Following Instructions

How good are you at following instructions?
Image by Santi Vedri via

Did you ever take one of those tests in school that started “Write your name at the top and then read through the entire test before answering the first question”? It’s really a test of your willingness to follow directions – the last line in it says something like “Put down your pencil without marking any of the answers on the paper and wait quietly until the teacher collects your paper”. There’s usually a good number of people who don’t pay attention to this first instruction who are then chagrined to realize that their haste to answer all of the questions has backfired. And as an adult, I bet there’s been a time when you ever tried to assemble something complicated without reading the instructions first. I’m occasionally guilty of that and a few of those times I really regretted my arrogance when I had to start all over.

A favorite saying of my instructor, Joe Manley, is “Be the very best at following instructions.” One story I remember vividly that he tells is related to a technique that was being taught by Dr. Gyi. In class, everyone was told to move “half a step” as part of delivering the technique. It wasn’t working very well for him, and so after class he spent time reviewing all of the instructions and measuring exactly how much his foot moved and whether it was “half a step”. Once he could reliably move “half a step”, the technique worked.

photo by N, on

Following instructions requires active listening to identify any areas of ambiguity. Are you following exactly what is said, or are you glossing over something? Do you know what all of the techniques or movements are that are being described in the instructions? And have you practiced enough to do them? Like reading a treasure map, if you don’t understand everything there, you’ll spend a lot of work but won’t reach the results you were expecting. This is the time to ask questions and to let your instructor know that you need additional guidance. It’s so much better to own your lack of clarity than to have it pointed out!

Be the best at following instructions. Do this, and you will find your skill level will multiply.

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