You can envision your dream life. That vision sends waves of electric energy through your body. Then you wake up from the daydream and remember that the current version of yourself isn’t equipped with the skills needed to achieve your ambitious goals. Realizing your dreams requires that you consistently grow your skills.
The journey takes months or years of hard work. It demands that you continually take your abilities to the next level. Through the process of improving your skills, you become a better version of yourself. You become the type of person who can achieve those lofty goals.
This post was inspired by The Talent Code, which is a great book that deconstructs the process of developing talent and skill.
How to Grow Your Skills
Developing your skills and mastering your craft is not a mystical process. It’s not reserved for geniuses or people with exceptional talent. Skills are developed, built, and created. Anyone can do it. The growth mindset along with belief in yourself and a heavy dose of disciplined practice transforms you into a peak performer.
Follow these 3 steps to grow your skills:
1. Ignite Yourself
Ignition and motivation fuel your improvement. They jumpstart you into action. They propel you past the setbacks and failures. They inspire you to work hard and persevere even as you make slow, incremental progress.
2. Sharpen Your Skills
You develop your skills by constantly expanding your comfort zone through repeated, determined, and deliberate practice.
3. Stretch Your Abilities
You stretch your way to growth through targeted and strategic practice at the edge of your abilities. The edge is not an enjoyable or comfortable place to spend your time in. That’s why most people don’t visit that place very often. Those who live there consistently take their results to new heights.
Step 1: Ignite Yourself
“This is how ignition works. Where deep practice is a cool, conscious act, ignition is a hot, mysterious burst, an awakening. Where deep practice is an incremental wrapping, ignition works through lightning flashes of image and emotion.” Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code
Your mindset determines whether you’ll grow or stagnate. Your beliefs determine how good you’ll become. If you’re not sure why you’re learning a skill or how you’ll use it, you’ll reflect that clouded mindset with lackluster effort and uninspired action.
On the other hand, if you believe you’ll get better over time, you will put in the necessary time and effort to hone your skills. If you see yourself using a skill for a long time, you will be committed and persistent in your development of that skill. The rewards you will eventually reap will be worth all the sweat and sacrifice.
The right mindset can only take you so far though. Your environment plays an equally important role in your growth. It can fuel you with bursts of motivation. When you see a commercial with an athlete doing countless pull-ups and box jumps in an empty warehouse, you get an unexpected surge of energy and desire to workout.
A Tony Robbins inspirational quote that resonates with you produces waves of hope and optimism. A spark of motivation leads you to take all-important action. The motivation dissipates as quickly as it appears though. Motivation that rises and falls like the sea doesn’t lead to meaningful changes in your life.
Breakthrough changes are produced and sustained by an environment that sends consistent messages of success and achievement. Your environment has a massive impact on your actions, mostly in ways you don’t see or think about. Your environment sends you signals every second of every day.
Even though you process most of these signals at the subconscious level, they shape your behaviors and habits. You model the examples you see around you. That’s why you become the sum of your closest friends.
If you’re friends complain all the time, you start complaining much more frequently. You pick up the phrases, mannerisms, and mindsets of the people you spend the most time with.
Seeing someone perform at a high level signals to your brain that it’s possible for you to do that as well. The more similar that person is to you, the more the image of her success influences your belief in yourself.
Before Roger Bannister ran a mile in 3 minutes and 59 seconds in 1954, many people thought it was impossible to break the 4 minute mile barrier. Since then, the record has been lowered by more than 17 minutes. Even high schoolers have broken the 4 minute mile threshold.
While many factors have led to the improved times, one important factor is that other runners knew it was possible once Bannister did it. They weren’t debating whether it could be done anymore. They could envision themselves doing the same thing.
Here are a few things you can do to setup your environment for ignition:
- Save motivational songs or videos. Replay them once a week.
- Write down the goals that matter most to you and put them in a place where you’ll see them every day. If you don’t have goals that excite you, find goals that will drive you.
- What habits and mindsets do you need to develop to become your ideal self? Which friends would have the most positive influence on the development of these mindsets and habits? Spend more time around the friends who will lift you towards that ideal self.
Step 2: Sharpen Your Skills
“Although talent feels and looks predestined, in fact we have a good deal of control over what skills we develop, and we have more potential than we might ever presume to guess.” Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code
Steph Curry rains three pointers effortlessly with perfect balance, lightning quick release, and pinpoint precision. When we witness his amazing shooting performances, we say that he’s been blessed with special talent. We could never do that.
