Obsession. It sounds like a scary word, but I know it to be one of the great separators. When you are obsessed with the right things, you separate yourself above the rest of the pack in terms of health, happiness, and success. When you are obsessed with the wrong things, you guarantee your spot on the side of underperformance and discontentment.
Obsession for perfection is much more common, but, despite what you may think, it will not lead to greatness. Perfectionism is something I see quite often, and while it can be somewhat effective at the lower levels of competition, it has serious consequences against high-level success. At the lower, more novice levels of performance, high achievers receive lots of positive feedback, which minimizes the negative impact perfectionism has on self-confidence. As an individual moves up the ladder of success, the availability for positive feedback is dramatically reduced, causing the perfectionist mentality to erode self-worth and performance. It is at the highest level of competition and achievement where perfectionism actually becomes 100% counter-productive. You will not achieve greatness with a perfectionist mentality.
Obsession for improvement, on the other hand, leads to true progress while still maintaining the self-confidence necessary for continued and sustained success, even in the face of tough times. When a person can shift from an obsession for perfection to an obsession for improvement, the gap between good and great becomes more traversable.
So how do you do this?
To effectively focus on improvement, you must respect something called channel capacity. Channel capacity is the brain’s bandwidth—there is a certain amount of information that the brain can effectively take in and work with, and one is the magic number when it comes to improvement. A person should never try to learn or improve more than one thing at a time.
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Unfortunately, these days I have found there is a complete dishonoring of channel capacity. People are trying to learn or improve everything, all the way, all the time. This is perfectionism, and it’s a complete recipe for inconsistency. Sure, you might make some short-term gains, but those gains will be short lived if you are overloading your channel capacity. This is why so many people ride the “roller coaster of success.” They improve and experience an increase in results only to have fallen back down into the valley of underperforming a month later.
A helpful technique I learned from a good friend of mine, Tom Bartow, is the Chop and Ask technique:
Chop and Ask
1. Chop: Break whatever you are trying to improve into more manageable parts. If you are trying to lose weight, break it down into smaller, more manageable parts. For example, there might be a nutrition component and an exercise component. If you are trying to get ahead at work, break it down into the day-to-day components and the forward-thinking components. If you are trying to elevate your team, break it down into the productivity components and the team dynamics components.
2. Ask: Once you chop the big improvement down to smaller gains, then force yourself to answer the question, “What is one small improvement?” For example, you might start by doing one thing each day to tackle the exercise component by setting the alarm 10 minutes earlier to spend time on the treadmill. Or work on improving your day-to-day productivity at work by putting off checking your email until after you have completed your one most important task for the day. Making small steps of improvement builds confidence and momentum and allows for building a consistent habit of growth.
The key is to limit yourself to implementing one change at a time. Once you have been successful at implementing the new change with 90% consistency for one month, then you can add another. If, at any point, adding a new behavior comprises the ones that have already been established, take it off the table. Force yourself to be okay with doing less because, I promise you, you will actually be doing much more.
Remember, its not about how much you can do in any one given day, it’s how often you can do it daily. Be relentless about respecting channel capacity and staying focused on improvement rather than perfection, and you’ll put yourself on the right path for success.