The Grand Masters

Success in life comes when we achieve excellence in an area of our lives.  Generally speaking, people who achieve master status only do one thing at the highest level.  Michael Jordan was arguably the greatest basketball player who ever lived, but he was only an average Minor League Baseball player.  It is far better to master one task than to be mediocre at many.

Mastery is a matter of following the leader.  Successful people leave a lot of clues and a clear trail to follow.  In a 2005 study reported in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, it was revealed that, in research of elite chess masters, these top performers spent more than 5,000 hours in what is known as deliberate practice following the moves of other masters.  Average players spent less than 1,000 hours pursuing deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice is the habit of examining each move on a chess board, picking what you feel is the best move, and then studying how other chess masters moved their pieces in the same circumstances.  Deliberate practice may be the most important key to our success.  You’ve probably heard it said that, “Practice makes perfect.”  While this saying has become famous and sounds good, it is simply not true.  In reality, practice makes consistent and, therefore, only perfect practice makes perfect.

Too often, the effort we expend, the studying we undertake, and the training we perform has very little to do with the actual real-world activity we are hoping to master.  Unfortunately, we all want to practice the things we do well while avoiding the boring fundamentals.  My late, great mentor and friend, the legendary Coach John Wooden, told me that all players like to practice slam-dunks and three-point shots when free-throws and defense win championships.

When I began writing these columns more than 20 years ago, I asked the editor of one of the newspapers that was carrying them each week, what he thought was the best way to practice writing my columns.  He told me that the best way to learn to ride a bike, play the violin, or write a weekly column is to simply do it over and over.  Mastery comes when we are mediocre but continue striving.

As you go through your day today, continue to perform that which you wish to master, and you will.

Today’s the day!

Jim Stovall is the president of Narrative Television Network as well as a published author of many books including The Ultimate Gift.  He is also a columnist and motivational speaker.  He may be reached at 5840 South Memorial Drive, Suite 312, Tulsa, OK  74145-9082; by email at; on Twitter at; or on Facebook at

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