Sunday, December 8, 2013

AMAZING Training Pillar #1: Improvement

Never stop improving.


The Japanese call it "kaizen". Visualize a never-ending staircase and this concept may take on greater meaning (or more of a sense of despair!):

From a Christian perspective, St. Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in God." While perfection is never completely attainable, one must continue to pursue it as if it were. We can always love more, help more, listen more, do more, be more. Life constantly throws twists and turns at us that stretch our character. With all of its ups and downs, triumphs and failures, challenges and successes, we can very easily get caught up in our human desires of greed, shame, vengeance, vanity, righteousness, lust, despair, and hopelessness. Even Bl. Pope John Paul II went to confession every day!

We must never stop improving...and there is always room for improvement. No matter the level of excellence, no matter how much compassion fills our hearts, no matter how high we ascend in any single area, there is always room for improvement.

People who are AMAZING understand this idea of the necessity of improvement and embrace it. People who are AMAZING recognize that being complacent with stagnancy is a road to perpetual mediocrity. In fact, the only way to be AMAZING at something is to push beyond the plateau of good enough by focusing on continuous improvement. AMAZINGness is only achieved through constant improvement.

Therefore, it should make sense that IMPROVEMENT is the first and most important of the AMAZING Training Pillars. There can be no AMAZING without improvement. Small, incremental, purposeful steps that enable one to breakthrough good enough into the realm of AMAZING.

The expert in how to become an expert at anything, K. Anders Ericsson, argues that improvement is the key to excellence in any area. Innate ability only plays a small part in excellence. Focused practice, the use of a mentor, heightened awareness and small, incremental steps are the hallmarks of becoming AMAZING at something. Practice is the key component - 10 years worth of practice is necessary to become an expert. But, also important is having a mentor who will push you beyond the stumbling blocks of being "good enough". This mentor can help to design training programs that are incremental in their progressive steps. This person must also supply feedback at each step of the way. Finally, once must move beyond arrested development of doing something with automaticity. One must arrive at a heightened awareness of what is happening in order to be AMAZING.

Follow these four steps, according to Ericsson, and work your tail off and you can be AMAZING.

This concept is incredibly liberating for educators. Scaffold lessons so that information and skills are chunked in progressive sequences and sections. Challenge students to improve on areas in which they struggle instead of just allowing them to enhance their strengths. Provide opportunities for students to practice and then provide them with lots of formative feedback feedback. Embolden them by giving them not only the power of how but also the magic of why - get students to think about their thinking (metacognition) and become aware of the steps of a skill.

Do this and your students can be AMAZING.

This also applies to our walk as Christians. Never stop improving. Fight against the danger of thinking that our good enough is actually good enough. Find a spiritual mentor who can help to challenge you to move past who you are and toward who you need to be. Become aware of and be present to every area of your life. Stop just going through the motions and start to move with purpose. And never stop trying. No matter how hard the fall, no matter how dirty the landing get back up. Today. Tomorrow. Always.

Do this and you can be AMAZING.

Oscar Wilde claims, "The only difference between saints and sinners is that every saint has a past while every sinner has a future."

Never stop improving. Ever.

Do this and you will be AMAZING.