The most successful people I know in every field of endeavor are never content to rest on their laurels. They are continually refining what they know. Hour upon hour is spent in practice — mental as well as physical — looking for a minor tweak that may take what IS and transform it into something BETTER. This is something I do to this day as a copywriter and marketer. But truth is, I learned it in a college wrestling room.
One of the all-time greatest practitioners of this “never-stop-learning” habit was my wrestling coach at the University of Iowa, Dan Gable. Gable was the 1972 Olympic champion and a two-time Olympic coach. He is also considered by many to be the “god” of amateur wrestling. His skills were unparalleled. Yet, Gable lived by something marketing expert Dan Kennedy calls “the Principle of the Slight Edge.” In Gable’s world, “A technique that is perfect must be further refined.”
Why is this so? It is so because a perfect technique does you no good unless you can execute it perfectly more often. It’s all about results. Gable spent time each day watching technique videos, studying the latest books, analyzing competitions. He kept a yellow pad nearby to make notes. And he brought those notes into the practice room when he trained. I’ll never forget the time he came back from a tournament in the former Soviet Union, in the city of Tbilisi.
He was there as the head coach for the U.S. team — and while coaching, he also took mental notes that he later committed to paper. When Gable was back in the Iowa wrestling room, he began going over each detail that he discovered in Tbilisi. And to the team’s amazement, he was executing moves that we’d never seen before. And he was doing them, at least from our vantage point, flawlessly.
How Gable was able to watch something at a tournament, make note of it, then perform it so effortlessly amazed me to no end. I told a fellow coach on the squad how stunned I was and he said, “Gable has been at this game so long that he’s literally like a human sponge. He just soaks it up, even when he’s not trying. He notices every detail that no one else even sees.”
When I heard this said about Gable, I made a mental note — a note I have never forgotten. That note mirrors the three levels that Michael Masterson teaches with regard to acquiring ANY skill: competence, mastery, and virtuosity. And here’s how it plays out: Because of the time Gable had already put into the sport of wrestling (at that time, it was close to 30 years), he could literally implement what he observed with very little practice. In other words, in wrestling, Gable is at the virtuoso level of skill. Wouldn’t you like to achieve mastery or virtuosity in your chosen field?
Well, you can . . . if you follow a couple of guidelines. I’ve used these as both an athlete and as an entrepreneur. Study this list and think how each one applies to your situation:
1. No matter how good you are, stay open-minded. You can ever get to the point where you can no longer learn something new or refine what you already know.
2. Ask questions. When you see a technique being done a certain way, ask yourself questions like: * “Why is he doing it that way?” * “Do I know for a fact, from actual experience, that what he is doing is good? Bad?” * “What would happen if I tried it?” * “Is there a better, easier, faster, or quicker way to do what he is doing? If so, what is it? And can what I think of as ‘better’ be improved too?”
3. When practicing, literally be “outside of yourself,” observing what you are doing.
4. After practice, look back on what took place and determine what your flaws were, what you can correct. Also, look at what you did right — and think of ways to do the right thing more often. 5. Spend time each day thinking about the level of skill you want to attain — then get to work.