“Focus on progression instead of perfection.”

Too often do I see students focus more on the idea of perfection rather than progression. If they fall short of perfection, they either become disappointed in themselves or unnecessarily berate themselves. This mindset, ironically, inhibits their progress.

I think that it is healthier for martial arts students to focus on “progression” instead of “perfection.” By focusing on progression, the student can realistically assess their progress in the martial art they are studying.

I was not able to execute this technique at all last week! Now, I can!

The next step is to make it smoother. I need to practice more!

This mindset teaches the students that, to progress, they need to put in the repetitions. That’s the key to any progress.

In contrast, the “perfection” mindset is too focused on the outcome instead of the process. Some folks end up berating themselves, Chris Farley style, for having fallen short of “perfection.”

The problem with this mindset is that the person is losing sight of the importance of repetitions, which is process oriented.

Focus on the repetitions, not the result.

Look at Mikaela Shiffrin, the U.S. Olympic skier, who won the Giant Slalom today in the current Winter Olympics in South Korea. She is a well-known proponent of “deliberate practice.” A New York Times article from January 2014 describes it her approach this way:

“Not surprisingly, any predetermined strategy was remarkably elemental and always focused on process, not results. Jeff and Eileen, former college-level racers, believed in basic tenets, like keeping a light race schedule for their children as they loaded up on practice days filled with deliberate, skills-based drills and exercises.”

Further: “The message, the Shiffrins insist, is that their approach, which stressed skill development and shunned goal setting, and always involved the family, has been the secret. If there was a secret.” My emphasis.

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Ms. Shiffrin’s focus on the process rather than on “goals”, I believe, led to her to be the reigning Olympic and world champion in slalom. While there are not a lot of specifics of her approach to training, a Business Insider article hints at it.  It states, in part:

“The way she describes breaking down each run and even each movement into its component parts is textbook deliberate practice. She’s bringing awareness to each and every move, which will help her improve each and every move,” Stulberg tells Business Insider.

“After all, you can’t make something better if you aren’t aware of it in the first place … In the case of a world-class athlete, the more awareness, the more likely you are to master that movement so it eventually becomes unconscious.”

Might it behoove a student to focus on the process and the components of a technique?

Okay, I am not chambering my cane correctly here. Let’s work on that.”

In the midst of berating yourself over your failure to reach “perfection”, you might be overlooking the component parts of the technique that broke down. Instead of attaching judgment to the technique, evaluate the technique dispassionately. Dispassionate judgment leads to a focusing on progression and on the process rather than judging yourself negatively.

So when I teach a class, I look out for students who judge themselves too harshly over their techniques. More often than not, they don’t progress as much as the others who know that they need copious repetitions. I insist that they focus on improving their technique and not to judge themselves too harshly. Just focus on the moment instead of the result.

If you are able to improve your technique by 1% every time you practice, that improvement will add up over time. Unfortunately, some do not see the value of a mere 1% improvement. I tell you, it’s worth it!  Focus on quality repetitions and you will get closer to the ideal technique you are aiming for.

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