Improvement Comes From What You Do Rather Than How Much You Do
In 2007, fast bowler Ishant Sharma burst on the scene. He tormented the Australian batsmen on their home turf and got touted as the next big thing in Indian cricket.
Over the next decade, all that promise vanished. From 2007 to 2017, Ishant picked up 216 wickets at a poor average of 73 runs per wicket, earning him unpleasant nicknames like “workhorse” and “Unlucky Ishant.”
But from 2018 to 2021, he picked up 85 wickets at an average of just 46 and turned into a match-winner. What led to this change?
The pivotal moment in Ishant’s revival came when he played county cricket in England in 2018.
Until then, coaches and seniors told him to pitch the ball up to the batsmen and try and bowl faster. That strategy clearly didn’t work.
But when he played for Sussex, team coach Jason Gillespie gave him a better solution.
“Gillespie told me that in order to increase the pace in fuller deliveries, you don’t just release it but hit the deck so that it should target the knee roll.”
The coach also helped him change his training methods. Earlier, Ishant would put cones on good length spots and try to hit them while practicing at the nets. That’s okay for a youngster trying to get his length right. But Ishant needed to focus more on where the ball was finishing than where it was pitching.
This tweak turned him into a match-winner and the leader of the Indian pace bowling attack. He taught this technique to all the fast bowlers on the team.
As a result, the bowling unit, which had historically been the Indian Cricket Team’s Achilles’ Heel, turned into its biggest strength, helping the team win Test matches in Australia, England, South Africa, and other places that were earlier impossible to breach.
Real Improvement is Qualitative
When we hit a plateau, the common belief is to do more of what we’re already doing.
If a man is not losing weight, he starts exercising for more days each week.
If a writer’s work isn’t getting engagement or traction, she increases the number of words she writes daily.
If a salesperson is not able to sell products, he starts making more rounds to the same prospects.
But as the saying goes, insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. The key to improvement is not in doing more of the same thing, but in doing things differently.
In an excellent research paper, Daniel F. Chambliss showed this distinction by differentiating between how the lowest-ranked (“C”) swimmers and highest-ranked (“AAAA”) swimmers practiced.
“C” swimmers tried to improve by increasing their training time, moving their arms faster, or increasing their “psyching up” rituals. In other words, they did more of the same thing.
Meanwhile, “AAAA” swimmers carefully channeled their energies into how they moved their hands, how they dived into the water, whom they practiced with, and other qualitative aspects.
How to make qualitative changes to improve your life?
“Make many small investments before a few big bets.” — Naval Ravikant
What Naval means is that it’s better to make plenty of small bets while working on something rather than mindlessly investing 10,000 hours on it.
Each time, check whether your bet has paid off. If it has, do more of it. If it hasn’t, tweak it. You’ll either succeed, or you’ll learn; either way, you’ll make progress.
The person who wants to lose weight will be better off checking his exercise’s form, being conscious about his diet (more protein, less fat & sugars), and training in short, intense bursts.
The aspiring writer can dissect the writing of successful authors, work on one aspect of her writing each week, and join a community of writers who are already doing what she wants to.
The salesperson can work on his sales pitch, look for a list of prospects he hasn’t reached out to before, and probably shadow a successful salesman to identify his own mistakes.
How can you make qualitative changes to any goal you’re pursuing? There’s no black-and-white answer, but here’s a four-step process that will definitely help.
Visualize: What do you want to achieve? Which actions will help you get there? How should you go about these actions? Asking such questions will let you chart out a direction to follow.
Observe: Stick to a task you choose for two weeks—enough time to let you collect data that will let you take a rational decision. Jot down your observations each day, look for patterns, and scribble ideas you might want to test.
Reflect: After two weeks, take an hour to go through your findings. Did the task produce positive outcomes? Are those outcomes moving you in the direction you want to go in? How do you feel while doing the task (do you enjoy it or feel bored)? These answers will give you further clarity on what you enjoy and what you don’t.
Discipline: Have enough discipline to repeat the Visualize—Observe—Reflect cycle. For instance, I could have a ton of ideas to write about. But if I don’t have the discipline to sit down and write, I won’t complete any article.
Every system is designed to get the results it gets. Working harder on a system that doesn’t work, won’t get you what you want. To get the results you want, change your actions.
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