In any craft, the goal is always to progress forward towards an elite level of skill in that particular field. As we improve, however, it gets harder and harder to find new ways to challenge ourselves. The more specialized we become the more we must dive into the details and nuances in order to find new aspects of our game to work on. In doing so, we run the risk of plateauing and nit picking. So how can we preserve that rapid growth that we experienced as a novice, where it felt like every day we learned more than we could wrap our head around? Simple, cross-training. I am sure some of you may have heard of cross-training as is relates to athletics, but this concept is equally applicable in all areas of life. Essentially, you are performing tasks outside of your normal circle that you operate in which will challenge you to grow and develop skills in new and different ways. These new skills are then applied to your craft, allowing for rapid and substantial progress. While this may seem to contradict the notion that an elite level of success requires a singular focus, nothing could be further from the truth. Cross-training is only pulling focus from your craft if you do not go about it with the deliberate intention of connecting it to your life’s work.
As a baseball player, I am constantly experimenting with many forms of cross-training (swimming, yoga, mixed martial arts, dance, musical instruments, you name it). In fact, one of the most overlooked methods of cross-training is school. In school you are essentially learning how to learn in various ways. The approach one uses to solve a problem in Math is not the same method as when one dissects a passage in English. These approaches are tools that you now have at your disposal to be applied to any situation in which you choose to utilize them. The benefits can be reaped on a very superficial level of course; however, the real growth happens when you purposefully make the connection between what you are doing and your craft. The most obvious benefit to this style of learning is that you are continually expanding your mental and physical capabilities. To put it in millennial terms: think of your mind and body as an iPhone. Now imagine that each new arena you dive into in your cross-training is an App. Within each App there are certain functions that are performed. It goes without saying that the more Apps you have downloaded the more your iPhone is capable of doing.
The second component of cross-training that is absolutely pivotal in human development is also perhaps the most overlooked. Namely, the novelty involved. When you continually place yourself in an environment where you know little to nothing, you are always allowing yourself the perspective of a novice (i.e. you place yourself in a position of being open to information). As we progress further towards mastery in our craft, it is absolutely imperative that we retain our ability to be receptive. EVERYTHING is information, EVERYTHING is an opportunity to learn and grow. Furthermore, as we become more elite we tend to forget that messing up is essential to learning. Constantly doing new things is a great way to remember this for one simple reason: YOU ARE GOING TO BE BAD. That’s right, embrace it.
It takes a lot of laps before you start to look more like you’re actually swimming and less like you’re simply not drowning. It takes a lot of slaps to the side of the head to remember you need to keep your hands up when you box. It takes countless times trying a yoga pose or a dance move before your movements to become fluid and articulate instead of choppy and stiff. And it SHOULD. You are unlocking new patterns of movement and thinking within yourself, stretching and working muscles and parts of your brain that you didn’t even know you had. And then—and this is the best part—you get to take all those new muscles and mental faculties and apply them to the skill in which you already excel. The deeper you dive into this, the closer you come to understanding your fullest potential. Constantly explore and bring those experiences back home. Become a Jack-of-All-Trades and a Master of ONE.