If You Look Stupid, You're Doing Something Right

"If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”—Epictetus

Daniel Coyle tells the following story in his book titled The Little Book of Talent:

“Teammates of the hockey star Wayne Gretzky would occasionally witness a strange sight: Gretzky falling while he skated through solitary drills on the ice. While the spectacle of the planet’s greatest hockey player toppling over like a grade-schooler might seem surprising, it actually makes perfect sense. As skilled as he was, Gretzky was determined to improve, to push the boundaries of the possible. The only way that happens is to build new connections in the brain—which means reaching, failing, and, yes, looking stupid.”

The choice that Gretzky makes is simple. He can either push the boundaries of his abilities—and look stupid—or stay in his comfort zone and look cool doing it. Gretzky prioritized improvement over looking cool.

It takes guts and conviction to make that choice. Here's a tip if you're struggling with it: redefine what mistakes are. 

“Mistakes are not really mistakes—they are the guideposts you use to get better.” - Daniel Coyle

If you view mistakes in this light, they don’t seem so bad. In fact, they're necessary. Yes, it can be embarrassing to mess up, but it tells you that you’re on the right path. That you’re pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. 

This is why trainers should encourage mistakes. Not mistakes of lack of effort or concentration. But what Coyle calls “productive mistakes.”

These are mistakes that occur when you’re pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. Trying to explode out of the triple threat a little faster than you’re used to or pound the ball a little harder.

So when you’re training, don’t look at mistakes as reasons to be embarrassed. Rather, reinterpret them so that they serve as information for your next step forward.

Besides, everybody isn't looking at you.