Personal improvement and development – with focus!

Passion and hard work will only get you so far…what next?

Development isn’t magic, however it does require a number of things. ‘Grit’, a current bestseller by Angela Duckworth, reiterates the messages regarding personal improvement already delivered by numerous others, including the terrific book ‘Bounce’ from Matthew Syed.

If you want to improve you need to repeat four things

  • Deliberate practise – a clear, specific focus
  • Concentrated effort on that specific area, task or approach
  • Feedback – a way of judging how you are doing
  • Refinement and adaptation

I’m no runner but I take part in the marvellous UK initiative parkrun, which provides free 5k runs every Saturday For a while I kept doing the same time – I couldn’t beat my time. Each week I would work really hard to be quicker and get the same time within a second or two – which at my pace is not a big difference! If I keep doing the same thing, I get the same time – not a great revelation but that in effect was what I was doing.


If I break down my time for each kilometer I realise that I go slower between 3-4k. Once I’ve hit the 3k marker I decide to concentrate on controlling my breathing, lengthening my stride, increasing my pace and consciously monitoring that. That provides a clearly defined focus during a wider event. I can then check my time afterwards between the 3-4 markers getting the feedback I need and refine my approach for next time. That allows me to improve and keeps a clear focus on the next area of improvement. If I set myself the goal of just ‘running faster’ I’d probably replicate the time I did before. This gives me the focus.

Clear focus

Having that clear focus is often what people are missing. In the business world people concentrate on ‘Being a better coach’, but don’t break that down and be more specific with a clear focus like ‘listening more to my team and checking my understanding before giving my view’, or ‘asking questions rather than immediately giving suggestions’.

Incidental learning

From this sprang a further realisation, that this happens to me in other scenarios. I realise I can lose my focus in meetings, in non-coaching conversations, during big projects, often after a promising start and before the big effort at the end. A useful realisation. How do I deal with that tendency elsewhere? What drives it? What can I do? These are all further questions to explore, at another time.


Know what you want, be very clear about what you need to practise, be focused when you do that, assess in some way how you did, then refine. Then stick with it – and keep on track. Persevere. Build a habit and know how you’ll keep improving when you feel like giving up.

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