No matter what you want to get better at – no matter what your primary objective is -you should always make your training or practice harder than the real thing actually is. While this definitely can prepare your body for whatever it is you’re about to undertake, it’s really best used as a way to convince your mind that you’re ready. This approach is critical to focus because in order to achieve deep and meaningful focus on anything, you can’t have self-doubt permeating your thoughts. You need to be “in it”; you need to not only know that you’re prepared, but you need to know that you’re the most prepared you can possibly be!
This mentality is pervasive in sports where competitors routinely cite how while their opponents are sleeping, they’re training. While their opponents are training, they’re training harder. While their opponents are training harder, they’re training smarter. They need to out-train, out-think, out-practice, out-sleep, and out-diet their opponents. The important thing is to believe you’re doing this. Because if you don’t, you won’t believe you can win or succeed when it matters.
Imagine yourself getting into a boxing ring or starting a race knowing you didn’t train as hard as your opponent. Or stepping into an important meeting knowing that the person you’re presenting to knows more about the material than you do. You’re starting off with a serious disadvantage where it matters most.
Naturally this is a mindset that isn’t limited to sports or athletic events. It’s just as important in the office, in school, in music, or in any pastime where practice or training is essential to long-term success. Put this thinking to use any time you have an important event that involves preparation of some kind. It’s a critical component of fear management – there’s no way to overcome fear of something without having confidence that you’ve done everything you can to prepare. With research, fear can dissipate and your performance can improve.
Here are some tips for embracing this mentality:
- Bet on quality over quantity. The amount of time you spend practicing or training isn’t going to matter if it isn’t quality time. If you assume that there are only a set number of “training hours” in each week, and that your opponent has the drive and the means to fill all those hours with training, it’s up to you to train differently. You need to make use of each hour such that if your opponent has 3 hours for each hour you have, you’re putting forth the better effort.
- Always have a plan; try not to do anything without practice session goals. This will ensure your practice time is best optimized, and you’ll know each and every time that you’re doing all you can. You’ll know that you didn’t waste any time because it was all prescribed and structured ahead of time. This means spending a decent amount of time upfront plotting out your course of attack – as they say, the worst day to start is today. Give yourself enough time to plan and don’t go 100% until the plan is finished.
- Assume your opponent is more talented than you are. If your opponent is naturally more gifted than you are, this means the thing that will set you apart is the amount of dedicated and focused training you have. It’s wrong-headed to ever assume your natural talents are going to set you apart from someone else; it’s the easiest way to be surprised by someone. If you always feel as if your opponent has better tools available to them, then you have no excuse but to push yourself harder in practice.
- Specialize! If you feel you’ve achieved an adequate level, see if you can break it down to its parts in order to get better at each part individually. An example of this: you can be a good boxer without having a great jab. Specialize by training your jab in isolation before reincorporating it into your repertoire. Or if you’re giving a presentation on something relatively broad, spend time going deep into a specific subject area in order to give yourself the depth others may not have.
- Practice without fear of embarrassment. We know that fear of embarrassment is the #1 deterrent for taking risks. So the best way to overcome this fear is to embarrass yourself constantly during practice. I’ve used this tactic while preparing for big presentations or meetings. Instead of waiting until I’m standing in front of 500 people to say something stupid, I practice what I’m going to say dozens of times until I get it right. Anything embarrassing I would normally say in freeform presentation gets vetoed during my practice session instead of coming out of my mouth when it matters.
- Always train from a position of serious disadvantage. This is one of my favorite tactics for reinforcing preparedness with yourself, and is the basis of the subject of this post. In Krav Maga and other reality-based martial arts, physical conditioning is a natural part of every class because if you can pull off self-defense movements while exhausted, imagine how well you’ll be able to perform when you’re alert and ready. Other ways you can train from a disadvantage: use natural physical limiters like water or weights to simulate difficult conditions, practice your presentation without notes or slides, or try and play an instrument with one hand or with your eyes closed. One of the best ways to train yourself to run faster on flat ground? Train running uphill in the sand 🙂
- No matter how accomplished you are, don’t give up the fight until you quit altogether. It’s natural that if you’ve achieved some level of success, you’re inclined to train less, practice less, and generally slack off. Yet if continued success is important to you, it’s likely that staying on top is actually a lot harder than getting there was. It isn’t time to slow down until you’re ready to do something else with your time.
Do you do more, think more, want more, need more, and have more than your opponent? If you want to set yourself up for success, or at a minimum not feel a twinge of guilt over failure, the best thing you can do for yourself is to train harder than the real thing.