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Perfecting New Skills

April 2, 2012

By Laurie Clarke, COO, The Tatham Group 

I will admit it.  I’m a perfectionist.  I hold myself to a high standard and then strive to reach beyond it every day.  Colleagues tell me to relax a bit – ‘done is better than perfect’ is a saying I hear frequently.

And they are right in some cases.  As a mother of a two year old and newborn I have adopted this way of thinking with regards to housework, play dates and planning for special events.  In business, I certainly agree while working in the realm of product development. You learn more after you let the idea fly than holding onto it and guessing how to improve the product or service.  Although even if it is introduced less than perfect my goal is to quickly get it to that level.

However, reading Geoffrey James’ advice on Inc.com, How to Master Any Skill, I felt validation in my perfectionists approach to forming new habits.  Geoffrey says that the key to mastery lies in five, simple to understand but difficult to execute, steps.

  1. Script exactly what you want to do.  “Run 5km every morning at 5:15am.”
  2. Act the behavior perfectly – repeat it exactly in order to make it a habit i.e. run (not walk) 5km (not 4.5km) every morning (not just Tuesdays) at 5:15am (not whenever I wake up).
  3. Get back up on the horse when you fall.  No excuses to give up completely even if for a week I can’t do it because the kids are sick, I’m travelling for business or I just had a baby a month ago.
  4. Envision yourself doing the behaviour.  Imagine crossing the finish line at a 5km run for charity.
  5. Embrace it as part of your identity.  “I am a runner!”

The hardest step for me is step three.  To forgive myself for not being perfect and continuing on to build the skill.    I must remember that while Geoffrey states that it’s not just practice that makes perfect but rather perfect practice makes perfect, it is still just practice.

  • Keith DeFreitas

    Excellent “process” for mastering a new skill- like you we view learning as a process – and the that process can be:

    1. Simplified, streamlined and standardized…
    2. Monitored, measured, sustained and continuously improved…

    This approach facilitates learning and knowledge mgmt. being valued as an asset not a cost or expense

    Thanks for all you are an do…

    Keith