As a kid, I was a competitive figure skater with a stern Russian coach and a training regimen that made CrossFit look like hopscotch. I learned quite a few life lessons from that world of practicing, perfecting and performing at a high level—many of which apply to PR and business.
Once, when I was about nine years old, my coach, Natasha, went out of town for a week. Before she left, she said to my dad (who knows about as much about skating as most of us know about deep-sea diving) that teaching skating was easy. She smiled, insisting he would have no trouble keeping me in line until she returned if he remembered three simple rules.
In essence, she outlined the core values needed to achieve high performance in any activity. Her words—in delightfully incorrect English—stick with me to this day: “Skate fast, jump high and landing everything.”
1. “Skate fast…”
The overload principle—the building block of modern fitness—says that to make a muscle stronger, you have to work it progressively harder. You have to keep pushing your personal limits.
It’s also true from a mental training perspective. If you want to be more productive, you have to… be more productive! Eventually, your brain will acclimate to the new speed like a muscle would to lifting a heavier weight. Then you can increase the “resistance” again.
In media relations, it’s easy to use our reporter relationships or specific industry knowledge as a crutch, rather than building our skills with consistently fresh and larger challenges. New client projects, new media outlets and new communication vehicles can all be catalysts to learning and improving.
The trick is that you have to keep it up. There are only two directions—getting weaker or getting stronger—so we must constantly push ourselves to get to the next place.
2. “…jump high…”
Low expectations lead to low results. We know we can accomplish something we’ve done hundreds of times before. What we don’t know is whether we can overcome the next obstacle. In figure skating, this is a literal leap of faith, but physics tells us that the longer we’re in the air, the better opportunity we have to complete the revolutions.
In the world of communications, and especially media relations, we can never control every part of a process or message. But if we aim high—and do all our homework on the front end—we can ensure that we meet our objectives. To achieve, we have to plan to overachieve.
3. “…and landing everything.”
Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. The number of repetitions for a given task doesn’t matter if the quality and effort isn’t there every time. This doesn’t mean you will land every double axel you attempt. In fact, falling is a critical part of learning. You’ll never succeed if you approach each attempt with doubt.
Tackling each new opportunity with a strategic mindset and working as hard as possible to make it succeed means, whatever the result, you will learn from your mistakes.
Whether it’s perfecting a media pitch, counseling a client to reach outside his/her comfort zone or driving an event to reach new heights, high performance is always a moving target. In the end, that’s the point: The best are the best because they’re constantly working to get better.