My son Michael Jr. first attempted to teach me to juggle years ago. I saw him doing it and I thought it was incredibly magical. My son is a great left and right handed athlete. He golfs right handed and he kicks left footed. When Mike plays tennis, golf, or basketball, he looks and performs like a cat that can jump and move effortlessly. So I went up to my son— and asked him to teach me. My first lesson went like this.
He said, “Dad, take these three balls, throw them up in the air in front of you, and whatever you do — don’t let any of them drop. Got it?”
Well, I tried as hard as I could. I was very good at throwing the 3 balls up in the air! Unfortunately the balls were dropping over and over and over again. I kept focusing on the last thing I heard him say: Don’t let them drop. Don’t let them drop… So what did I do? I let them drop. Go figure!
It’s not my nature to quit and I really wanted to learn. And then I had a breakthrough. The secret of learning how to juggle was to pay more attention to the throw and not so much focus on catching the balls. Just like a toss when serving in tennis. I taught tennis professionally when I got out of college so I could relate to this example.
It also occurred to me that if I could just relax and stay focused, it would make things a lot easier. Using this process, I actually learned how to juggle. More importantly, I gained further insight into the process of learning and how the brain works. I identified five secrets to personal best performance. And I want to share them with you now.
The first is really simple.
When you want to learn anything, whether it’s how to juggle or a new computer or marketing system at work, it helps to 1st begin with a model of excellence.
I call this first principle “activating your brain’s Reticular Activating System (RAS) success model.” When I say that to people, they say, “Gosh, I didn’t know my brain had a success model, let alone a Reticluar Activating System.” But it actually does. And the way your brain’s success model works is very simple. You 1st need a picture in your mind of what it is you want to achieve. I call this your Personal Best Identity (PBI).
If you want to learn to juggle, you need to know what does the task involve? Tossing three balls in this figure eight pattern. Then you want to compare that with what you’re actually doing. Your brain has evolved over millions of years and is designed to help you match your performance with the vision you’ve created.
So, in all walks of life, 1st begin any learning endeavor by surrounding yourself with the best and immersing yourself with images and models of excellence.
Baby ducks learn to walk by following their mother and humans are the same. The key difference is that as we become adults, we can choose who and what to model and imitate. Modeling is the fastest way I know to duplicate the result someone else has created.
The second principle is to transform your attitude towards mistakes.
Most of us grow up with the notion that mistakes were bad. And we don’t want to drop the balls, so guess what? If you don’t drop the balls you can never learn how to juggle. Who are the best learners? They’re little children. Why are they so good? Because they have no fear of making mistakes.
And it’s the same thing in an organization. My friend Jeffrey Stibell, the Chairman & CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. has a failure wall in his office where he has his entire team write down on this massive wall what specifically their biggest mistakes were.
When a baby’s learning to talk, unlike those amazingly funny E*Trade commercials a baby may say, “da, da, da.”
When we hear these sounds, we don’t say, “What’s the matter with you? I am your DAD! That’s D-A-D. Come on! I helped bring you into the world… at least pronounce my name properly.”
What do we say? We say, “Ahhhh — You’re a little genius, a chip off the ‘ol block.” The same is true when a baby’s learning to walk. They fall down all the time. We don’t say, “Smooth move grace… now look what you have done! Why are you so %$#@ uncoordinated? Come on, get with the program.”
If that were the case — No one would ever learn to walk or talk. Instead, we give them unconditional love and we know that they have to fall hundreds, if not thousands of times in order to walk.
Well guess what? It’s the same thing as a grown up.
So #2 key to personal best performance is to transform your attitude towards mistakes. Understand that they’re an essential part, and learn from them as quickly as possible. And do whatever it takes not to repeat your mistakes. So if you want to learn how to juggle, for example, practice letting the balls go. Focus on the toss.
The third principle goes hand in hand.
It is to have fun and embrace the power of play, which is our natural, human learning modality.
Children are playful. That’s how they explore the world, that’s how they learn, that’s how they develop, that’s how they grow.
My oldest brother Bill has 3 children under 3, a son and twin girls. We took Bill’s children to the Walt Disney playgrounds over the holidays. My nephew William who is 2 years old is like the Eveready bunny — all he wants to do is play. And play. And play… and like his Mom and Dad, he’s incredibly precocious.
I once heard it said that: “Over seriousness is a warning sign of mediocrity.” This has prompted me to remind myself when I feel stressed or overwhelmed to ask: “Why do Angels fly? Because they take life easy…”
The fourth principle is to embrace relaxed concentration.
I call this relaxed intensity.
I know it sounds like polar opposites and yet If you try too hard, this is what beginning jugglers look like. They have their tongues out and they’re working really hard.
What you want to learn is and remember always: most of the time, less effort is better. Less is more. And it’s the same thing with a new manager. They have little time and they’re rushing from one thing to another, but as they develop, wisdom set in, they learn to delegate and have the right amount of energy in the right place at the right time.
Putting it all together is the fifth principle. This last principle focuses on practicing the art of coaching and leading.
The keys to leading [getting someone to take action] are everything we’ve talked about thus far.
- What a great leader does is create a vision and help the team get a clear picture of what they want to achieve
- The leader gives them accurate, clear feedback on what and how they’re doing
- The leader’s job is to help facilitate that transformation of the fear of mistake making, so that the team embraces the process
- To create an environment of play and to facilitate relaxed concentration
When I was a kid growing up, my parents and my athletic coaches did the best they could to help me develop into a gentleman and productive citizen.
Now that you’re a grown up, who’s responsible for leading and coaching you through life? Well of course it’s YOU. Say these 3 magic words every day: “I am responsible.”
But how about you?
What’s holding you back?
Take these five principles for personal best performance and apply them to learn anything you want to, as well as you can, in the shortest time possible.
Again, you’ve got to take action.
Now leave a comment and tell me how you plan on leveraging these principals!