebuildsconfidence). I became a “flip turn hero,” going from doing them occasionally (and awkwardly) to doing them all the time.
(Song credit to Foreigner, one of my favorite clients.)
Lowering your goals—pretending that “good enough” is just fine—is a terrible mindset, one that is hazardous to your career, not to mention your life. Committing to greatness is preferable by far, and perfect practice is the way to get there.