I've never been good at ping-pong. At Boxee, we had a table in one of our conference rooms. I lost frequently to various members of the team. My biggest highlights usually came from creating new rules that helped me win (IE - shots off the overhead light fixture meant players swapped scores). It gave me a ray of hope against people in the office who played like Olympians.
One day, my co-worker Nick and I were playing ping-pong and I was struggling. He stopped and told me, "If you want to get better, pick one thing to focus on each game and just work on that." Some games it was my forehand, others my backhand, others were all about spin. Soon enough, I started feeling more comfortable playing ping-pong. I wasn't winning, but the challenge was not to win, it was simply to get better. And that made it more enjoyable.
In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi book Flow, he investigates the mindset that high performers achieve when they are doing their best. Flow feels fulfilling and energizing. He breaks "Flow" down into several common characteristics:
- Clear goals / progress markers
- Clear and immediate feedback
- A balance between perceived challenges and perceived skills
Flow helped me realize that beating Nick at that moment was too big a challenge for my perceived skills. Being the good coach that he is, Nick re-balanced the scales a bit, and gave me a challenge that matched my skill level. After that ping-pong became fun again.
I match the challenge to my skills all the time now. In most cases, I'm increasing the challenge of a task I've done hundreds of times. In others, I'm breaking down a huge challenge (changing careers) into smaller parts that match my skillset.
I've written hundreds of thousands of emails, but can I write this one as succinctly as possible? I've been in thousands of meetings, but can I accomplish what I need to do quickly AND have everyone leave with a smile on their face? I've read hundreds of books, but can I skim this one and get what I need out of it? You get the idea. . .
So if a task bores you, raise the challenge and see how different it feels.