It has long been said by the uninformed that practice makes perfect.
The well-intentioned but erroneous thought behind that statement is that if we practice something long enough, hard enough, and often enough we will reach a higher level of skill and proficiency.
The glaring weakness in that statement is an obvious one. If we consistently practice doing something incorrectly, or poorly, we will simply better getting better and better at doing it poorly.
So the challenge, in order to achieve perfection, becomes the practice of perfection. In other words, as the revised version reads, “perfect practice makes perfect.”
This brings us to our topic for the next three weeks: the Habit of Seeking Feedback – the Habit of Measurement.
The difference between imperfect practice and the perfect practice of making perfect is determined by the degree to which we value feedback.
Feedback is the information source that tells us how we are doing and whether we are heading towards where we want to be or just aimlessly going around in circles.
An old axiom reminds us that “if it matters, measure it” and fanatical measurement is one of the great secrets of producing changed or different results in our lives.
I have a friend who at age 37, found himself in the unenviable position of becoming a cardiac patient following a heart attack which took place while he was sitting at his desk eating a Big Mac and fries and washing it all down with a supersized chocolate milkshake.
At that time he tipped the scales at a svelte 335 pounds. My friend is five feet, eight inches tall.
There is little doubt that an event of this nature would certainly bring urgency into one’s life and it certainly did with my friend. He set out, in his words, to re-engineer himself so that he could be around another 50 years.
Interestingly, my friend is an engineer and he set about this task with the ruthless efficiency and attention to detail that is the hallmark of his profession.
You might say he became obsessed with this project. He measured everything.
He adopted a particular nutrition style and began by weighing and measuring every morsel of food that passed his lips.
Then he measured the results.
He weighed himself every single day and used the results to determine and re-plan and rearrange the quantities of his caloric intake. He began walking. This was awkward for him because of the painful strain on his joints but he persevered and in relatively short time had progressed from barely being able to walk one block to walking one mile a day and then two and then three.
And he measured everything. He measured how long he walked, the distance he walked, how long it took him, his pulse rate pre-walk and post walk.
He bought a BP machine to monitor his blood pressure and established a weekly measurement comparison so as to compare the results from one week to the next and then make small, minor adjustments.
Now we might think this attention to detail and measurement is a bit excessive, but my friend would heartily disagree. He began his journey slightly more than five years ago and three weeks ago he completed his 9th marathon. He now has his eye on Iron Man competitions.
He has relaxed his intense focus on measurement slightly over the past years and yet remains somewhat fanatical about his awareness of how he treats his body.
That’s not to say he doesn’t take days off and indulge in some of the joyful pleasures there were part of his previous daily life. He still visits McDonald’s now and again to get his favourite fix.
If you ask him he will tell you that he would never have been able to stick with the program he put himself on had he not regularly measured the results because the frequent measurements provided him with two opportunities to choose from.
The first opportunity was to make small changes if the results were not to his satisfaction. The second, greater, opportunity was to celebrate every little success along the way, no matter how small.
He had bought a digital scale which allowed him to measure his weight in nanoparticles and each time his weight dropped by as little as one a fraction of a gram, he celebrated the victory.
And each celebration created the inspiration to continue.
And on those occasions when his measurements provided “bad” news? The bad news was just data to be analyzed in order to create improvements.
He will tell you that the quality of our decisions is directly proportional to the quality of objective, measureable data and it is next to impossible for us to do better at anything without first measuring our present results.
Seeking feedback is the best way to get to the best way.
And adopting this habit is a true measure of your commitment to succeed.
Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.