For a lot of my life, I have believed that to excel at something you either have a gift or you don’t. I felt that to excel at something, you need to be talented or at least born with a head start.
I’ve always been a mediocre sportsman. I played in both my rugby and hockey school teams but only as a reserve and not long term. Around my 40th birthday, over 10 years ago, I was keen to get fit again and to play more sport. Around this time I started playing squash, firstly with my brother-in-law and then with other friends. I enjoy the game immensely and along with my running and cycling, have enjoyed a journey of improved fitness. Last month I moved up to the top group in the local university squash league – don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be back down again next session! However, I would not have imagined this a while back. So here’s a little of what I have learnt in work and recreation in order to achieve.
You’ve likely heard of Anders Ericson whose research argued that the magic number to achieving high performance/excellence is 10,000 hours. This is what stands between the mediocre and the excellent. So those who are willing to put in the hard work of ‘deliberate practice’ will get to master that complex discipline.
Whilst this sounds overwhelming, the truth is very reassuring. Yes, we may have predisposition and talent that helps, but for us to truly excel, it’s hard work and persistence that delivers. Arguments to the contrary might just be an excuse not to put in the effort.
To grow in ability, we know the basic principle of pushing beyond our comfort zone, resting and repeating. I think of my running as a perfect example as when I have set myself a goal to run a greater distance, I know I can build myself up gradually to achieve it because I have managed to. The same principle can be applied to all our pursuits and especially to performance at work. Attributing other organisations, teams or individual’s success to anything other than their own hard work and high performance can be making excuse for our own lack of effort.
I am not saying that talent and other factors do not play a part, but often we over-attribute others’ achievements to different factors than just effort. Here are 5 things research tells us we should do in order to excel and make our effort count. Click on the Infographic to expand: