May 26, 2017

Routine is the Gateway to Breakthrough Performance

Would you be interested in meeting and learning from a world-class coach? Just imagine having someone come along side of you who could help you improve and refine your skills and raise your performance?

The fastest path to improvement is to use a coach. So to say the least, I was intrigued when a friend offered to introduce me to Mike Wilson. Mike is one of the top golf instructors in the world and keenly focused on helping good players become elite players.

He had my full attention given he has coached some of the best players in the world including Master’s Champion, Mike Weir. Mike knows what world-class performance looks like and how to teach it.

What brought us together was a mutual student. While Mike was coaching Jack the mechanics and process of a world-class golf swing, I was coaching Jack the art and science of elite goal setting and thinking.

Performance Principle

What we discovered was we were both using the same principle to coach very different things. We were applying the power of repeatable routine and process. When a routine evolves from deliberate practice of process and technique it leads to skill and performance improvement.

Every outcome or result we produce ultimately reflects a series of steps or actions—call it a routine. A golf score, a test result, or a quarterly income statement is an aggregation of actions.

The Power of Routine

Have you ever thought about how a reliable and repeatable routine influences skill and performance improvement?

One of the greatest musicians and performers the world has ever known, Ignacy Paderewski said, “If I do not practice one day, I notice it. If I do not practice a second day, the orchestra notices it. If I do not practice a third day, the world notices it.”

Researchers have found that performance can be increased, even by highly experienced individuals, as a result of deliberate efforts to improve.

In his book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, Atul Gawande proves that the simple use of checklist (routine/process) has lead to the reduction of disease and infections, saved lives, improved safety, reduced plane crashes and the list goes on.

Refining Routine

The development of routine and process is a critical principle of performance. Great routine produces great outcomes. Routine and process is discovered through the process of deliberate practice using the expertise of a coach to guide, direct and correct.

Mike Wilson recently asked me how often I thought golfers practiced with the sole objective of developing a repeatable performance oriented routine. If you are a golfer or have watched players on the practice tee, you know the answer is clearly no.

Even with my knowledge and understanding of the power of routine I rarely if ever practiced a consistent routine. The truth is my playing routine and  process on the course was completely random.

So after our conversation, I headed to the range to conduct a test. I wanted to explore how routine and process affects performance improvement. For nearly an hour I methodically thought about my routine prior to and during the execution of a shot. It was hard to slow down and resist the urge to roll another ball over and just hit it. But after an hour, I had the makings of a routine.

Testing The Power of Routine and Process

The next day I made a conscious decision to follow my routine on every shot. I wanted to further test the hypothesis that utilizing a defined and repeatable routine/process would produce a better result. While I am not an elite golfer, my benchmark for comparison was my stroke average over my prior 20 rounds of 76.55.

I began my round fully committed to following my routine and ignoring the result. When we walked off the eighth green one of my playing companion’s said, “Jim, do you realize if you birdie the ninth hole you’ll shoot 29?”

At that moment, my attention shifted from my routine to my results. Hearing the possibility of shooting 29 captured my attention. I hit a terrible tee ball off the ninth tee. I completely failed to follow my routine/process and ultimately made a bogey five on a very easy par four hole.

The Rest of the Story

I regained my focus and birdied the 10th and 12th holes. Sticking to my routine I had three very near miss birdies on the 15th, 16th, and 17th holes. As we made our way to the 18th hole, I verbalized to my playing partner that this could have been a magical round. Those last three putts that hit the edge of the hole could have as easily gone in. And if they had I would be looking at a score of 61 or 62!

As I stepped to the 18th tee, I was thinking about what might have been. I still could shoot 65 or 66, but I did not focus on my process. The tee shot was forgettable and lead to making a six and a final score of 68. Walking off he 18th green I was disappointed with my finishing hole. But, I was encouraged by what I had learned over the course of this test.

Reviewing the round through the singular lens of routine/process, I concluded that I had three significant lapses in the execution of my routine. My failure to execute resulted in adding three to seven shots to my score.

Deliberate Practice and The Power of Routine and Process

Mike Wilson is an expert coach. Even with all I knew about deliberate practice and performance principles I had excused myself from the discipline of execution.

K. Anders Ericsson in, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise writes, “The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts... you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in ‘deliberate’ practice—comfort.”

Every outcome is the result of a process. Process/routine is a defined as a set of steps and actions that can be learned and applied to achieve a specific outcome or result. The fastest path to identifying and refining processes that will help you raise performance is to engage an expert coach.

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