Peak performance looks and feels smooth, effortless, and majestic. There’s no strain or struggle. When the rest of us perform that same activity (whether it’s shooting a three pointer or speaking in front of hundreds of people), we look and feel insecure, uncoordinated, and incompetent.
It’s natural to conclude that peak performers have an innate talent and unique ability that can’t be replicated. Yes, they have elite skill levels for their craft. No, they weren’t born with those skills.
They weren’t destined to be peak performers. They developed their greatness by building skill circuits through countless repetitions. That skill level can be reproduced if you’re willing to pay the price to build those skills.
I went through the skill building process when I learned to program a few years ago. At the beginning, I couldn’t write one line of code without making a mistake. Programming languages were foreign to me.
Although I knew that making mistakes is part of the learning process, it was still hard to accept that on an emotional level. It sucked to be bad. The progress was slow. I felt like I would never be good. I wanted to quit every week. I stuck with it though.
After a few months, writing code became easier and more intuitive. I could speak the language. I got to that point because I spent hundreds of hours learning, practicing, and improving. My comfort zone and skills expanded incrementally. Over time, those small improvements added up and the progress was noticeable.
The more you fire a circuit through repeated practice, the more myelin wraps around the nerve fibers that make up that skill circuit. When you’ve practiced a skill repeatedly, you learn how to fire that skill circuit optimally.
The more myelin that’s wrapped around that skill circuit, the faster and more precise you become at that activity.
Here are a few things you can do to grow your skills:
- What are the most valuable skills that will help you achieve most important goal? Pick one of those skills to sharpen. Commit to investing in yourself by developing a plan to improve that skill and following through.
- Ask yourself these questions: How will you learn more about the skill? How will you apply what you learn?
Step 3: Stretch Your Abilities
“Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it’s about seeking out a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions. Pick a target. Reach for it. Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach. Return to step one.” Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code
The bad news is that there are no shortcuts to grow your skills. The good news it that improving at anything is a process that’s accessible to all of us. Skills are built through targeted practice that consists of reaching, falling short, evaluating mistakes, correcting those mistakes, and repeating the cycle.
You gain access to the peak performance club by expanding your comfort zone through strategic practice that stretches your abilities. This type of practice is a grind and a struggle. It’s mentally and emotionally challenging and draining.
It consists of spending most of your time doing things you’re not good at yet. It consists of making many mistakes and falling short repeatedly. Improving a skill is a messy and jagged process. Ironically, the more time you spend making (the right kind of) mistakes, the faster you boost your skill level.
The struggle at the edge of your comfort zone is where meaningful improvement takes place. For instance, if a basketball player can regularly make 16 foot jump shots but is inaccurate from 20 feet, he should focus on extending his shooting range slightly. If he tries to make the leap to 26 foot shots, he’ll reach too far past his current ability.
The trick is to find the sweet spot where you’re stretching yourself but not reaching too far past your current ability. This may sound overly simplistic. It’s much harder than it seems to be patient enough to stick to the blueprint and trust the process.
It’s tough to continually push yourself past your current comfort zone. It’s a challenge to interpret all the failed attempts as feedback for improvement instead of getting down on yourself.
Becoming a great programmer, speaker, or teacher starts by identifying the skills you need to build and evaluating your current ability. That’s followed by creating a plan of action to expand that ability. When you execute the plan and put in the time it takes to grow your skills, you make massive gains over time.
Here are a few things you can do to stretch your abilities:
- For the skill you selected in step 2, add a regular practice schedule. Define exercises that will stretch your current abilities.
- Make sure the practice regimen isn’t too challenging. Set yourself up to win by gaining momentum and motivation from successes as well as lessons learned from mistakes.
Unleash Your Peak Performance
Developing yourself is a brick by brick building process. Progress is measured in small steps and milestones. Design a positive environment that ignites you and supports your growth.
Build your most important skill circuits by reaching at the edge of your abilities, falling short, identifying where things went wrong, and trying again more intelligently. Repeat this cycle until you can fire the skill circuit optimally on a consistent basis.
You can hone the skill to the point that it looks effortless and automatic. To the point that it looks like you’re doing it without thinking. To the point that it looks like your actions are being directed by your subconscious.
Others will think you were blessed with talent that can’t be taught or learned. You’ll know the real story. You developed yourself. You grew your skills. You developed your talent.
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