All About You Podcasts

All About You: Master skills by practicing with intent

All About You by Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

When you learn to play guitar, the first simple tunes you “master” will dominate your fret time. During a two-year stint as a guitar teacher several years ago, I had a tough time getting my students to practice scales and other techniques once they learned the basics of a few favorite song riffs.

I acted the same way. The first three hit songs I learned were the mainstay of my playing for weeks. But if I wanted to get better, I had to regularly practice other aspects of guitar work with intention. That same approach applies to any skill.

I’ve written many times that you need to “purposefully practice” to master skills such as listening or handling the burden of a busy schedule. But what does that kind of conscious training entail, and how can you include it in your daily activities? Here are some tips.

Pick something specific. To listen attentively, you need to notice many signals from the person speaking, such as vocal inflections, facial movements, posture and how the speaker’s eyes are reacting.

When I want to improve my listening skills, I’ll choose one aspect of listening – let’s say eye contact – and consciously make sure I give soft (eyes relaxed), steady eye contact. I’ll practice that for perhaps a week. Then, I’ll concentrate on another aspect of listening.

You don’t need to do this all the time with every person you interact with – that would be ridiculous. But, as with practicing a musical instrument, to improve you need to spend time developing your various listening skills.

You can follow this same regimen for your posture, presentations skills and even your emotional reactions to stressful events. If you feel frustrated about something – say, for instance, the way people complain during your safety committee meetings – make a conscious effort to notice how you feel. Purposely take a few slow, deep breaths and calm yourself. You’ve just intentionally practiced an emotional control skill!

With practice and time, your life abilities naturally will improve. Even when I’m not thinking about it, I know my eye contact is better because of my purposeful practicing.

Use “habit tags.” Habit tags are reminders linked to a habit that you’ve already established that remind you to do something new. For example, a few years ago, I taped a small piece of colored paper with the letter “P” on it to my watch. Then, every time I looked at my watch – a habit I already had – I checked my posture. At first, I was surprised at how often I was slouching. But after a bit, this paper habit tag helped me improve my posture. I now consistently stand and sit straighter.

There are all kinds of habit tags you can use that will remind you to practice purposely, such as when you take a shower, drink your morning coffee or pull into your driveway. A visual or physical reminder, such as the paper on my watch, helps ensure you remember to practice the skill you’re working on. There also are all kinds of apps that will remind you to take a few deep breaths, drink water, stretch and even notice how you’re feeling.

Review your improvement. Because it’s often a slow process, you might not realize how much you’ve improved at something you’ve been practicing. By stopping now and again to think about how much better you have become at an ability than when you started, it can encourage you to keep going. Asking others also can be a strong motivator.

I had a habit of speaking too quickly when I got excited about a subject – both on and off stage. When I asked my wife about it recently, she said I had improved significantly in the few years since I first made a conscious effort to slow down when talking. That made me feel good and spurred me to continue working on it.

So, why not pick something to purposely practice for the next few days or weeks? Spend a few conscious moments to hone a technique. Then you’ll be able to grow your life-skill repertoire and play more than a few simple songs.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps companies around the world create more vibrant safety cultures by showing them how to make safety fun. As a professional speaker, author and musician, he also inspires employees to focus better and enlightens safety leaders about ways to increase their influence. To learn more about Richard, visit


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