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How To Perfect a Skill Like an Olympian

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If you’ve been following the Olympics the last few weeks, you know how impressive the athletes are. Whether it’s how fast they run, how high they jump, or how hard they hit, it’s hard not to be amazed at the talent these people possess.

It’s easy to watch these athletes at the events and chalk their success up to genetics or overbearing parents, but the truth is most Olympians start out just like the rest of us. The only difference is that they found what they love, and have devoted themselves to perfecting the skills they need. So, how can you use the same techniques to become a career Olympian? 

Identify Your Goals

This may seem like a step so obvious it shouldn’t even warrant mentioning, but when comparing yourself to Olympians, it’s important to remember that many of them found their calling in childhood. Most of us don’t really know what we want to do until much later in life, so identifying your goals really is inevitable if you want to succeed.

Identify What You Need

Once you have identified what your goals are, you should identify what you need to achieve them. This doesn’t mean you need to know every step of the way before you set out, but you should have a general idea of the skills and experience you need to achieve your goals. This is a crucial step in getting your career off on the right foot, and unfortunately, it’s one many people overlook. Many skills can only be mastered over the course of several years, so failing to identify these early could significantly hinder your career progression.

Use Deliberate Practice

You may have heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master any skill. While practicing something over and over should, in theory, improve your performance, that’s not necessarily the case. What really matters is that you don’t just practice, you practice deliberately.

Deliberate practice is the name used to describe practice that maintains the effort on a conscious level. Rather than coming up with a routine, and repeating it until you’re a master of your craft, deliberate practice is making sure you stay aware of what you’re doing. This helps avoid one of the biggest hindrances to success: complacency.

When it comes to learning new skills, we often feel a great sense of accomplishment and reward when we eventually get the hang of it. This is the point where a lot of people drop off, satisfied that they have learnt a new skill, and learnt it well-enough to get by. This may look like one for the success pile to many of us, but to Olympic champions, it more closely resembles defeat.

Review

The words “Performance review” are rarely met with happy faces or willing participants. Reviewing our own work can understandably leave us uncomfortable at times. Going over our mistakes, seeing where we should have done better, getting criticised for things we thought we did well. These can be hard to hear, but this is what takes someone from being good, to being the best. Olympians will review footage of their training with experts regularly, identifying their weak points and what they need to do to improve. The review step is essentially repeating the other steps, but starting from a much higher standard.

Adapt

A large part of being the best is not getting to the top, but staying there. New challenges and techniques will arise every day, and if you can’t adapt in time, you’ll be left behind. Athletes have to learn to adapt to injuries, new techniques, new training technology, and so on. The same is true for us. Few jobs, if any, require no adaptation as time goes on. Those who can adapt to the changing landscape of their work are the ones who will go the farthest.

This goes beyond reviewing your performance, and extends to external factors. Reviewing the competition, seeking out new information and technology, working around barriers are all crucial steps in adapting and staying relevant to an ever-changing world.

Perfecting a skill is no easy feat. Whether you’re trying to pass the bar or vault over it, it takes years of determination, discipline, and devotion. And there’s no guarantee of success. The only guarantee is that if you don’t try, you’ll be one step behind everyone else.