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Masters of Habit: The Deliberate Practice and Training of Jerry Rice

Masters of Habit: The Deliberate Practice and Training of Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice is widely considered to be the greatest wide receiver in the history of the National Football League. In addition to winning three Super Bowls, Rice holds nearly every single season and career receiving record available. He is also the NFL’s all-time leader in yards, receptions, and touchdowns.

Many experts say he may be the best football player ever, regardless of position. Basically, Rice was a one-in-a-lifetime talent. Literally, the best of the best.

Geoff Colvin’s popular book, Talent is Overrated, shares an interesting story about Rice’s work ethic and his approach to deliberate practice. As you’ll see, it wasn’t just talent that made Rice successful. We can all learn from this legendary NFL star’s approach and use similar strategies to improve our health, our work, and our lives.

The Training Schedule of Jerry Rice

This short excerpt from Talent is Overrated explains Rice’s typical training schedule.

In team workouts he was famous for his hustle; while many receivers would trot back to the quarterback after catching a pass, Rice would sprint to the end zone after each reception. He would typically continue practicing long after the rest of the team had gone home. Most remarkable were his six-days-a-week off-season workouts, which he conducted entirely on his own. Mornings were devoted to cardiovascular work, running a hilly five-mile trail; he would reportedly run ten forty-meter wind sprints up the steepest part. In the afternoons he did equally strenuous weight training. These workouts became legendary as the most demanding in the league, and other players would sometimes join Rice just to see what it was like. Some of them got sick before the day was over.

It is obvious that Jerry Rice put in an incredible volume of work. This is no surprise. Unwavering consistency is a requirement for achieving excellence. To put it simply, you can’t expect to become great at something without practicing it over and over.

However, it wasn’t just the amount of time Rice spent practicing that made the difference, he used other strategies to master his craft.

Excellence Requires More Than Just Practice

Excellence also requires the right kind of practice. The natural tendency for humans (professional athletes included) is to fall into a routine once we achieve an adequate level of performance.

For example, you might practice a golf swing the same way over and over. Or a professional wide receiver might practice running their routes the same way over and over. In the beginning, this repetition is required to develop skills. As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles (herehere, and here), it’s only by going through a volume of work that beginner’s can hope to reach a level of excellence.

At some point; however, you reach a certain skill level. Simply repeating the same pattern again and again doesn’t foster much additional growth. In fact, this is true at any level of skill. If you practice in the same way you always have, you’ll get the same results you always have.

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Anders Ericsson, the psychologist behind the 10,000 Hour Rule, explained this important caveat saying, “You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal. You have to tweak the system by pushing, allowing for more errors at first as you increase your limits.”

This is where Jerry Rice separated himself from the rest of the pack. He finished college as an All-American wide receiver, but he didn’t let his skills plateau. Even at a high level, Rice found ways to practice deliberately, rather than mindlessly. He pushed the edge of his abilities, rather than repeat old patterns without improvement. In other words, Rice always found ways to become one percent better.

Let’s talk about how Rice decided which areas to focus on improving.

Focus on Your Areas of Greatest Leverage

The classic test for speed in the NFL is the 40-yard dash. Before being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, Rice was reported as running the 40 in 4.7 seconds. For reference, in 2014 there were multiple quarterbacks and even a defensive lineman that posted faster times than that. And yet, it is unlikely that any of these players will have a career half as prolific as that of Jerry Rice.

Compared to other wide receivers, Rice’s mediocre speed could be seen as a weakness. How did he overcome it? By leveraging his greatest strengths. Here’s another quote from Colvin’s Talent is Overrated to further demonstrate the point..

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He designed his practice to work on his specific needs. Rice didn’t need to do everything well, just certain things. He had to run precise patterns; he had to evade the defenders, sometimes two or three, who were assigned to cover him; he had to outjump them to catch the ball and outmuscle them when they tried to strip it away; then he had to outrun tacklers. So he focused his practice work on exactly these requirements. Not being the fastest receiver in the league turned out not to matter. He became famous for the precision of his patterns. His weight training gave him tremendous strength. His trail running gave him control so he could change directions suddenly without signaling his move. The uphill wind sprints gave him explosive acceleration. Most of all, his endurance training — not something that a speed-focused athlete would normally concentrate on — gave him a giant advantage in the fourth quarter, when his opponents were tired and weak, and he seemed as fresh as he was in the first minute. Time and again, that’s when he put the game away. Rice and his coaches understood exactly what he needed in order to be dominant. They focused on these things and not on other goals that might have seemed generally desirable, like speed.

Consider how easy it would have been for Rice to practice in a different way.

Nobody would have questioned Rice if he spent all of his time training to improve his relative weakness (speed) and simply maintaining his other skills. Instead, he focused on mastering his assets — precision, endurance, and strength — to a degree beyond anyone else.

It doesn’t matter what skill you are trying to perfect, finding the areas where your particular skill set provides the greatest leverage and focusing on those areas will reap enormous benefits.

Applying This to Your Life

Jerry Rice was blessed with incredible talent, but it was his work ethic and his commitment to continual improvement that allowed him to transform that talent into one of the greatest careers that the NFL has ever seen.

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For you and me, the skills and circumstances may be very different from that of Jerry Rice, but the principles are the same. If we want to execute in real life and master the skills that are important to us, then we need to:

  1. Put in a volume of work.
  2. Focus on the areas of greatest leverage for your skill.
  3. Find ways to continually improve and move the needle forward rather than falling into routines and patterns once we develop adequate skill levels.

Masters of Habit is a series of mini-biographies on the rituals, routines, and mindsets of great athletes, artists, and leaders.

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Featured photo credit: velo_city via flickr.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you no longer feel that your own needs are being met? Are you wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser[1]. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time, especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while, but I learned the art of saying no. Saying no meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. When that happened, I became a lot happier.

And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying no, you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey, considered one of the most successful women in the world, confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything.

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

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Warren Buffett views “no” as essential to his success. He said:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made “no” a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success, focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no.

From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do, because we think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we are feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

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How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

Deciding to add the word “no” to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about.

But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.

3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially you haven’t done it much in the past, will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that.

If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one.

Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word “no” into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying no is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no will reflect poorly on you?

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Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because of FOMO, even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better[2].

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say No

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say yes because we worry about how others will respond or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose their respect. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying no can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way.

You might disappoint someone initially, but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to. And it will often help others have more respect for you and your boundaries, not less.

4. When the Request Comes in, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say no. There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your “No” with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest[3] to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

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How do you say no? 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

    Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

    Clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

    6. Consider How to Use a Modified No

    If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” as this will give you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

    Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task, but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

    Final Thoughts

    Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

    Use the request as a way to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself.

    Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project, but not by working all weekend. You’ll find yourself much happier.

    More Tips on How to Say No

    Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Science of People: 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You
    [2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Get Over Your FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out
    [3] Cooks Hill Counseling: 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

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