Making extraordinary ordinary

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Antrey

I often reflect on my own development, and whether how I anticipated a challenge was later confirmed to be a fair reflection of the actual effort (and sometimes ‘stress’) involved.

Sometimes things turn out easier, sometimes more difficult – either new considerations come to light (not previously anticipated) or the effort required was misjudged. In any case, while it is something one does frequently, it is often difficult to ‘anticipate’ being competent at a specific task (ie, until one has achieved competence). In a way this can be compared to the implications of shopping at a supermarket when one is not hungry.

Being able to anticipate competence (or second best, having a high degree of confidence that you’ll get there without undue stress) can be hugely beneficial. Therefore, I wanted to think a little more how we can turn things that seem extraordinary into being ordinary.

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Commoditization of our abilities often leads to us wanting to develop new skills to continue to enhance our personal brand (eg, work), or simply to interest ourselves (sports/hobbies) – what in the past might have been difficult, becomes easier with practice, giving us more time (hours in the day) and freedom (clarity in our heads) to take on new things.

Therefore, while a new task can be challenging, the key is to make the task routine – it applies to almost everything. The ‘manager’ doesn’t labor over the execution of the activity, but can focus on the review/appraisal.

This isn’t to say that the execution of an activity doesn’t always take some time – of course it does, though there is usually some efficiency gained from repeated practice, which brings some time saving. But far more important than the time saving is the confidence, and peace of mind that one gains – the subconscious ability to know that you’ve ‘got it covered’, without having to ‘labor’ further on a topic.

Take ‘driving a car’ for example – for regular drivers its just something you do: you need to go somewhere, you jump in the car, turn the key, and you’re off, maybe also talking to passengers or listening to the radio; but driving a car is a complex mental exercise, employing many senses and acute awareness of your environment, and most beginners have to focus intensely to avoid accidents.

The beauty of this is that once you can see the parallels, it can reduce all challenging tasks or development requirements to only manageable tasks.

You need to build a new skill for your job? No problem! With the right investment of time and effort, you’ll be ‘doing it in your sleep’ – the expression perhaps coming from the reference to dreaming about the activity, where it has become engrained in your subconscious, without you actively thinking about it (as is often described to en the point of reaching fluency when learning a new language – ie, the point where you dream ‘in the new language’).

This is important, since the fear, awe or trepidation of taking on a new challenge can potentially hold back development. With the above in mind, it will make stepping out of the ‘comfort zone’ easier – indeed, that space outside the comfort zone can become a little more comfortable (or has he comfort zone simply been expanded? – wouldn’t that be a useful skill to have?!).

Other good examples might be presenting / public speaking, or negotiations – bring them to a point where they become ‘ordinary’, no longer ‘extraordinary’, and you’ll find that what might have seemed very challenging becomes in fact quite easy.

Being aware of the above raises a new question – as activities become routine, what do you do with your newfound mental freedom?

In some cases, such as the ‘driving’ example from earlier, there’s not much more you can do – sure, you can now listen to the radio, or chat easier, but the ‘driving’ task still requires a certain amount of concentration and physical presence.

But, for many other tasks it is possible to choose to further develop, either the same skill, or some other skill – this is largely what most corporate organizations are built upon. Sometimes this might be purely focused on speed of execution or quality of delivery (eg, a laborer working on a production lime), but often it allows the person to develop into leadership roles also, not purely focused on execution.

The consequence of turning extraordinary into ‘ordinary’

Extraordinary performance usually earns a ‘premium’ over ordinary performance – the extent of such premium depends on the peer group, and what determines the necessary ‘locality’ of that peer group (for many things globalization, the internet and more connected world means that peer groups are becoming broader). This is true regardless of whether you talk about sporting performance (ranking), hobbies (respect from others, or simply just self achievement), or work (profits).

Therefore, working to make extraordinary ordinary could at first seem to be demotivating (ie, reducing the ‘premium’), other than to say that it then becomes necessary to re-set one’s sights on a new ‘extraordinary’ – ie, it is important to continually raise your expectations, or alternatively seek new variety (eg, for language learning, become more fluent, become a language teacher, learn a new language, or even start something else, a new hobby).

And finally, what if ordinary is sometimes preferred? Well, that’s fine too, but recognize it for what it is (simply relaxation), and actively choose what proportion of your time you want to give to that.

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