Key to Success
Eighty percent of success is showing up –Woody Allen
You want to train to improve your skill level and your understanding. What is the single most important thing you can do to succeed? It’s not train hard, devote X number of hours a week to practice, getting the best gear, or having access to the best teachers. Before any of that other stuff matters, you have to do one crucial thing: just show up. If you don’t practice, you by default don’t get better. Of course, there is a little more nuance to the idea of showing up. You have to break the initial inertia of doing nothing to starting (which is often the most difficult hurdle) and then continue to show up and maintain your practice.
I’ve noticed this truism both in my own practice and in teaching others. The times where I just commit to practicing, I make progress. The little details of the practice work themselves out in the process. The students that just come to practice consistently always make noticeable progress. Even the students who never practice outside of class still manage to improve if they just make the effort to come to class regularly and participate.
Another way to “show up” for practice is to be mentally present. It’s one thing to go through the motions, but it’s quite another to focus the mind on the practice and to pay attention to the details. The former will just develop habits and no understanding; the latter will help you to perceive the essence of the practice and deepen your understanding. Even drills of a repetitive nature meant to develop certain physical skills are still exercises in mental focus. With no attention, you could end up misunderstanding the drill and end up practicing a wrong movement pattern. If you do happen to practice the correct movement pattern, the lack of attentive practice will result in a movement ability which is reflexive and not really a skill under your conscious control. The beginner’s mind must be maintained regardless of how simplistic, familiar, or repetitive the exercise.
Shoot for the Stars
(but Celebrate the Small Achievements)
Lofty goals are great. Dream big. Greatness isn’t achieved by aiming for a 7-foot ceiling. The worst that can possibly happen by aiming high is that you don’t make it into the stratosphere and you’re still stuck just above the tree canopy. But even if you don’t achieve the fantastic goal, you’ve at least broken past the initial ceiling and pushed your boundaries outward. On the other hand, some people get discouraged when they don’t accomplish the grand goals they set out to accomplish. No one likes to fail at an undertaking. The funny thing though is that failure is relative. I have a habit of setting goals that I don’t necessarily achieve, but I don’t view them as failed undertakings if I don’t make it to the end goal. I track my progress along the way and appreciate the accomplishments towards the final goal. So maybe I set too lofty a goal to realistically accomplish, but aiming too low would have just meant that I would not have made as much progress. Picking the low hanging fruit is still an accomplishment and further than many people make it.
Forest and the Trees
In my experience (both personally and from observation) is that some people just get too hung up on specific details. One aspect of skill gets trained in great depth, but other aspects of training get ignored. For example, some practitioners get obsessed with perfecting their form, training an immovable stance, or developing the ability to issue power. This sort of highly specific practice does serve a purpose. Small, specific elements of skill do need to be trained in sufficient detail to achieve understanding and proficiency. However, it can easily become a case of “not seeing the forest for the trees.” As I’ve mentioned before, skills are usually built on many pillars of sub-skills. Focusing on one aspect of skill to the exclusion of others loses sight of the overall picture. The multiple elements of skill training interrelate and must all be trained to raise your skill level. Small, specific sub-skills do not need to be trained to mastery before moving on; they only need to be trained to sufficient proficiency to allow overall skill to improve.