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May 14, 2017

Practice the Hard Stuff - That's What Will Make You Better

Hockey Player

I was walking into my local ice rink the other night as we had a game. I play on a men’s league team – often referred to as the “beer league”. The ice rinks are pretty quiet this time of year. The fall/winter hockey season has ended and the spring/summer leagues and training camps aren’t running yet.

As I walked in I saw two younger players – younger as in about 20 years old – on the ice. I remembered one of them from a few years ago when he was playing in youth leagues. I remembered him being a good player who wanted to play higher level hockey (i.e. college or possibly beyond).

I watched them for a while and what I saw really impressed me. Here were two young men on the ice by themselves; no team coaches, no instructors, no team captains. No one watching over them. They were doing the things that players generally hate; they were doing the hard stuff.

They weren’t doing fun drills like taking slap shots or practicing fancy moves. They were doing start-stop drills (to strengthen legs and improve quickness) and maneuvering around tires on the ice (to improve edge control). They were sweating, hard.
But, as I watched them, I think they were really enjoying themselves. Enjoying the effort they were putting forth and seeing the slow, steady improvements they were making.

They didn’t have to be doing this – practicing this way. But they wanted to; they wanted to be better players and reach that next level. So here they were pushing themselves and practicing the hard stuff.

Geoff Colvin’s book, “Talent is Overrated”, speaks to exactly this point. Colvin contends that individuals who really excel (in athletics, music, etc.) have not only worked very hard at mastering their craft they’ve also put in many, many hours of “deliberate practice”. Colvin notes that deliberate practice is difficult; it’s hard and it hurts. But more of it equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance.

So, let’s now take this to the world that most of us live in – the work world. How many of us practice the stuff we really don’t like doing – you know, the hard stuff. Do we approach it with effort and energy? Or, do we seek to minimize the task and simply rely on the skills we already have.

I’m most familiar with the sales aspect of business and I know that there are aspects of my work that aren’t my favorite; like prospecting for new clients. If I’m totally honest, I sometimes find myself not really working as hard as I could in this regard. For example, I welcome distractions that will allow me to justify activities other than finding new opportunities.

Yet, when I really think about it, there are times that, like the two hockey players I watched, I feel totally energized when prospecting. These are the times that I was doing the hard stuff.

  • Instead of just “smiling and dialing” (or, rather, sending bland emails or LinkedIn invites) I dig in and really try to understand what’s taking place inside a prospect’s company,
  • I do thorough research to dig out nuggets of insight as to what their key objectives and challenges might be,
  • I compare their financial performance to their key competitors,
  • I see what organizational changes have occurred and look for clues as to how their business is evolving,
  • Armed with this insight, I craft and then communicate my message to the right stakeholders including the individual who has the power to purchase my services,
  • I use all the mediums that are available and appropriate; phone, email, social media,
  • If I don’t get a response, I refine my message to connect their challenges with my capabilities, and
  • I look for new avenues and try again.

It becomes a welcome challenge to see if I can engage with this prospect. I find that when I really apply myself and seek to improve (ultimately securing appointments) the task isn’t so bad after all – in fact, it’s kinda fun.

This is the right way to prospect and it takes a lot of work; a lot of hard work. This is doing the hard stuff and I’m sweating in a business sense. But, you know, it feels good. It feels good knowing that I’m doing the right things. I’m deliberating practicing my craft.

So, the next time you’ve got a task to do at work, ask yourself if you’re truly putting forth your best effort or are you just “showing up”. If you’re relying upon the skills you already possess, think about ways you could try some deliberate practice and sharpen your performance. Take your game to the next level and really excel at whatever job you have to do. If you’re giving it your all you’ll enjoy that business sweat that you’ve worked up.

After tonight’s game, maybe I’ll skip the beers and work on my backward cross-over skating.

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