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do the work: be the prize

Late last year I came across this story:

"In March I admitted myself to rehab after years of amphetamine and other drug abuse. While there, I received this simple card from my grandpa. I hung it on my wall and repeated it to myself every morning. It reads "Do the work, be the prize." Since my discharge I independantly completed four semester-long courses in the span of a month to graduate high school by the skin of my teeth. I then made the decision to have an important operation done on my foot that I had been avoiding for years, and I've been recovering in a cast for two months. I start physical therapy in a week. This letter couldn't be more relevant to my life than it is right now."

I don't know the writer who shared this story nor the grandfather who shared his wisdom. What I do know is that this six-word sentence is simply profound.

Whether our goal is to overcome addiction, improve our health, attain an education, be a better father, travel the world, master the piano or hit our sales targets these six words matter! Nothing comes for free. We must "Do the work". But what does "Do the work" mean?

Deliberate Practice

Professor K. Anders Ericsson argues that to master something (or in the case of addiction how well an individual overcomes it) one must undertake action through 'deliberate practice'.

Ericsson argues that how expert one becomes at a skill has more to do with how one practices than with merely performing a skill a large number of times. The 'deliberate practice' approach requires each skill to be segmented into it's most basic-form with the individual then focusing on improving those skill chunks. Progress is coupled with immediate coaching feedback. As the individual masters each basic-form skill a more challenging level is introduced with the intention of mastering it.

Think of taking up a musical instrument, or driving a car, of playing tennis or understanding mathematics. Think of giving up alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, cocaine or any other drug. Achieving these are our "Prize" and both the 'taking up' and the 'giving up' require new learning and work. Both require our brains to be re-wired and alternate neural pathways to be formed. This can only be achieved through 'doing the work'.

The 'deliberate practice' in learning the piano consists of mastering the playing of each individual note, then scale, then chord and so on. The 'deliberate practice' in overcoming addiction is to make it through each hour, then half-day, then day, then week and so on. None of this is easy ... it is about actually 'doing the work'.

Malcolm Fraser once said: "Life was not meant to be easy." And he was right. Life can not and should not be easy all of the time - but a Life of 'doing the work' also allows us to partake of what Bertrand Russell described as the joys of idleness - to reflect and "Be the Prize".

Our task then is to determine what it is we wish to achieve; to understand at a very detailed level each & every step and basic-form skill required; to master each of these through diligent and deliberate practice; to receive coaching, feedback and support with positive intent; to adjust and recalibrate our practice; and to keep taking the small, ever-more challenging steps in pursuit of our goal.

Do the work: Be the Prize.

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