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By James McPartland

"Practice makes perfect."

We’ve heard this as children. And as adults, we often find ourselves repeating this cliché phrase to kids of our own. But, how boring would life be if this were actually true?

No amount of striving and effort will ever make us perfect human beings, but in both life and business, we can practice our way into becoming masters of our own realm.

Practice Your Way to Mastery article by Executive Coach, Author & Speaker, James McPartland

The Master Formula

Throughout my personal life and career—first as a CEO, then as an executive coach to other organizational leaders, I’ve seen countless individuals struggle in their attempts to access a higher level of performance in life and business. Many talk about achieving greatness, mastering something, and doing big things. Then they go on to take the first step and hit a stumbling block. Nine times out of ten, these people are making the same mistake—they don’t have a solid plan in place.

My great appreciation for athletes, musicians, and entrepreneurs who’ve excelled at their craft, is that practice is their common element for mastery. With or without an audience, with or without the outcome being what they had hoped for, they persist in practice, and these individuals “keep on keeping on”.

Through my work as an executive coach, I’ve coupled my observations of others with my own experience to create a process that can help anyone unlock their true potential and reach the level of mastery they’re searching for.

Athlete practicing running
High level CEO walking out of corporate office building
Musician practicing his violin to empty audience seats

HOW We Do It

Every journey begins with a single step, and our journey to mastery is no different. Before diving into the P.R.A.C.T.I.C.E. process, there’s an imperative first step we all need to take:

Establish a measurable, concise, and inspiring goal - then WRITE IT DOWN.

When choosing a goal, I encourage those I work with to start by getting clarity on what they want to do, when they want to do it by, and why they want to do it. If, however, HOW they are going to do it comes to them too easily, I tell them they need a more challenging goal.

Open notebook with pen on top

See, How has to be the most difficult question in our process. When people talk about achieving their goals or objectives, they often get discouraged because they don’t know how to get to where they want to go. Yet I say not knowing means you’re on the right track! If we already know HOW, the goal is not a big enough stretch for us. If our what and when is clearly outlined, and our why is providing the staying power and motivation to propel us forward, we will have the intention and focus we need to continue practicing the work. In time, we’ll figure out the how. Be okay with not knowing. Just keep practicing. Once your goal is established, write it down and keep it somewhere you will see it frequently. This will remind you of what you’re working toward.

Now, let’s take a closer look at what I describe to my clients as the P.R.A.C.T.I.C.E. method:

P - Process

What is a plan without process? Madness. In order to reach our goals, we have to have a process in place. When defining what yours will look like, think about the following:

Allocate time - Too often we let time be the deciding factor in whether or not we get around to doing something. Set aside a chunk of time for working toward your goal every day and stick to it. For inspiration, look to timeboxing, a common project management tool used in many offices today.

Clock on a table with time tracking agenda, pen, and phone

Review your progress - Routinely check your progress to see where you’re succeeding and where you’re coming up short. Don’t forget to celebrate your wins!

Modify and evolve your approach - As you review your progress, you’ll inevitably come across the need to make changes to your process from time to time. Be flexible and consider nothing set in stone. Nothing ever stays the same in life or in business. Why should your process?

Executive leader reviewing his progress and goals on a busy desk with paperwork, agenda, computer, and calendar

Get feedback - Enroll others on the journey with you. Be open to hearing from those you trust, how it is they think you’re really doing. Be willing to refine your process as needed.

R - Risk

There’s no such thing as achieving a goal without taking a risk. While you may not stand to lose anything financially or relationally, you’ll still risk time, effort, and energy going after your goals. Whether in life or business, the time to evaluate risk is before you jump in.

Four people standing looking at their phones

As you evaluate, ask yourself, “What am I willing to sacrifice?” In the United States, the average person over the age of 15 watches 2.7 hours of television every day. This isn’t including the additional 2+ hours of leisure time people have every day. On top of this, the average American checks their phone 80 times a day. That’s once every 12 minutes. What parameters are you willing to put in place to make time for achieving your goal?

When looking at the risks involved with working toward your goal, determine whether or not you’re confident in stepping out of your comfort zone. Are you willing to talk to people you don’t really know? Working toward your goal will inevitably result in your need to put yourself out there and be vulnerable. Are you willing to work through conflict in a healthy way? If you’re having doubts, remind yourself of that end goal and how badly you want it— is it worth the risk?

A - Associations

I encourage my clients to create mental associations by asking themselves, “What positive benefits can I link achieving this goal to?” Regularly examining the perks of achieving our goals provides the motivational boost we need at times to take us to the next level in our process. Occasionally ask yourself questions like:

  • How will this enhance my professional and personal life?

  • What will this goal do for my confidence?

  • How will this goal provide meaningful personal growth for me?

  • How could this benefit my family?

  • What kind of people will I connect with because of this goal?

  • Who will I become as I move along the path of completing this goal?

High-level business executive crossing he street towards corporate buildings reflecting the setting sun

We shouldn’t have to change who we fundamentally are to achieve our goals. Yet we should all desire to challenge ourselves toward improving in the areas of personal development and professional growth. Understanding the risks we’re taking and knowing the benefits we’ll receive if we succeed is highly beneficial to our process.

