With each passing day, the bar for excellence grows higher. New innovations come, someone hungrier and more talented than you enters the market, and external conditions change all around you. What was good enough yesterday, no longer is today. Professional sports is a shining example of this phenomenon. It seems new world records are set left and right.
If you want to succeed and maintain your level of success over the long term, you cannot get complacent with your current level of proficiency in a particular area. You’ve got to find a way to continue to grow, improve and evolve.
The good news is, there are a few strategies you can employ to help you improve your performance and achieve excellence. And they are backed by science. These approaches come from research by sociologist professor Daniel Chambliss. He studied athletes over a number of years to uncover what separated Olympic swimmers from others who invested similar amounts of time training and competing.
1. Focus on technique.
In The Mundanity of Excellence, where Chambliss published his findings, he noted a key factor that separated the good from the great was the way in which they executed similar tasks. Those at the top of their field had significantly better technique.
Better technique comes from an intense focus on mastering the fundamentals. So much so, that excellence becomes a habit.
To get started, focus on perfecting one small area of a task you are working toward improving. Once you’ve mastered it, choose another small but connected skill to practice deliberately.
Let’s say your goal is to become a better public speaker. First, you might work on how to deliver engaging openings. After you get to a point you’re pleased with, you could move on to effectively using visuals, followed by working on your storytelling ability, and so on.
The combined impact of mastering small individual elements will compound in time to help you perform at a higher level overall.
2. Choose the right motivations.
Many people’s reason for doing particular tasks is the big end result. That might be winning an award, landing a major client, getting a coveted promotion, or in the instance of Chambliss’ work, winning the Olympics.
But top performers are fueled by smaller motivations. When you are playing the long game in terms of reaching a grander vision, at times, the length of time between mountaintop experiences is quite long.
Thus, you’ve got to be motivated to show up day after day to put the work in so that you can find joy in smaller wins. These will fuel your commitment to doing the work in between the milestone moments.
“Swimmers go to practice to see their friends, to exercise, to feel strong afterwards, to impress the coach, to work towards bettering a time they swam in the last meet,” Chambliss notes. “Sometimes, the older ones, with a longer view of the future, will aim towards a meet that is still several months away. But even given the longer-term goals, the daily satisfactions need to be there. The mundane social rewards are crucial.”
These smaller motivations could be the feeling of euphoria you get after completing a workout, publishing a new article, interacting with beloved clients on a daily basis. It could even come from the joy that comes during the journey of doing your work.
The little things will keep your spirits high and keep you going. Especially when the big wins are few and far between.
3. Maintain mundanity as you work.
No one wants to get their big break and then fall flat on their face. You work too hard for big opportunities to come your way to not be able to capitalize on them due to a lapse in performance.
That means you’ve got to approach every task you are working to complete in the same manner, so you can produce predictable results no matter the circumstances. That may mean preparing for a speech in front of 10,000 people the same way you would a group of 10.
This helps you focus your efforts on executing proper technique on the individual elements you worked so hard to master during your deliberate practice. It will help you produce optimal results.
“Winners don’t choke,” Chambliss writes. “Faced with what seems to be a tremendous challenge or a strikingly unusual event such as the Olympic Games, the better athletes take it as a normal, manageable situation (‘It’s just another swim meet,’ is a phrase sometimes used by top swimmers at a major event such as the Games) and do what is necessary to deal with it. Standard rituals (such as the warmup, the psych, the visualization of the race, the taking off of sweats, and the like) are ways of importing one’s daily habits into the novel situation, to make it as normal as possible.”
When you train your mind to focus on what you need to do to successfully complete the task at hand, you minimize any anxious emotions that can serve to throw you off your game at precisely the wrong time.
It’s time for you to perform at a higher level.
It isn’t about the amount of talent you have. Or even the level of success you’ve achieved in the past. In today’s world, continuous improvement is a requirement rather than an aspiration.
So follow the proven approaches above to consistently step up your game, so you can perform at your best. Then you’ll be able to experience many more big wins. That success will come as a reward for your intentional effort.