On Mastery and Skill Development

In one of his interviews, a great stand-up comedian and actor Steve Martin says something according to which I’ve been trying to live my life for a couple of years now, from the time I first heard it from him. His saying goes like this:

“Be so good they can’t ignore you”.

Advice from Steve Martin

This sounds simple, but if you think about it, that’s the kind of advice that you need to keep in mind when you try to achieve success in any area of your life.

But there is so much more to this…

It’s one thing to know that you should be so good that people can’t ignore you anymore. But how can you actually do that, is a whole another matter, and that question is what I’ve been interested in answering for a long time.
The question of becoming good at something has been in the minds of most of the great people of all time. They were naturally inclined to do things that lead to world-class performance in many fields. One of the most important reasons that we know names like Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Isaac Newton, or Tiger Woods is that they did something exceptional. Something that most of us don’t practice.

I deliberately gave examples of people from different fields and different eras of history, because I want to emphasize the fact that even though the content of their success and achievements is different, the structure of the way they did those things may be similar. And I wanted to talk about the structure, because the structure is the thing that any of us can implement, at least try to.

So, how can you become so good that they can’t ignore you?

The short answer is this: Mastery, deliberate practice of high yield techniques, a juicy vision of yourself, correct subconscious programming, and proper habits.

So… that sounds weird, right?

Actually, no, let me explain.

There is this book called “Mastery” by George Leonard, in which he talks about the Mastery mindset. It’s about a perspective on life in which you are mastering your craft and you see yourself on a journey towards excellence in whatever you do. It’s a process of highs and lows, full of plateaus and progress, struggle and pain, joy and pleasure, which happens in multiple years of deliberate practice (which I’ll explain shortly), and fully blossoms after thousands of hours of practice (approx. 10 years, as they say), as you become a master of your craft.

I highly recommend that you read that book because the author talks about different types of mindsets other than the one I described above. You’ll probably identify with one of them if you’ve been struggling to learn your skillset as well as you want.

As you’ve probably noticed, practicing daily is essential if you want to get good at doing anything. But how you practice and what you practice is even more important than that. This brings us to a concept called deliberate practice.

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University, was a pioneer in researching deliberate practice. He found out that to achieve mastery in any field, you have to at least spend 10,000 hours in practice. That’s called the 10,000-hour rule.

Note: Lately, I’ve been exposed to some material that contradicts Ericsson’s research, but for this article, let’s assume that his research and the rule is valid. But also, keep in mind that it’s just research done by a group of people and not the absolute truth, so don’t take it as an ideology.

So, how can we define deliberate practice?

In his book, “Talent is Overrated”, Geoffrey Colvin writes:

“Identifying the learning zone, which is not simple, and then forcing oneself to stay continually in it as it changes, which is even harder — these are the first and most important characteristics of deliberate practice”,

Also, he says that during deliberate practice,

“Instead of doing what we’re good at, we insistently seek out what we’re not good at. Then we identify the painful, difficult activities that will make us better and do those things over and over.”

That’s it. But notice that for every field that you try to practice, the process of practice itself will be very different. For example, if you are trying to learn playing Guitar, your process of deliberate practice will be very different from the one that you’ll have to go through if you want to be learning programming, or drawing.

Also, there is this idea of high yield techniques. In each field that you want to get good at, there are multiple things that you can do to become better. For example, if you want to be a better software developer, you can practice solving algorithmic challenges, or participate in open source projects, or even start a side-project of your own. You can also read books and watch courses and seminars on being a better developer or doing your concrete specialization better.

You see, there are many options in any area that you’re trying to improve. What I’d suggest is that you choose the one that you think will yield most results (hence the name, high yield technique), and start doing it daily.
The last remaining points that I mentioned, vision, subconscious programming, and habits, I won’t go into them here, because they are huge topics by themselves, and they deserve to be written separately. Whole books have been devoted to them, which I also recommend for you to do the research and read them (hint: Atomic Habits is a great one)

In conclusion, I wanted to talk about the idea of making yourself better in a field you work in. Check out all the books mentioned in the article, and do further research into the following concepts: Mastery, Deliberate Practice, Habits, Craftsman Mindset, Reprogramming Subconscious Mind (Visualization, Meditation, etc).

So, if you want to know how people get better at things, read biographies of people like the ones I mentioned above. If you read the biography of Leonardo Da Vinci, for example, you’ll know what it takes to achieve genius levels of things. After you read about people like him, you’ll understand the structure behind their lifestyle and mindsets that you can use to become the next Da Vinci or maybe even better than him.

But that’s a pretty tall order to fill, so start by getting interested in the concepts you learned here, and you might discover a whole new approach to your career and skill development, and maybe you’ll understand how your life can be on a whole new level in years to come.