C - Communication

How will you communicate with yourself and others?

  • What types of conversations do you participate in every day? Do the conversations you have daily seem like those of a relational and task-oriented high achiever? How can you improve on these conversations? Be mindful of your thoughts, as our words influence our actions and as a result, the direction and outcome of our conversations.

  • Are you mindful of your body language? While our words are powerful, the outcomes of our conversations are equally influenced by our body language. It’s estimated that 60-to-90 percent of our communication is non-verbal. Even if you’re saying the right words, your delivery can send the wrong signals through non-verbal cues, making your message fall flat, or worse—cause offense. Be mindful of your body language and taking proactive measures to fix bad habits.

Two office employees communicating with each other verbally and with body language
  • What are you listening to? We all have voices inside, telling us what we can and can’t do. Sometimes those negative voices seem to be the loudest, reminding us of our failures or shortcomings. It’s important to focus on the positive voices. Let those negative voices and thoughts motivate you to prove them wrong.

T - Think

With experts predicting the average person thinks anywhere from 60,000-80,000 thoughts every day, it’s no wonder we often find ourselves overwhelmed or lost in thought.

From here on out, think about the things you’re thinking about. Pay attention to the thoughts you’re having and the impact they are having on your life. Are you daily practicing positive beliefs and exploring new territory, or are a majority of your thoughts mere negativity and repetitive reflections on what you didn’t accomplish? Many experts predict that 70% of one's thoughts are negative, so if you’re thinking negative thoughts right now, you’re not alone.

We can change that. Keep track of your thoughts. Write them down. See what recurring themes you notice, and pay attention to the media you’re consuming. Is what you take in impacting you in a positive or negative way? Do you need to swap that particular media out with something more uplifting or conducive to productivity and growth?

Be patient with yourself in the process of changing negative thought patterns. Don’t expect changes to take place overnight. Tara Swart, a lecturer at MIT and author of Neuroscience for Leadership, states that the brain will always take “the most energy efficient path". In this case, that path is your old way of thinking. But be encouraged. Science is showing that: 

Establishing new neural pathways and retraining our brain is possible!

I - Information

We can never have too much information. We don’t know what we don’t know. Doing our due diligence and performing quality research is a necessary part of the process of moving from where we are, to where we want to be. Ask yourself who you need to meet with, access whatever TED talks or podcasts might help you, inquire into what seminars are available to you, and acquire whatever books you might want to read.

Entrepreneur researching information on his computer

It’s been my experience that too often people seek quick-fix answers when they were never asking the right question to begin with. Asking the right question is the foundational step to finding the best long-term solution. And the first step to asking the right question is to arm yourself with solid, quality information.

C - Consequences

In the process of goal setting, I make a practice of advising my clients to decide in advance how they will celebrate their successes, and what consequences they will give themselves for the not hitting their target.

Since our aim is to set measurable goals, we can create milestones along the way. Assign hard deadlines to each milestone and celebrate them when you get there. If you miss one of these milestones, have a consequence in place—something that motivates you to continually do better and ensure you don’t miss your milestones. And don’t be scared of the word “consequence”. Pain, sacrifice, and embarrassment can be great teachers in life. Have fun and be creative when deciding what these will be. Will you donate to your favorite cause? Do 100 push-ups? Volunteer at the local soup kitchen? Sing “Love Lift Us Up” in front of a crowded bar?

Two team leaders drawing a diagram and analyzing their target goal

E - Enrollment

Last, but probably first in importance, enroll others on the journey with you. The path to mastery is a long and steady stretch of walk in the same direction, but you don’t have to go it alone. Ask one or two people you trust to hold you accountable in your practice to mastery. These individuals might be experts in the field you’re pursuing, or simply experts at YOU - good friends who will ask you tough questions when you miss the mark, motivate you, and give you gentle nudges when you need it the most.

Professional athletes running on a track competing in a race
Two people climbing up a snowy mountain that seems to have no top
Corporate leadership team having an accountability meeting

Ready, Set, Go!

I have come to understand that the path to perfection is plowed on the field of PRACTICE. We can become the best in our world to the degree we are willing to put in the preparation work that those who achieve mastery have committed to long before they became known for their expertise. The path to mastery is a mountain without a top. As we strive to better ourselves, we need to stay on the climb because the mountain has no top. We may never arrive, but we’ll get to see and experience the highs that only come as we ascend to new levels.

Mountain climber with full backpack making his way up the path
Silhouette of the back of a man standing outside at a great height with both arms stretched out looking out over the tops of mountains while the sun sets

I leave you with this thought: Imagine if Elon Musk had stopped when he successfully sold Zip2, his first software company, in 1999? He wouldn’t have gone on to found and sell what would become PayPal, nor would he have founded SpaceX. His refusal to become stagnant has caused him to quite literally, reach goals that are over the top, and out of this world!

Borrowing from ancient wisdom, we know that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. If you find yourself stuck, or in need of a breakthrough, contact our team - Let us help you unlock your greatest potential and discover the master within!



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