Have you ever used the phrase, “I don’t need to practice this. I perform this in my sleep!” when referring to your performance at work or on the field? Research shows that automation of skills and abilities is actually a precursor to your falling behind the competition.

If you are learning a skill like brushing your teeth, tying your shoes or driving to work, you only need a basic level of proficiency to perform. There is no need to constantly push to become better at skills that rarely require change or improvement. In fact, most people can reach a basic level of expertise in ANY activity with as little as 50 hours of practice. So, if you have been thinking about how to go out and learn a few Billy Joel songs on the piano, you have your incentive.

However, if you are in a domain where the rules change, the competitors fight harder, or the clients make new demands, you cannot afford automation of your abilities. Psychologists Paul Fitts and David Posner found that all of us go through three stages of improvement:

  1. Cognitive: Skills broken into smaller pieces and then brought together again.
  2. Associative: Skills are repeated and errors and inefficiencies are eliminated.
  3. Autonomous: Skills become second nature and can be easily maintained.

While this might sound ideal, it can become a trap. The longer you stay automated, the harder it is to change in the future. Think about how you performed in your job the first year after school. Would you want to repeat that level of expertise for 20 years? If so, you really only have one year of experience repeated 20 times. That makes you an older (and perhaps overpaid?) novice.

Constantly trying to push yourself to be in the cognitive and associative phases of learning is the essence of GRIT. It is what separates the elite from the could-have-beens. If you can perform your job, sport, or hobby in your sleep, it is time to wake up. Listen to this episode of the HighPer 7 podcast to learn more.