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If You Want to Get Better at Something, Ask Yourself These Two Questions


It was the last race of the ski season. My son Daniel, 10 years old, was at the starting gate in his speed suit, helmet and goggles, waiting for the signal.


No matter how you want to improve, you need to ask yourself two questions first: 1) Do you really want to do better? 2) Are you willing to feel the discomfort of trying new things that won't work right away?


As a coach, I have used these or similar questions, and I find them highly effective. The answers, and the conviction and intensity with which the coachee responds, provide very good pointers to the probability of success of the coaching engagement. 


However, one needs to go a bit beyond just answering these questions. To start with, recognize that these two questions go together – always (I usually refrain from an extreme position, but this time I’ll stick my neck out!)  They should not be answered independent of each other. I believe each and every one of us wants to do better (so the first question is almost rhetorical) but what holds many of us back is the perception of inordinate “cost” – one or more of factors such as extra effort, unfamiliar path, uncertain outcomes, some sacrifice etc. The coachee needs to, with the coach’s help, clarify the cost-benefit equation and convince herself or himself that the journey to doing or becoming “better” is worth it.


Then the word “better” needs to be distilled to something(s) specific and focused – the sharper the focus, the greater the likelihood of achieving success. But obtaining the necessary focus is easier said than done. Most of us have numerous items on our “to do” list for self improvement; we find it difficult to prioritize and zero in on the one that is worth doing first, sometimes deluding ourselves into believing that everything on our list is “equally important”. Richard Rumelt, in Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, presents the value of prioritizing through an anecdote involving Andrew Carnegie (the steel magnate and one of the richest Americans of his times) and Frederick Winslow Taylor (the father of scientific management) – the relevant extract is available at https://816nyc.com/business-advice-andrew-carnegie-ignore.   While there are many structured and unstructured methods of prioritizing,

philosopher Ruth Chang presents an interesting way in her TED talk (please see it at https://www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices.)


It is also easy to underestimate the effort needed or the potential discomfort to be faced during the change journey – particularly if the starting point is a strong desire to change oneself. While a “can do” mindset is necessary, it is equally necessary to be watchful of its dark side. A good coach would help the coachee make realistic estimates of the effort; the coach would also leverage his or her experience and adequately prepare the coachee to face the discomfort of doing new and different things. And remember, one needs to stop doing something in order to start doing something new or different – giving up too can be a challenge. A coach would help the coachee in developing new perspectives – such as viewing new experiences as platforms to learn – and also in making necessary mid-course corrections.


So after having answered the two questions in the affirmative, dig a bit deeper into the underlying details of the answers.  While there are no guarantees that you will have a smooth, effortless, hiccup free change journey, this will help improve the odds in your favour!


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