Practice and Feedback Essential to Success

January 12, 2008
Learn the secret to success for the people who are top in their fields.

Yesterday I learned two things when I went to the Board of Equalization for my sellers permit.

The first thing I learned is that if you give your name to the receptionist and then ask for a key for the restroom, when you return and hand her back the key, you should inquire whether your name has been called. Since there were at least half a dozen people in the waiting area, I assumed the others needed to be called before me. Wrong. Since my case wasn’t as complex as theirs were, all I needed was to get the form approved quickly. Let this be a lesson to you. Always check to see if you missed hearing your name when you walk away from the reception area.

The second thing I learned, and the focus of this blog, came from an article in Psychotherapy Networker, a magazine for therapists I read while I was waiting, unnecessarily as it turned out. The issue’s theme was “Super Shrinks” These are therapists whose clients were “less likely to deteriorate, more likely to stay longer, and twice as likely to achieve a clinically significant change.” According to a thorough study, this is true regardless of the technique they use, a fact I found most interesting because so many schools of psychology claim their methods are the best thing that’s happened to the world of therapy since sliced bread.

In examining why these Super Shrinks seem to do so much better than the average therapist (who may be “proficient” but not particularly outstanding) seems to hinge in large part on the fact that experts—in all fields—focus on how they can improve. On the other hand, the article notes that, “In our work with psychotherapists, we’ve found that average practitioners are far likelier to spend time hypothesizing about failed strategies—believing perhaps that understanding the reasons why an approach didn’t work will lead to better outcomes.” Unfortunately, these non-experts spend less time thinking about strategies that might be more effective.

In other words, for too many therapists (or members of any profession from basketball players to teachers) it is easy to blame the lack of progress on the problem the client has (or in the case of basketball one might blame his teammates and the teacher can blame the parents). That’s why you’ll often hear therapists say that a client didn’t stay in therapy long enough for it to work (“it” being the technique). Lack of progress is blamed on the fact that she’s a borderline, he’s a narcissist, and their marriage had conflicts from the beginning.

On the other hand, going outside the field of therapy, consider what happened when doctors evaluated cystic fibrosis treatment. At one time the life expectancy of a child born with this debilitating disease was two years. Had doctors continued to provide the same treatment on the theory that it was the “illness” that cut lives short, and not their discovery of a better method to treat the illness, they would not have raised the survival rate today to thirty years or more.

What I want to say here is that one of the most interesting things about the article was the fact that experts and superstars in any field have the same commitment to improvement. They don’t look at all the reasons that contribute to why they failed as much as exploring how they can improve. Then they practice, practice, practice.

That is what I plan to do with this blog and all the other writing I do.

Also, I would greatly appreciate it if you would take a few minutes to give me feedback on what you would like me to do differently on the blog and on my websites of and

Thank you, I will take what you say very seriously.