How Do You Get So Good At Something That You Can’t Be Ignored?


Friday, 8.49pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up. – Babe Ruth

An acquaintance mentioned the other day that he had been out climbing roofs.

Roofs? Like house roofs? Who does that and why?

Not many people, it turns out. He’d been talking about cave roofs – where you climb and then hang from the roof.

Absolute madness, in my view, requiring more abs than I’ve seen in a long time.

Sheffield apparently has some of the best climbing rocks in the world. And this is the sort of thing people get good at.

And people get really good at things like climbing and sports and music – things where you can win or show how good you are.

Researchers studying such people worked out that they had something in common – they spent years and practised their skill in a way that has come to be called deliberate practice.

The way you get good is by doing practice deliberately.

As the saying goes, you don’t just go out for a walk and find yourself on top of Mount Everest.

If you practice something for long enough you’ll get good. And then you’ll hit a ceiling and really not make much more progress.

In fact, in many professions, you spend a lot of time getting to a certain standard and then stop trying – and the only way then is down.

As I read somewhere recently, you don’t rise to the level of your training. You sink to it.

So what does it mean to practice deliberately and how can you do it?

Ericsson et al tell you how in a long paper – but it boils down to three things.

  1. You need to build on existing knowledge.
  2. You need to get immediate feedback on your performance
  3. You need to put the time into trying again and again.

Seems simple – but is it easy?

If you’re on track to be an elite athlete or musician then you already know what to do.

What about the rest of us?

What if you’re trying to become a better programmer or writer or marketer or entrepreneur?

The starting point here is to realise that you’ll do better building on what you know than what you don’t.

If you never used a computer don’t expect to become a whiz at C# overnight. Or, if you’ve written an essay at school, expect to publish your best selling novel next year.

But… you can do those things as long as you climb the rungs in between on the way.

Then there is feedback.

When you watch your kids’ sports teachers do you notice that they have a game where you need to catch a ball and if you drop it you have to leave the game?

How inane is that? The kids that need to spend the most time with the ball learning how to catch it are asked to sit out while the ones who are good get to stay in and practice some more.

What you need is time – time to repeat and try again and again.

As a writer, for example, you’re advised to throw away your first million words.

Those are your learning words.

Now, I’ve not been writing that long – 445 posts, 250,000 words plus another 150,000 in warm up text. That’s 400,000 words over the last couple of years and I still feel like I’m just learning every time I start a new piece.

And I’m prepared to keep feeling that way for the next ten years because I enjoy writing and the only way to get better is to keep trying.

But you also need feedback and that’s where a coach comes in or, if you don’t have a coach, getting tools to help you coach yourself.

That’s easier in some fields. A programmer, for example, gets feedback all the time when a program doesn’t run.

But what about things like business where there are complex things you do that aren’t easily measurable?

But I suppose the point about deliberate practice is that it has nothing to do with the results of your business.

It has to do with your results.

It’s a way to work on yourself to get good at something – something that matters to you and that you care about.

And when you do that you just can’t help getting better every day.


Karthik Suresh

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