How to become good at anything – Try, Do, Experiment

Posted on February 27, 2010


Thomas Edison was the master of experiments

“Mom, this is the best dinner, ever.”  Surprising words from one of my picky eaters, especially when applied to my cooking.  Cooking is not a particular passion, but I have been doing a LOT of it recently for all the usual reasons (control over nutrition, variety, family values, budget, etc.).  Although I’m not an expert cook, I HAVE moved up the learning curve using the same approach to cooking as I have to other areas of competence.

I’ve been thinking and thinking about what I’m good at and how people become good at stuff.  I have an untested theory about finding a calling:  specifically, the quest for a calling inevitably leads one down the path to mastery .  This theory may or may not be true, but at least it provides some direction for vocation seekers, once we have done the work of identifying our passions.  In other words, once you know what your passion is, the next step is acquiring mastery of that activity.

At this point, I would not call myself a Master of anything.  However, I do have a knack for quickly becoming competent at stuff I’m interested in (excluding anything requiring athleticism :)).  I’m mulling over putting together a free e-book on becoming competent at anything (oooh, such a sexy title), and here are some of my initial thoughts on becoming good at anything:

  • Try, Do, Experiment. I’ve suggested this before.  Every time you do something, you increase your skills, acquire experience about what works and what doesn’t, try different approaches and techniques and incorporate that intellectual capital into your memory banks.  Consider Olympic athletes, who master their sport after hours, days and months of practice and thousands of repetitions.  Even the ones at the pinnacle of their games continue to practice long hours and multitudes of repetitions.  So, Doing is the #1 technique for becoming good at stuff.  I think around 100 repetitions gets you to the point that you start to lose the nervousness and fear of performing, 1000 repetitions gets you to the point where you start to feel confident enough to experiment.  So, if you’ve just started at something, it WILL feel uncomfortable and maybe even scary before you hit 100 repetitions.  Don’t give up!  At least try to get to 100 reps before assessing your progress.  If you’ve been doing it for a while, try a different approach or a different setting or different materials.  Try something unorthodox – or create a completely new game.
  • Look for offbeat opportunities to practice your skills.  You may want to be a writer, a photographer, an artist, a gymnast, a chef or an animal trainer.  If this is your job, you have a specific setting (an office, a studio, a gym, a kitchen) where you might expect to perform and practice the necessary skills.  If you look for them, you also have opportunities to practice your skills elsewhere – as a volunteer at a non-profit or at your child’s school, as a blogger, on voice mail greetings or email messages, with family or friend’s pets.  Look for those opportunities and make the most of them – to practice, to experiment, to go crazy.
  • Refine technique.  My old taekwondo master used to say, “practice makes perfect, but only if it’s perfect practice.”  In other words, you can practice something 100 times but if you do it wrong over and over again, you don’t get the same benefit as you do if you do it right.  Consult an expert, hire a coach, do some research, take a video of yourself so you can get closer to the desired technique as you practice.
  • Connect with your tribe.  People who do that thing you love are an amazing resource to help you learn, improve your technique, share encouragement, and impose accountability.  Take a class taught by an expert.  Glean ideas from someone who makes money doing this or is well known in the field.  Network with other students so you can benchmark your own progress and learn what is possible.  Find a mentor who can help you build a road map for your quest.  Join an association or group of like-minded people.  Find – and participate in – a virtual forum.  Just being a member of the community will help turn levers inside your brain and create an internal expectation that I’m a [insert desired description here].  And that mindset will release your magic.
  • Set goals.  Practicing without having a goal can be tiresome or boring or it can seem pointless.  Have a goal.  Is there a competition you can participate in?  Is there a financial goal you can set tied to your calling?  Can you set a goal of hitting a certain number of repetitions or a certain level of skill by a certain date?  Talk to your tribe about what reasonable goals might be.
  • Track your progress. Start a journal or a blog to record your experiences.  Create a chart to show your progress over time.  Take before and after pictures or video.  There’s nothing so motivating as physical evidence of your own growth and progress to keep you motivated.
  • Take a leap of faith.  Sometimes we hesitate to try because it’s scary or we don’t want to fail at something we might love or we don’t want to be embarrassed.  We hesitate to try something new because it feels like we’re regressing.  Life is short.  Just assume you WILL fail, you WILL look ridiculous, you WILL be laughed at.  And do it anyway.

Did I miss anything?  How do YOU become good at stuff?  Any interest in a more detailed e-book?  Please share in the comments.

thanks, Ami

Posted in: Uncategorized