What do pro athletes do all day?

Barbell picture by Victor Freitas via Unsplash.com

Let’s say you want to become a world-class athlete.

You wouldn’t expect to get strong from lifting a barbell once and you wouldn’t exect to win games against competent opponents after practicing for an hour or four.

No.

You start with an intro and then practice, practice, practice for weeks, months and years. In fact while you’re playing at a pro level you never stop practicing.

You don’t just show up at games and expect to perform at a high-level. You spend most of your time preparing so that when it’s time, you’re ready to kick ass.

And it’s not just any kind of practice. You practice deliberately.

You reflect on your current strengths and weaknesses, you pick a target just outside your current ability, you try it, you get immediate feedback, you reflect, and repeat, repeat, repeat.

Train for creative knowledge work like an athlete trains for their sport

As creative knowledge workers why do we so often settle for a 2-day training here and a book there? Why do things like sitting down to read at the office seem so strange in most organizations? Or to meet in a group and just practice together?

To get good at professional skills I believe we need to adopt an athlete mentality.

If you want to communicate well so that people understand you and want to work with you.

If you want to run meetings that lead to meaningful insights and decisions and not burn time on aimless discussions.

If you want everyone on your team to know everything they need without being overloaded with less relevant details.

If you want to do all that and more I suggest you need to at least:

  1. Define the skills you want to improve – What outcomes are you looking for? What concrete actions lead to those outcomes? How do you know how well you’re doing?
  2. Practice those skills over and over again. By all means, learn from experts but while you’re doing that extract concrete actions and deliberately practice the ones that make the biggest difference for you. Use spaced repetition to reinforce key skills while leaving room for adding new skills to your training roster.
  3. Find others who are interested in the same skills and practice together.

What’s one rep?

Before we can train we need to translate abstract skills into concrete actions.

It’s useful to group those actions into progressions and do the one that is most appropriate at your current level.

Let’s take a single leg squat:

  1. One rep at level one might be lowering yourself on one leg until your ass touches a chair.
  2. Level two might require you to do a full single leg squat while holding on to a post or door handle or another solid support.
  3. And finally at level three you might do a complete, freestanding single leg squat.

When you can do 10 easy reps in one level, move on to the next.

Now let’s consider writing. What’s one rep?

Starting from absolute basics and building up:

  1. Write a sentence summarising something you’re reading or thinking about.
  2. Write or improve an evergreen note on a subject you care about.
  3. Write and publish a short piece about something you learned recently.

It’s not enough to know that good writing is this or that. Let’s practice it. In various contexts, with various kinds of people on the receiving end.

Practice.

How to practice understanding people

Using the LAO framework introduced in 💛 Make Your Communication Meaningful (For Your Intended Audience)

Listen: Don’t talk. Just listen. If there’s a lull in the conversation then ask a short question and listen some more.

One rep is one instance where you’re leaning towards a judgement but you swing to curiosity instead.

Ask: Direct the spotlight of attention to explore without introducing your own assumptions. Ask clean questions like What kind of … or Is there anything else about … or And then what? Ask them gently to encourage the speaker to share more or even discover new things about themselves. Don’t let it turn into an interrogation.

One rep is one thing you find out that you didn’t know before.

Observe: Notice behaviors and decisions. Stop short of interpreting or judging or at least separate what you saw and heard from what you interpret it to mean.

One rep is one concrete action noted separately from your analysis of it.

And what what skill would you most like to practice, practice, practice?