By Eric Barker-Ladders
Want to be more successful? Actually, that’s not ambitious enough — want to be the best?
I do. So I called my friend Daniel Coyle, author of the best books on getting better at anything: The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent.
Dan knows that the “10,000 hour rule” is nice but you need to align your effort with the way your brain was designed to learn.
Hours are vital, but you can get to mastery faster — much faster — by practicing the right way.
So how can you and I do that? Here are 7 steps experts use:
1. Be uncomfortable
You learn best when you’re reaching. “Flow” is great. But flow is not the best way to learn.
You want to be stretched to the edge of your ability. It needs to be hard. That’s how your brain grows.
We learn when we’re in our discomfort zone. When you’re struggling, that’s when you’re getting smarter. The more time you spend there, the faster you learn. It’s better to spend a very, very high quality ten minutes, or even ten seconds, than it is to spend a mediocre hour. You want to practice where you are on the edge of your ability, reaching over and over again, making mistakes, failing, realizing those mistakes and reaching again.
More on the best way for you to practice here.
2. Stop reading. Start doing.
Keep the “Rule of Two-Thirds” in mind. Spend only one third of your time studying.
The other two-thirds of your time you want to be doing the activity. Practicing. Testing yourself.
Get your nose out of that book. Avoid the classroom. Whatever it is you want to be the best at, be doing it.
The closer your practice is to the real thing, the faster you learn.
Our brains evolved to learn by doing things, not by hearing about them. This is one of the reasons that, for a lot of skills, it’s much better to spend about two thirds of your time testing yourself on it rather than absorbing it. There’s a rule of two thirds. If you want to, say, memorize a passage, it’s better to spend 30 percent of your time reading it, and the other 70 percent of your time testing yourself on that knowledge.
More on how to shift from reading to doing here.
3. The sweet spot
You want to be successful 60-80% of the time when training. That’s the sweet spot for improvement.
When learning is too hard, we quit. When it’s too easy . . . well, we quit then, too.
Always be upping the challenge to stay in that 60-80% zone.
You don’t want to be succeeding 40 percent of the time. That’s flailing around. You don’t want to be succeeding 95 percent of the time. That’s too easy. You want to constantly be toggling, adjusting the environment so that you’re succeeding 60 to 80 percent of the time.
More on how to find your sweet spot for learning here.
4. Commit to the long term
Asking someone “How long are you going to be doing this?” was the best predictor of how skilled that person would end up being.
Merely committing to the long haul had huge effects.
The question that ended up being the most predictive of skill was “How long are you going to be doing this?” Commitment was the difference maker. The people who combined commitment with a little bit of practice, their skills went off the charts.
Commit to the long haul. Don’t give up. Even works for mice.
More on how long term commitment can take you to the next level here.
5. Find a role model
Watching the best people work is one of the most powerful things you can do.
It’s motivating, inspiring and it’s how you were built to learn. Study the best to be the best.
When we stare at someone we want to become and we have a really clear idea of where we want to be, it unlocks a tremendous amount of energy. We’re social creatures, and when we get the idea that we want to join some enchanted circle up above us, that is what really lights up motivation. “Look, they did it. I can do it.” It sounds very basic, but spending time staring at the best can be one of the most powerful things you do.
More on finding the best mentor for you here.
6. Naps are steroids for your brain
Napping isn’t for the lazy. It’s one of the habits of the most successful people in any field.
Sleep is essential to learning. Naps are a tool that will make you the best.
Napping is a high performance activity. If you looked into the habits of highly successful people you would see a lot of naps, a lot of recovery. It’s sort of our brains’ janitorial service. It helps us clean out the stuff we don’t want. It also helps us work on ideas while we’re asleep. Top performers use sleep as a tool.
More on how astronauts use sleep to increase performance here.
7. Keep a notebook
Eminem keeps a journal. Peyton Manning keeps a journal.
Top performers track their progress, set goals, reflect and learn from their mistakes.
Most people who are taking an ownership role in their talent development use this magical tool called a notebook. Keep a performance journal. If you want to get better, you need a map, and that journal is that map. You can write down what you did today, what you tried to do, where you made mistakes. It’s a place to reflect. It’s a place to capture information. It’s a place to be able to track your progress. It’s one of the most underused yet powerful tools that I could imagine anybody using.
More on how to use a notebook to be your best here.
If you only remember two words from this . . .
Dan says the two key words are “Reach” and “Stare.”
Reach: Always push yourself to the edge of your ability.
Stare: Look at those better than you and emulate them.
I would say, “Reach. Get out on the edge of your ability. Get into your discomfort zone and reach past that.” And I would say, “Stare. Find somebody you want to be in two years, three years, five years, and stare at that person. See what they’re doing. See exactly what they’re doing, and steal that. Steal from them.”
Sadly, you weren’t born an expert.
But you can become one with practice and time. Start now. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve!