When I trained as an orthopaedic surgeon the first time I performed an operation solo, my boss had to scrub in to help me out.
Not my finest moment. But, with practice, I went on to perform hundreds of operations by myself.
With the right framework, anything can be mastered, no matter how complex.
No matter what the skill is, everyone starts out with 0 experience.
The best athletes in the world struggle to begin with.
Michael Jordan sucked when he started.
Nobody is born a master.
I spent hours reading, observing and assisting in operations until I was competent enough to perform under guidance let alone by myself.
But hard work isn't enough.
It wasn't until I worked smarter, not harder that my ability got exponentially better. In my opinion having a beginner's mind and being open to learning and not afraid to fail is a critical first step.
Get Exponentially Motivated
Step number 2 is to get motivated and I try and think how can I get exponentially motivated to learn something. Mastering anything is hard.
Without a strong reason for learning a skill, you'll eventually quit.
The top 0.1% in any field are fuelled by an unmatched drive to be the best.
The problem is people who don't suceed Don't learn a skill for anyone other than yourself.
Put yourself in a position where it hurts to fail.
- Want to get good at running? Sign up for a marathon
- Want to learn Italian? Move to Italy for a month
Master The Basics
Step 3 is to focus on mastering the basics before trying to move onto more advanced areas of the skill your learning. Before I was allowed to stitch up a patient I had to practice stitching a banana.
Daniel-san had to wax on and wax off in the Karate Kid.
If you skip ahead or think you're above the fundamentals you will lose.
Every time I watch someone that's ahead of me in the skill I'm learning, I'll try ad come away with at least 3 action points to apply to my own technique.
I'll try and practice the basics until I get bored and then force myself to keep going a little while longer until it becomes a habit.
If we do this regularly, the boring basics become almost automated we know them so well and our skill level will skyrocket.
Step 4 is all about how seriously we take our time practicing the skill we're learning. Pros practice in a completely different way to amateurs.
Just clocking up the hours simply isn't enough.
We need to be relentless about making every second of every practice session count.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to focus on one specific thing in that practice session.
To do this I'll try and break the skill I'm learning down into its components and then focus on each part individually.
For example if I'm learning a new language I might focus on spelling and writing short sentences first and then focus on pronunciation in a separate session.
We can then pull everything together in a further practice session to integrated these focus areas and see the difference to our competence with the skill.
Step 5 is probably one of the most important steps in effective learning and its to embrace feedback which is often easier said than done.
Amateurs respond to feedback, pros actively seek it out.
We can get feedback on our skills from anyone, not just experts.
Friends, peers, the public, even ChatGPT can give us feedback on our current ability and work in a skill.
For me one of the most impactful feedback mechanisms that has exponentially improved my skill acquisition speed is to share my skills in public and let the feedback roll in.
Whether this is sharing your learning journey in the form of a blog post, getting better at running a business by sharing wins and losses openly or simply editing social media posts if you're learning video editing being open with your progress may sound scary but it massively helps us to improve.
When asking for feedback, I always try and be as specific. For example when training in crossfit I'll ask the coaches to critique a specific exercise or form for that exercise and then try and integrate feedback into my next practice.
Everyone is a little bit scared of feedback and for me the thing that helped the most with this, because no-one likes being criticised, is to remember that no-one really cares about your current skill level as everyone is much more focused on their own issues and improving themselves. When I stopped overthinking and embraced feedback I got better very quickly.
Analyse The Data
The next step is an extension of feedback and it's to use data on your ability to improve further. Collecting and analysing our performance data takes us to the next level.
Data shows us where we are and where we want to be. ANd this applies to absolutely everything.
For me I will routinely track my progress in the gym by logging my sessions, weights lifted and set goals.
For marketing in my businesses I'll run experiments and split test content letting the data decide which is the best.
The data you collect will depend on the skill you are learning.
- Time taken to perform a task
- Emails sent to open rate and CTR
- Active recall questions answered correctly in a study session
Data should be relevant, specific and in a defined timeframe to make it actually useful rather than collecting data for the sake of it.
Okay so a bit controversial but in my opinion the idea that mastery comes from 100,000 hours spent doing something is just wrong.
Which is why the next step is to use the right tools to get you to mastery as quickly as possible.
If we have the right tools we can reduce our time to mastery considerably.
Tools might be tech like ChatGPT, frameworks, feedback loops or anything that helps us to learn smarter not harder.
The tools that save us time on our journey to skill mastery depend on what we're learning:
- Learning a language? I've used Pimsleur audio tracks while out for a walk to quickly learn common conversations.
- Got an exam? I'll optimise for evidence-based techniques like active recall and using online question banks to test my knowledge
- Learning sales? My businesses will use AI roleplay scenarios to learn faster than waiting on weekly sales coaching sessions
Whatever you're learning there will be a tool that you can adopt right now that will remove repetitive, tedious tasks and help you to spend your time focusing on the biggest gains like practice time.
Okay so the final step, step 7 is in my opinion the most important step and the one I wish someone had sat me down and told me when I was 17.
We need to enjoy the journey and we need to be patient.
Becoming the best at anything takes time. In y experience it it always takes way longer than you might expect.
I spent 7 years training as a surgeon before doing a solo procedure. I spent probably 10 years learning to code and learning sales and marketing before I scaled a business to 8 figures.
No-one is an overnight success.
Any success story is just the tip of the iceberg.
We need to embrace the grind and love the journey even when things get tough.
Those people who are impatient or want things too quickly often just defeat themselves and sometimes being the best at something is more to do with sticking around when others quit or turning up to the gym or to a practice session when you don't feel like it.