Article by Sonia Thompson
With each passing day, the bar for excellence gets 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 being 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 have 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 these strategies are backed by science. These approaches come from research by sociologist Daniel F. Chambliss. He studied athletes over a number of years to uncover what separated Olympic swimmers from others who invested similar amounts of time in training and competing.
1. Focus on Technique
According to Chambliss’s findings, 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 fields 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 that area, 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 master openings, you could move on to effectively using visuals, followed by working on your storytelling ability, and so on.
The progressive mastery of small individual elements will compound over time to help you perform at a higher level overall.
2. Choose the Right Motivations
Generally speaking, most of us do a particular task in order to achieve some big end result. That might be winning an award, landing a major client, getting a coveted promotion, or in the instance of Chambliss’s work, winning the Olympics.
Top performers, however, are fueled by smaller motivations. When you are striving after some grand vision, long periods of time can elapse between each major peak experience along the way. In order to stay motivated enough to show up day after day, you need to find joy in smaller wins. This 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 feel after completing a workout, publishing a new article, or interacting with beloved clients on a daily basis. 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 not to capitalize on the big opportunities that come your way. That means you have to approach every task in the same manner. This is the only way to produce predictable results no matter the circumstances.
In practice, this means something like preparing for a speech in front of 10,000 people the same way you would prepare for a group of 10. Maintaining the same mindset helps you focus your efforts on proper technique and the individual elements you worked so hard to master during your deliberate practice.
“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 anxiety that could throw you off your game at precisely the wrong time.
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.
Follow the proven approaches above to consistently step up your game so you can perform at your best. Then, you’ll be able to score many more big wins. Such success will only come as a reward for your intentional effort.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Sonia Thompson is a marketing strategist, consultant, and author. She covers how company culture, diversity, and relationship-based marketing helps businesses create remarkable customer experiences that get them the customers they want and keep them coming back for more.