Creating the Pathways to Excellence
If you talk to winning athletes – not the one-time wonders, but those who win on a consistent basis – they’ll tell you that winning is a habit. What they don’t tell you is just how hard they work to develop that habit.
Winning takes a lot of things, like talent, commitment, resources and support. But most of all it takes practice, and lots of it. You can’t just read about winning in a book and then go out and do it. You can’t buy a magic wand and wave it over yourself and others. (If you could, I would have ordered one a long time ago!) You can’t attend a one-day training session and expect to win based just on that. And you can’t delegate winning to others.
To win, you have to be in the game. You have to model it. You have to think about it, plan for it, encourage it in others, create a system that supports it, and then practice some more. But winning isn’t just about practicing more than your competitors; it’s about practicing the right things. It starts with knowing what the right things are. It’s about doing the little things day in and day out that lead to crossing the finish line ahead of everyone else.
Why is practice so important to winning?
Because that’s the way our brains work. When we repeatedly engage in a task or activity, it builds myelin (a sheath-like substance that surrounds brain cells to help speed up the rate at which neurons fire) around the neurons that control that activity. The more we practice, the more myelin gets created, the faster the neurons fire, and the better we get at the activity or task.
The downside to this remarkable process is that the brain builds myelin regardless of what we practice. So if we practice the wrong things, we get better at doing the wrong things. For example, if we continually conduct boring, ineffective meetings; if we run in multiple directions instead of having everyone aligned and working together; if we neglect to define what winning looks like for our organizations, we are literally building myelin pathways that make us better at doing the wrong things. We are, in effect, practicing not to win.
What are the right things to practice?
Pausing each morning to align our activities for the day with our vision of winning. Keeping others focused on winning. Exposing our thinking so that others fully understand our point of view rather than making assumptions based on their point of view. Pausing to get refocused when distracted by cell phones, email, social media and all the other interruptions that come at us throughout the day. Basically, anything that keeps us focused on our top priorities and working toward reaching the destination.
Make Practice Intentional with Neuroprompts
To practice doing the right things day in and day out, we have to be intentional about setting aside time to do so. One good way to do that is with “neuroprompts”, or deliberate visits to your brain to practice the right things.
Neuroprompts can be visual, such as sticky notes placed in strategic places that get you to pause for a moment and really think about what you’re doing. Or they can be auditory, such as conducting an assumption inventory by asking questions like:
- What has changed with our customers, our markets, our industry and the world at large in the last three to six months?
- What assumptions are we continuing to make simply because we “know them to be true”? Of these, which are no longer valid? How do we know that?
- What processes, systems and ways of behaving are we continuing to hold onto because “we’ve always done it that way?”
The ultimate goal is to practice the right things every day so that you build up the myelin brain wiring that supports the habit of winning. Neuroprompts provide an easy way to create these pathways of excellence so that even when you don’t have time to pause and think (in a crisis or truly urgent scenario), you already have the pathways set up and well-traveled so that you make winning decisions.
What do you practice at work? If I observed you for a day, would I see you creating pathways that support winning habits? Or would I see habits that get in the way of winning?
Call to action: Identify one neuroprompt and use it to get in the habit of practicing winning on a daily basis.