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The Quest for Improvement

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Image by David Mark from Pixabay

This week, I have done some coaching practice as part of the Global Team Coaching Institute programme I’m enrolled in, and I’ve been involved in coaching others. Practising with and in front of experienced coaches can be daunting, but it is a great way of testing my learning and gaining feedback which I can then put into practice to improve next time. It’s also great to see improvement in others that are being coached.


With that in mind, I saw this quote from Maya Angelou and it jumped off the screen at me.

"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." Maya Angelou

The quote is pitched with wonderful simplicity, but I believe the power is in the interpretation of the middle section. Do you wait until you know better, or do you actively go and seek new knowledge that will enable you to improve?


I see it as representing a cycle that you intentionally keep working through. It is not simply saying ‘do your best and hope you get better’, but rather ‘do your best then choose to keep improving’. Which leads to the question of how you can ‘know better’:


  • What questions can you ask and of whom?

  • Who and what can you listen to?

  • What books or articles can you read?

  • What videos can you watch?

  • What can you put into practice (and where/when/how)?

  • What data or feedback can you review to learn more?


This can apply to many areas of life. It can relate to knowledge about cultural issues that impact society. For example, the recent debates around the Black Lives Matter movement has shown a need to do the best we can with what we know, but to actively seek to know more – to question, to listen, to know better, to do better. Action on climate change can follow a similar path – as individuals, we can do our best at the basics like recycling in order to help, but we can actively seek to know more so we can make informed buying choices, for example, so we can have a more positive impact.


And that quest for improvement is vital to achieve success when it comes to performance, whether it be in business, sport, the arts or elsewhere in life. You don’t turn up on day one as the best runner, have the best software, rock a guitar solo or provide the best service. It takes effort, failure, learning and practice. It takes an intentional commitment to improving.


Building a habit of setting and achieving new personal bests will keep you moving towards the goal of becoming the best you can be. Crucially, if you have a desire to become the best, it is a habit that will also serve you well when you get there. If you are aiming to catch someone or something, what do you do next when you catch them? If you have built a habit of consistently improving your best, you keep going.


The British swimming superstar, Adam Peaty, is a great example of this. Having won numerous medals and achieved world records at 50m and 100m breaststroke, he was undoubtedly the number one in the world at his events. But rather than being content that he’d done his best and risk the field catching up with him, he wanted to learn how he could improve further and set new records. After winning the Olympic 100m breaststroke title at Rio 2016 in a world record time of 57.13 seconds, he set himself a new challenge: ‘Project 56’ - becoming the first person to swim the 100m breaststroke in less than 57 seconds.


Despite lowering the record to 57.10 seconds at the 2018 European Championships, Peaty suffered the surprise setback of losing in the final of the 50m breaststroke at that year’s Commonwealth Games. After hitting what he described as his deepest low at the end of 2018, he reflected and re-focused. He realised that ‘sport isn’t against anyone else, it’s about what you can do in your head’, and he committed to getting back to pushing his best as far as he could.


In the semi-final of the 2019 World Aquatics Championships, Peaty swam the 100m breaststroke in a time of 56.88 seconds. He achieved ‘Project 56’ en route to winning gold - one of 8 world titles he’s won. The most remarkable statistic is that Peaty broke the 57-second barrier for the 100m breaststroke before anyone else had even managed to go under 58 seconds. He holds the 16 fastest times in history for that event. And he continues to push to do better.

So do your best but keep striving to learn more. As you learn more, use that knowledge to do better. Then keep repeating the cycle.


In your quest to improve, how will you know better, in order to do better?


The Personal Leadership programme gives you the opportunity to reflect and set your goals, guiding you to create a roadmap for success. Our coaching will deepen your discovery and remove the blockers, enabling you to become your brilliant best.

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