I’m a huge football fan, and for those who know me, they know that nothing gets in the way of me watching a good game. As the Super Bowl approaches, I think about individual players and teams' successes. I’m reminded of a simple model that can help us constantly improve as people and professionals: action-reflection-action. I’m convinced that all the greats deploy this in their own ways when preparing for the ever-looming next great challenge.
This is the game planning phase. Whenever you are about to go into your next big game – be it a new job, a high-stakes meeting, a crucial conversation – you should always do your due diligence up front. Whether going through this process alone or with a partner (I highly recommend a mentor, colleague, or friend you know and trust), you should assess the situation and prepare for what is coming.
Be prepared to answer:
- What is my goal and why is this important to me?
- What do I need the outcome to be?
- What could happen that I am not anticipating? How will I respond? What are my blind spots?
- What are the specific criteria that will define success for me?
The big game is over. Depending on the outcome, you are thrilled with the results, drained and defeated, or you may even be confused wondering how you arrived at a tie. Regardless of the results, we should constantly reflect on past experiences. Now it’s time to watch your mental game tape, either alone, or as I’ve recommended, with a trusted resource.
- What worked? What are at least three specific actions I made that moved the needle toward the outcome I wanted, even if I did not achieve my desired result?
- What can I do to be even better next time? We often focus on what went wrong and do not give ourselves enough credit for what went right.
- Where did I drop the ball? Even during our most amazing efforts, we can fumble the ball or run a play for negative yardage. Be honest and look for your slip-ups, so that you can be better prepared to not make the same mistake again.
- What are my lessons learned? Every opportunity we experience is a chance to learn something new if we mine for it. Be intentional of not only looking for insight, but to document them for future reference.
In football, there is a finite beginning and ending to a season. In life, it’s one long slog. We always need to be prepared for the next big game. This is where the final action is: applying your reflections and lessons learned to the next challenge. You prepared for the previous game by studying your opponent. You played the game with your best effort and eventually it ended. You studied your post-game tape. You celebrated your successes. You highlighted your missteps.
You’re now ready to take the field again a little better than you were before.