The invisible, hard skill that one must adopt

“Why the hardest habit? Why not any other habit?” I asked the host who invited me to speak to a classroom of young adults. I had been asked to speak on one Habit for Thinking to young adults. My host told me, ‘‘hardest because that word makes young adults sit up and pay attention.’’

In a world where NFTs and Beeple are taking birth, crypto currency and block chain is as cryptic as possible, it makes sense that attention is more towards what is hard and tough to follow. Challenges excite people. I get that. What I don’t get is how the simplest, blink and miss habit is actually the hardest habit for anyone to adopt. 

As I began the talk, I invited some of the fastest typists in the room. Most programmers and coders actually know what their typing speed is. Out of the four that came in the front and took up this typing challenge on their keyboards, one was marginally faster than the other three. There were just a few words of separation in their typing speed. It is hard for me to tell my typing speed but I knew they were very fast. Each one has his own unique style of placing fingers on the keyboard, especially on the numbers. Do you know if you use your little finger on the keyboard and if you follow a precise finger position on the keyboard, it will increase your typing speed? Most of these young adults gaped at some of their incorrect finger positions. As a practice for a few minutes, they struggled to get their little fingers active on number 1 key. This struggle made me deliver the message. The hardest thing to do is to IMPROVE a habit.  

This week in Habits for Thinking, the attention is not on a new skill or a habit, the attention is on how to “Improve” any habit or a skill. Typing is easy and mandatory. All of us have to do, what is hard is to get the right positions of the fingers, especially if you are in the business of delivering faster notes. Don’t even look at me. When I type, I cross barriers. Often my right hand trespasses on the left side of the keyboard. I admit, I have never worked on this typing habit to improve the speed in the correct manner. Almost anything that we do has a scope of improvement, yet we do not look at improving the habits that are mundane. 

There are reasons why I insist that IMPROVE is the hardest skill to follow. The reasons are rooted in our upbringing: 

  1. Improvement is a skill that is not a job of our own. All of our lives, since school days, we have been trained to depend on others to guide us on how to improve, where to improve. It starts with improving your handwriting in schools, where teachers give commands. Improvement has fallen upon us as instructions. It is not our own, it is a rented ownership from our instructors
  1. Improvement is a job that you pay for to get access to, like a coach’s job. You want to get better in tennis, you hire a coach. You pay him to get you to a better position. You have injured your leg. You want to heal and improve your mobility and you get a physiotherapist. He becomes the caretaker of your improvement responsibility. Like we live with the feeling that improvement is not our own task, we do not feel fully responsible about our own improvement.
  1. Improvement is the invisible thin line. You don’t see it. You miss the line most of the time. Like the young adults in the classroom, fast typists, but unaware that they can become faster by using their little finger too. Similarly, many habits take so much space in our lives that we do not feel the need to question its efficiency and thus do not give attention to improvement. 
  1. Improvement is not a challenge unless given attention to. And human minds, not just young adults largely pay attention to challenges. Improvement doesn’t come as a necessity as it lets you carry the habit in the same manner, days after days, years after years. There is nothing wrong with the habit, like typing speed and you can continue in the same manner without improving it. But some habits like your fitness regime or food habits, if not improved gradually, will show signs of decline. And, this decline brings attention to improving that habit. 

All these makes ‘Improve’ the hardest idea to nurture. Rented ownership, caretaker’s responsibility, invisible line, unassuming, unchallenging characteristics makes it hard to be in the focus. 

Improving is a skill. It is not a habit. It is a skill that starts with the intent to improve a habit. One has to observe the habit, analyse, find areas of improvement and work on improvement with a goal in their vision. 

Roger Federer, the champion, maintains his statement that there is always a room for improvement. Simone Biles, Michael Phleps, Djokovic, Nadal, Abhinav Bindra, Mary Kom and so many star studded sports personalities have maintained one goal after their podium finish, to improve for the next match. In sports, not only top performers, but everyone in competitive sports adopts the skill to improve. Improvement takes time. A top level swimmer takes months and years to cut her timing by microseconds.  

Improvement brings efficiency and growth. It is a positive trait to keep as a company. Improvement can be brought in at various stages: 

Improve: a personal habit.

The first step to any improvement is to observe and analyse the habit. Analysis throws up areas of improvement. Like, you want to work on improving your sleeping habit. You observe your pre and post sleeping behaviour for a few days. It will give you areas or activities that you can work upon to improve your sleeping pattern.

Improve: a work process.

Many activities in work life are actually habits. Like a weekly meeting, making a to-do list. Some of these habits when improved not only increase efficiency but also bring in growth. 

Improve work productivity:

Toyota production system is the production philosophy designed by Toyota and now implemented by many worldwide companies. The philosophy is based on principles of Kaizen. Kaizen comes from two Japanese words: Kai (improvement) and Zen (good), which translates to “continuous improvement.” The Kaizen philosophy states that our way of life – be it our working life, our social life, our home life – deserves to be constantly improved. Kaizen is about achieving improvements by taking small steps instead of big, rigorous changes. Although improvements under Kaizen are small and incremental, the process brings about dramatic results over time. This philosophy helps to ensure maximum quality, the elimination of waste, and improvements in efficiency, both in terms of equipment and work procedures. Within the Toyota Production System, Kaizen humanises the workplace, empowering individual members to identify areas for improvement and suggest practical solutions. 

Kaizen philosophy has been adopted by many workplaces to improve efficiency. Startups launch products as prototypes, not the final product but work-in-progress products, that are improved upon through continuous customer feedback.

Improvement not just brings efficiency, it is a growth tool. In pockets of life like sports and healthcare, improvement takes a centrestage. In personal life, improvement is not seen as a skill but when given due attention it brings results in a magnificent way. Sleeping habits can be improved, typing speed can be improved by simply placing fingers on appropriate keys, an entire production unit can be improved through Kaizen philosophy, work culture can be improved. All we need to do is to own the onus of improvement. 

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