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When you are working on something difficult, do you keep doing it wrong? Does this leave you frustrated and ashamed?

Such an emotional storm surrounding your learning process makes progress even more difficult than it needs to be.

Make progress much easier by replacing judgment with a continual improvement mindset.

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Here is an experiment I invite you to apply in some situation of your life today. Leave a comment below or send me your observation if you care to share.

In your daily life there are some roles, activities, or situations where you would normally judge yourself or someone else in terms of ‘correct/incorrect’, ‘right/wrong’, ‘acceptable/not’. These often come up in health care, sports, work situations, and in parenting, among others.

Rather than using terms of judgment try these questions instead:

Did I (or he) do it better than last time?

Then take notice (make a mental list!) of specific details of improvement or lack of improvement. In what specific ways was it better? Or in what specific ways was it worse?

Then consider what specific adjustment (a focal point) to recommend (to yourself or this other person) in order to make it better the next time. If this person were to make an improvement on one small detail next time, what should it be?

1412 improvement mindset

Describe the Perfection you are aiming for. Acknowledge where you started from and how far there is yet to go. Then focus in on one step before, and the next step in front to determine what can be done better right now.

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In the heat of the moment, making a quick, blanket judgment of ‘right/wrong’ over the whole situation is expedient for the judge but not often useful for helping yourself or someone else actually get better at something.

This is not to say that the standard of correct/right is rejected. Defining what is correct/right is essential to helping us know what to aim for. But in this moment right now, we need a practical step to take us in that direction, not a magical leap to Perfection. [Note: this could easily be inserted into a life/death situation – this mindset is an absolute key to survival too – check out Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzales).

So consider, even if you’ve never been good at this particular activity, it is not likely you’ll wake up one day and find yourself suddenly arrived at this perfection. Children develop from infant to adult with a bit of work each day. So should you in this other area of life skill. The difference is, children will develop by genetic decree and the demands of their environment, while you must initiate and nurture your development in these adult situations willfully and mindfully.

If you’ve performed better in the past but this latest experience was a disaster, slow down, review the situation, and find the fundamental mistakes. Pick one detail to work on (create a focal point for it), and next time let it be your goal to make it better then than last time, rather than compare to where you once were under totally different circumstances.

Or, if you’ve faced a massive setback in ability or health – rather than dwell on all that you’ve lost (you may need to grieve, but then accept it an move forward ASAP), consider what can you do right now to make the next moment better than the one that just passed. Get up and get back to living in the present. This is what is means to live courageously.

The next challenge: How can you slow yourself down enough in that common daily situation where you can apply this mindset of improvement and problem-solving rather than live and work under a blanket of judgment, shame and regret?

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We drill this over and over in our Total Immersion Kaizen practice in the water. It is a great tool for removing the stressful emotional storm from our development in the complex art of swimming. Just consider how liberating and empowering this same approach could be in other, even more complicated areas of our lives.

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