In anything I do, I want to do it well. Not just well, but excellent. Outstanding. And so I constantly analyze my performance and look for the places where I can improve. The places where I didn’t quite measure up.
I do this in the gym, on the yoga mat, at flying trapeze class and in trampoline class. I critique my own performance after a comedy set, or after delivering a talk or workshop. I evaluate myself after coaching calls with clients and dinners with friends. The question of “how can I make it better?” is also infused in my daily review.
Life is patterns. If you do something in one context, it’s likely you do it in multiple contexts. Everywhere I go, everything I do, everything I see, is through a filter of “how can I make it better?”
The Benefits of Constant Improvement
Laws of evolution tell us that we don’t stick with anything that doesn’t serve us.
This is a practice that can be helpful. The people who are the greatest at what they do engage in rituals of self-evaluation. Our culture endorses and encourages this type of reflection.
There is always room for improvement. Even those who are masters of their craft still practice. That’s what mastery is about. Mastery doesn’t mean you know everything. It means you never stop learning and practicing.
My skill for identifying the problem or weakness is so well-honed that I’ve put it to use for others. When something isn’t working, people come to me to identify the place they need to shore up. My eye goes right to what needs to be fixed.
The Harm in Seeking Improvement
But as much as it serves to help myself and others improve, the focus on “how can I make it better?” and “what’s wrong here?” also is harmful.
The problem comes when the places for improvement are all that you see. Or when your vision distorts so that you see these places in sharper focus than what you’re doing well.
When we over analyze and over critique something, we take the life out of it. This is how we defeat ourselves and kill our passions and our progress.
Over the years I’ve learned how to lead with what’s good and right, even when people come to me specifically for my eye on what to fix.
With myself, it’s a little harder. Although my daily review focuses me on my wins, my self-talk in the moment is usually far more harsh.
The challenge with self-talk is that typically nobody can hear what you’re saying to yourself and call you out on it.
Even if they can, few do, because we have a stubborn cultural belief that harsh critiques and ultimatums are what propel action.
My personal belief here lingers even though I know in my higher wisdom that this isn’t true (and studies corroborate this). It’s a perfect example of how we are not the rational beings we believe ourselves to be.
My experience has taught me that being overly critical only reinforces a false narrative that I am incompetent, which undermines my confidence.
Not exactly a recipe for improvement.
Towing the Line: Build From Strength
The pursuit of excellence does not require harsh criticism. We can go further by acknowledging what we are doing well, so we can build from a place of strength.
This doesn’t mean we can’t look at places for improvement. When we do look at what could be better, we should look not from a place of criticism, but from a place of compassionate curiosity.