This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
My 16 year-old daughter Sophie is a nationally-ranked high school racewalker.
Not a runner.
Not a speedwalker.
And DEFINITELY not a mallwalker.
She is a racewalker, a sport that requires you to keep one foot on the ground at all times, and where one leg must remain straight until the body passes over it.
Just as an FYI, I run a 10-minute mile. I’m 5’ 4”.
Sophie walks a 7:16 mile. And she’s 4’ 11”.
This winter, I took her to her first non-high school track meet at Harvard University. As I took my seat in the arena (I’m a much better sitter than I am a runner), Sophie did a warm-up lap, and then came back to me to share her concerned observations of the pack of 15 competitors:
“Mom, there is an all-American racewalker, a guy who is a whole foot taller than I am, someone who does 50K racewalks for fun, and two people who competed in the last Olympics!”
And even though my protective mama instincts wanted to scoop her up and drive her home before she could get hurt, disappointed, or both, I smiled at her, put my arm around her shoulders, and said, “This is exactly who you need to be competing against to get better.”
She got it. She took it well. And she came in 5th overall, behind the Olympians but ahead of the guy whose legs came up to Sophie’s neck.
Like Sophie, most of us find ourselves in the intersection of wanting to win and wanting to get better. What I have found in my coaching work, my mom work, and my working on myself is that one way to get better is to compete against those in the field who are already better. When we can put our egos aside long enough to care less about being the best so that we can be challenged to become better, we’re investing in our futures rather than maintaining the status quo.
As Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, wrote: “Important achievements require a clear focus, all-out effort, and a bottomless trunk full of strategies. Plus allies in learning.”
Here’s a list of seven strategies to help you get better at anything.
1) Get clear about your “why” in getting better at anything. Are you looking to be able to achieve the same results in less time? Fill a gap on your team? Master it so you can teach or mentor others? Prove a point? Make someone else look bad in comparison? Because someone else thinks you should? Make sure your “why” is one that energizes you rather than enervates you.
One of my clients, Sarah, wanted to become a better public speaker because she had earned a coveted spot in her firm’s Executive Leadership Development Program. She wanted to feel more competent and confident in contributing to the group presentations that would be a part of the program. Her whys? Contribution, confidence and opportunity.
2) Don’t run (or racewalk) away from people who do what you do, but who are currently more seasoned or skilled. Expose yourself to them, observe them, and ask them for guidance. Find out whom they turn to to get better at their craft. Then take the time to reflect on what they’re doing that you can start to do, too.