3 Approaches to Mastering a Skill

Have you ever had the desire to be an expert in something? If there is a skill you are working on improving, you are not alone. Whether it’s out of interest or career development or a combination of both, there are a lot of benefits to building the ‘muscles’ needed to commit to mastering a skill and being considered an expert by others.

Here are some side benefits to staying committed in mastering a skill:

1)      Perseverance: when you go from being a novice to an expert in something, the journey is never easy, especially if you don’t have natural talents in the skill area. The mental muscle that is sculpted in that process creates an attitude of perseverance. If you can accomplish this, you can accomplish anything…and that is a good thing.

2)      Process: people that truly master a skill are more focused on the process, not the result. Their efforts in applying the right processes in mastering a skill will ultimately lead to great results. For example, one of the goals in my life is to be a successful blogger. Blogging, social media, marketing, web design etc are not areas where I am highly skilled at. However, as I focus on the process taken by other successful bloggers and commit to learning the ins and outs of blogging, I am more likely to be successful than focusing on my stats or views each week/day.

3)      Patience: when we think of patience, we may think of dealing with others, but it can also include being patient with ourselves. It’s allowing ourselves to fail, but not feel defeated.  Allowing ourselves the time to heal and keep moving forward requires wisdom and patience with ourselves to not give up.

4)      Perspective: once you’ve gone through the painstaking, mind stretching experience of mastering a skill, you gain appreciation and perspective on not only the characteristics it takes to achieve this skill but also the pitfalls to avoid. With this knowledge in hand you gain the wisdom needed to help others and the ability to spot potential for those trying to achieve the skill as well.

Here are 3 approaches to mastering a skill effectively:

Deliberate Practice: The study of deliberate practice was developed by John Hayes, a cognitive psychiatrist. He focused on the idea that the best way to master a skill is to focus on the sub skills that the general skill is composed of. For the most effective results, it’s important to focus on the sub-skill that one is falling short on and put all efforts on mastering that sub skill. For example, in order for Kobe Bryant to master the skill of playing basketball, he focused on one sub-skill at a time, practicing 800 jump shots daily. Instead of getting bogged down with all the other sub-skills needed in being a great basketball player like dribbling, defence, and offense etc., he decided to focus on this sub-skill instead. Once you’ve determined your sub-skill, come up with an activity you can do daily to improve this skill.

DSS (deconstruction, selection and sequencing):  This model was developed by Tim Ferriss and looks at an accelerated approach to mastering a skill. Deconstruction is taking something large and breaking it down into smaller pieces and identifying why one might fail at something before they start. It’s understanding the why before the how. Selection is choosing one or two of these sub-skills that give you 80% of the value for 20% of the work. This creates efficiency and effectiveness. Lastly, sequencing is determining the order in which to learn these sub skills. Ferriss gives an example of a man who wanted to master the art of tango, started by learning the traditionally female role before moving on to learn the more difficult lead role.

Outliers and the 10,000 hour rule: an older model that was once widely accepted but is now fading in popularity is the 10,000 hour rule by Malcolm Gladwell. To simplify it, this model says that one can become an expert in anything if they spend 10,000 hours of concentrated time and effort in developing a skill.

At the current stage of my life, I am working on developing my time management skills and becoming an expert in how I spend my time in all areas of my life.  This desire came after I found myself always frustrated about how I spent my day when I took an inventory of it at night. It’s not that I sit around doing nothing, but rather that even with my best efforts at times (more than I would like) it seems like time just gets away from me.

Here are a few ways that I am trying to accomplish this:

1)      Waking up at 5:30am every day to complete tasks that seem to get away from me as the day progresses

2)      Having a checklist for most items that need to be completed during the day

3)      Prioritizing my activities for the day by first completing those items that will give me the most satisfaction or are the most urgent.

4)    Learning to say no to unplanned activities if they interfere with my plans for the day

5)      Completing my to do list the night before so that I know what to focus on the next day.

What methods have you used in the past or are currently using to master a skill?

Categories: Life

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18 replies

  1. Growing up in the Caribbean I was always taught to preserve. Nothing comes easy in life and to go to college I literally had to do something I was not very fond of just to get a scholarship. I think persevering has taught my valuable life lessons and has helped shaped me into who I am today. Nobody gets anywhere without any of the traits you talked about and certainly not perseverance.

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  2. Perseverance and repeated practice have always been keys for me. I also thrive when I have a detailed action plan with measurable checkpoints along the way.

    A great post with a fine balance of philosophy and practical application!

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  3. 5:30! PM? lol 😉 That is early Pamela!

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  4. I could really relate to the “patience” issue. If I can’t accomplish a task immediately, then I become frustrated very quickly. My father was always impatient as well, so I guess I take after him! Patience is definitely something that will ALWAYS be a work in progress for me. Excellent post Pamela!

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    • I have a lot of patience but it’s the process part I am working on and can really see the benefits from. At times I see myself more interested in the end result than in the process.

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  5. I was raised by a father that taught the art of discipline to the “nth” degree. Initially, I applied this to athletics. In time, I learned to apply it to education and as well as my career. When I began investing with various brokers, I learned to apply it to developing the skills to manage my own portfolio. It is a PROCESS that requires PATIENCE and PERSEVERANCE. If one is willing to invest the time and effort, it becomes a natural way of life.
    Great post that can transform the average person into a Maximal Version of Themselves.

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    • Wow. That is pretty impressive. You must be very skilled in many areas of your life. Time management is very important and I have to say I can do a better job at managing mine, so I am making it a point to work on it. I like that expression `maximal version of themselves`. Pretty neat.

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  6. Do you know Getting things done aka GTD. Helped my coaching clients tons and I still sort things this way.

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  7. When I am trying to accomplish a goal or a maybe a simple task I usually try to stay focus and meditate on what I’m doing. I try my best to avoid distractions and Pamela I always pray for guidance.

    —Dehan

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    • Prayer is so important. I am learning to get accustomed to being able to concentrate even when there are distractions around me. My ideal scenario would be a situation where it is completely quiet so I can reflect, but you can’t always have that. Like in college, I could never study at a Starbucks or the school lounge, it usually has to be super quiet. But now as I get older and work in different places, its not always that accommodating. I hated it when I had my last cubicle job in accounting and there was so much noise. I’ve gotten better at it. Still a work in progress.

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