Hector, a handsome three-year-old German Shepherd, was hopping up and down as it was walkies-time! It was drizzling slightly, typical for the start of the late April/early May shower. His guardian, Pam had been at work at day and was looking forward to some nature and fresh air. Once his collar was put on and the front door opened, Hector was off. He knew exactly where to go and more importantly, what to do.
Instead of using the front gate, he veered right aiming for the five foot tall hedge. Behind the hedge was a two foot wide drain. He had been doing this all his life. He gauged his run up and shot off. Elegant like a fallow deer, he leaped in the air. It was breath-taking to watch. Seemingly without effort, he cleared the hedge and the drain behind, landed softly like a gymnast being awarded full points of ten at the Olympics.
Pam watched and recalled the fond memories when he first started doing that when he was 15 months old. He was not that successful then. She remembered the fear she had when he fell into the drain. She thought that may have put him off for good trying to jump the hedge. Nonetheless, he persisted. Day by day, again and again until he made it. And now, it has become an art. Hector does not appear to be bored by it. He has mastered it.
Have you ever wondered what separates the professionals from the amateurs? Is it due to the talent they had? Or perhaps they had better opportunities? Maybe they had a more supportive environment? Have you ever learnt a skill, got to a fairly good level and then tapered off? It could be a variety of factors but there is one thing they all do without fail. They practise often. Repetition is the mother of mastery. They never get complacent. They know that to gain their edge, they needed to push their frontiers, fail often, pivot and try it again. However, when they get good and familiar, they keep doing it, daily, without fail. It may no longer get exciting as they have done it hundreds or even tens of thousands of time and they have gotten it close to perfection. Sometimes they even hit perfection but they continue.
It is the same grind, the same motion, the same concentration, the same effort (though it may lessen with familiarity for some) and the same result. It does not matter. They just keep doing it. It is boring and they continue. That is the key. They continue to do it even when they do not feel excited by it. They do it even if it may appear boring as it is routine. At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over. The difference between an amateur and a professional is that the professional had fallen in love with boredom. And because they had done so, not only have they gain their edge, they maintain their edge by repetition, until it ultimately becomes their identity. It is no longer a skill they have, it is them.
Micheal Jordan, arguably one of the best (if not the best) basketball players that ever walked the planet spend a lot of time practising his free throws. Despite being able to perform his non-human acrobatic feats in the air and pushing boundaries in his entire career, paving the way for others to follow, he also excelled in the most basic single point scoring method of a free throw from the penalty line. His out of range shots earns him three points and his incredible dunks and fade-away shots gain him two points. It would be much cooler to score multiple points like that. However, he still puts the effort in the humble one point from the free throw line, though it is not as exciting. He invests his time simply standing at free throw line and perfecting that single point shot. He has learnt to fall in love with the humble boring free throw and that separates the professionals from the wannabes.
I asked my salsa teacher what does he learn about salsa once as he appeared to have mastered the dance. First of all, he told me that he was far from a master (though watching him dance, you would not think so!) and instead, he said that one of the greatest salsa dancer ever lived provided this answer when asked the same question, “I go back to the basic step and practise that all over again”.
When you learn how to fall in love with boredom and repeat your craft often, something magical happens. Your craft improves not only in the understanding and appreciation, it also takes less effort as you incorporate that into your identity. It may even appear like magic to others when you do it so effortlessly. Only you know that it took a lot of effort to make it look effortless. We all have goals that we would like to achieve and dreams that we would like to fulfil, but it doesn’t matter what you are trying to become better at, if you only do the work that is convenient or exciting, then you will never be consistent enough to achieve remarkable results. Professionals take action even when the mood is not right.
This extends further than just a hobby, your job and your interest. It extends to how you think and feel as well. When you practise something seemingly simple like Gratitude (yes, like a craft, it can and should be practised regularly) often enough, you will be able to draw gratitude in when you most need it. You have to put in the mileage to gain your distance. When you practise patience, impatience no longer bothers you. When you practise being nice, it becomes more natural over time. It may seem boring and weird to be practising ‘patience’ or ‘being nice’ but it does work. What you do often becomes part of you. It is not so much perfecting an external skill but more of shifting who you want to be.
On the flip side, if you are angry or sad most of the time, you will tend to be angry and sad most of the time. Sounds obvious but it is true. Be careful of what you practise daily!
Hector had fallen in love with his routine and mastered clearing the hedge and drain. Are you willing to fall in love with the boredom of crafting your skill to master it and become part of you?
‘The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.’ – James Clear, Atomic Habits