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The Works

The power of repetition. The power of repetition. And the power of repetition.

Study of noses , no. 3 – Anna Helena Alströmer (1775)

The agony of starting something new

I’ve been doing a lot of teaching and facilitation at the moment, which has been a ton of fun.

I spoke live at ATD, ran a couple of webinars for, was the lead teacher at the Modern Elder Academy for a week, and have been delivering a delightful series for the people who supported The Coaching Habit promotion last month (if that was you, thank you again. If not … you’re missing some killer content I’m afraid. Yes, I’m planting a FOMO seed.)

All that’s come with some lovely praise. Here are a couple of articles breaking down what makes me different and effective when doing a live keynote (here) and an online workshop (here).

None of what I do is natural. A small part is talent. The biggest part is that I’ve been doing this for thirty years.

The way you get good at anything is through repetition

What’s hard about this “duh, I know that already, Michael” insight is that the “1st base” of repetition-for-mastery is being Consciously Incompetent.

In other words, you know you suck.

No one likes to feel that they suck.

People our age (I’m assuming most of you are at least mid-life) especially don’t like to feel like they suck, because they’ve finally got to a place in life where mostly they don’t.

How do you keep going when you suck?

(Not you personally. I mean, when you suck at doing something. <= very important distinction.)

Here are two ways I’ve managed to stick to something to move up this ladder from Consciously Incompetent to Consciously Competent and then to Unconsciously Competent (and then, sometimes, to the level of mastery where I can teach the topic.)

1. Feedback, not failure

This is one of the mantras in The Conspiracy where people are working on their Worthy Goals. If you’re only going to accept winning as the condition for your participation, you play a very small game. “Failure” makes you want to quit. “Feedback” is simply data to help you be smarter next time.

2. Be with other people

When I tried to summit Cotopaxi (aka my Ecuadorian volcano death march) earlier this year, what kept me going was largely being with other people. If I’d been by myself, I’m pretty sure it would have been 5 steps forward … then as many steps as it took to get me back down the mountain. The fact that I was literally tied to someone else made it hard to quit.

The curse of competence

Being good at something is delightful, and sometimes also a trap. We like the short-term chemical brain boost of getting things right, ticking the box, getting the praise. But it can also keep us on a plateau. We become all habit and no growth.

It’s a brave act to embrace incompetence. What’s delightful is that it’s a temporary state.

(We’re not opening the doors to The Conspiracy for another couple of months, but if you’re looking for a place where you can find your people, try things, find what works, and do something that matters—in other words, a place where you can stick with repetition-for-mastery—you can get on the secret advanced-notice list here.)

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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.