Have you ever had a fantastic success with a project and yet, when a situation came up and you needed to repeat a similar task you had mediocre results or somehow failed altogether? I dread that feeling, which I call my “broken magic wand” syndrome. Whether it was beginner’s luck, diligent preparation or incredible planetary alignment, sometimes successes are tough to repeat. But there are things you can do to make repeating successful outcomes more likely.
Youth gives a person an edge toward success. When we are young, we have more energy, strength, flexibility, and sometimes don’t require as much sleep and can pull all-nighters to prepare for exams and presentations. Also, the young don’t have as much worldly experience, and experience acts as a double edge sword in terms of success. Not enough experience makes the learning curve steeper, but you also have the benefit of thinking much more creatively—since you don’t even know what the proverbial box is, it’s a lot easier to think outside of it.
So, when we are trying to repeat a success we had in our youth, we have to ask ourselves some questions. Do I need more energy for this project, and where can I healthfully cultivate that? Maybe it’s getting a much better night’s sleep. Look into what medications or foods in your diet that might be contributing to poor sleep.
For projects that are physical, do you need more strength or flexibility? How can you develop your body to better complete the task? Sometimes we have to take another path altogether and hire someone to do a physical chore for us. I had some great successes when I was younger refinishing furniture, but now it’s a much more daunting and time-consuming activity. Hiring someone to help can give you the same success in a different way. Or, maybe you allow yourself a lot more time for the project than you would have in your 20s and get to a successful outcome that way.
If you find yourself indulging in some negative self-talk about a project, back up and pretend you have never encountered a similar project before. Would you be excited and have a more creative, optimistic approach? Can you find your way into what Zen masters call, “beginner’s mind”?
When we are excited about a project, it is natural to rush in and get going. But in order to repeat success (and avoid repeating failures) it is really helpful to create a record of our steps. The data doesn’t lie. For diets and exercise programs, for example, apps to record food intake and activities are very useful so that we can look back and see what behaviors lead to success and which ones aren’t working so well.
Successful public speaking and presentations take a lot of preparation for most people. I read once that for every hour presentation there should be 30 hours of preparation and practice. That is daunting, but I followed that rule for a presentation I gave in my late 20s and the success I had with it made it worth every minute of prep. Still, even knowing that copious preparation works, it is darn difficult to commit to that much time. This is where you might want to fool yourself about the time commitment by breaking it down into a bunch of different, less time consuming, tasks.
Maybe the research and review of materials is a five-hour commitment. Maybe practicing out loud is a 30 to 60-minute commitment each day for the ten days prior to the presentation. Maybe putting together the power point is another four hours over a couple of days. Visiting the site and getting comfortable with any technical issues that might come up is very important to the success of a presentation and could take one or more hours. Planning what to wear is another hour, and so on. Pretty soon you have put in the 30 hours you were sure would be impossible and are on the way to giving a stellar presentation.
Visualizing the outcome I want and the steps I need to take to get there has always been part of my most successful projects. Start with the desired outcome and work backward to determine what action steps are needed and how much time getting to that outcome is going to really take.
Not giving projects enough time and attention is usually the reason we don’t succeed as well the second or third time around. Familiarity is helpful for sure, but it’s the thrill of the new that can give you that extra fairy dust that makes a project outcome shine more brightly. A balance of reviewing what you did successfully the first time (or what to avoid), then mentally wiping the slate clean to see if there’s any fresh magic you can inject into it, will not only make you more confident but will make the process much more enjoyable.