March 24 – Consistency and success

“Success is the sum of small efforts – repeated day in and day out.” (Robert Collier)

In sports they are called the fundamentals. In my personal life they are called good habits. At work they are called consistent, repeatable processes. Getting the little things right time after time builds the patterns that drive success.

As a sports fan I know that touchdown passes, home runs and slam dunks are fun to watch. Seeing a last lap pass for a racing win is exciting and draws much attention on highlight shows. But in all cases the team has to have executed consistently and correctly throughout the competition for that big play to matter. All too often a flashy play is shown on TV that looks spectacular, but the team in question ultimately still loses. What leads to championships are things like grinding out the tough yards, fielding all the routine ground balls, sinking free throws, and great pit stops. If those things fail, the team fails as well.

At work, I can put on a flashy presentation, or execute a great last-minute save to keep a project on track during a crunch. But, if I don’t execute the core processes correctly and consistently every day, then the presentation is just fluff, and the save won’t matter. My project and my job performance will still suffer. My annual objectives are based on delivering results that can only be achieved if I am constantly, consistently doing things right.

Having my house and my life in order is no different. To keep things right at home I have to deliver on good habits every day. And to make a change in my life that leads to some new success means that I have to take on new habits that will shape that success one day at a time.

When I was a Scout leader, one of the things that we would work on was First Aid skills. I remember that frequently the boys would complain that we were doing the same things that we had done just a few months earlier. We would do drills and tests on what to do in emergency situations. Many times we would ask the same questions about various scenarios. To the boys it seemed like it was boring, but the purpose was to set them up for success. The idea was to have the emergency procedures so fixed in their minds that they would be able to act without having to stop and think about what steps to take.

When I was about 12 years old, I was at my first Boy Scout Summer Camp. I was working on the Emergency Preparedness Merit Badge. The counselor, another Scout and I were walking along the road talking, when suddenly he pointed to the office building and said that it was on fire, and we needed to get an injured man out of there. The other scout and I sprinted to the building and proceeded to commit a comedy of errors. We worked on assessing whether the injured man had a sprain or a broken leg. We tried to improvise a splint, discussed how best to immobilize him and so on. We completely forgot about the fact that in this scenario the building was burning. Rather than acting out of habit, we were lost in our own heads. We failed that test miserably, and had to repeat the requirement later in the week.

As an adult leader I heard the story of one of my Eagle Scouts and a trip to the lake. At the time of this story he was an adult, and had not attended a Scout meeting in years. After work one day he and some of his friends were out on a boat. They were cruising along on the lake, when a sudden wave hit them as they made a turn. One of the guys on the boat was flipped over the edge and into the water. They stopped immediately and waited for him to surface. When he didn’t, my former scout immediately jumped into the water and swam to the bottom. He didn’t find his friend in the murky water on the first try and had to surface for air. The second time he pushed himself harder, and swam deeper until he was able to grab his friend’s arm. He worked and got his hands up under the victim’s shoulder and pulled him to the surface. With help the victim was pulled into the boat. A few rescue breaths later he was breathing again. After a trip to the doctor he was found to be fine.

When the boat was jarred, he had hit is head before falling overboard, and was unconscious in about 12 feet of water. When I talked to my Scout he told me that he didn’t have time to think about what to do. Because he had practiced over and over again, he reacted on instinct. His quick, correct actions saved the life of a friend.

These two stories underline the importance of doing the little things right. By drilling on, and practicing the right things to do in an emergency, my Scout succeeded where I had failed. Thankfully my failure was in a simulation, while my Scout’s success was in a matter of life or death.

As I start a new week I am going to be aware of my habits both at home and at work. I am going to look for those areas where I could be more consistent on a daily basis and increase my chances at long-term success.

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