My Secret to Becoming Good at Something in Weeks or Months (Instead of Years or Decades)

Is it possible to get good at something in a matter of weeks or months, when it takes most people years?

I’m often asked how I’ve been able to achieve in so many diverse areas… and I can attribute this to a variety of different factors, but there’s one factor that I’ve come to assign an incredible amount of importance to recently when it comes to achievement and productivity.

In order to explain what that factor is, I first want to present you with a few apparent contradictions or paradoxes:

Why do people who take time off work to work out, often seem to achieve more than those who are overworked and out of shape?

Is playing chess a useful brain exercise, or time spent unproductively not working? How about karate, or billiards?

Is going for a walk “procrastination”, or does it nurture creativity?

Or to go back to the original question: 

Is it possible to get good at something in a matter of weeks or months, when it takes most people years?

The answer to all of these questions is a resounding, “It depends”… and what it depends on, may well be the one of the biggest keys to achievement.

The key is something I’ve never heard anyone talk about explicitly before, so I’m going to give it a name – Intentionality.

See, here’s the thing. 

Not all hours of your life are created equal. Not all training sessions are created equal. You are, for practical purposes, a different person from one day to the next, and even from one hour to the next.

If you’re working in a quiet room without distractions, you’re likely more productive than with the TV on and people trying to talk to you every five minutes.

If you’ve just had a fight with your best friend, you’re probably also less focused and capable than you would normally be.

Often even a slight change in mood or perception can be enough to drastically influence performance.

This is all a bit nebulous, but let me give you a simple, general, rule for performance.

It’s more effective if you do it on purpose… just putting in time, by itself, is not enough.

There’s this idea that has become popular in the past decade or so that the secret to mastery is “putting in 10,000 hours”. That’s how most people understand the idea, but it’s actually NOT what was initially written. It’s subtly different.

You need 10,000 hours of DEDICATED PRACTICE.

That means practice with a PURPOSE and a PLAN.

In all likelihood, 2,000 hours of “DEDICATED practice” might be worth more than 10,000 hours of just “practice”.

So let’s go back to our paradoxes from earlier:

Taking a break from work (say to play a sport or game) can absolutely make you more productive. The brain can only focus optimally for a limited period of time… breaks are needed. However…

Working until it gets a bit tough and then taking a break as soon as you’re struggling is very different from working for a solid, focused couple hours, then taking a scheduled break to relax.

In the latter case not only will relaxation be more effective because you’ll not only have something to relax FROM, but also you’ll have given your subconscious mind much more to work with during that period of relaxation.

Same with going for a walk… if you planned it in advance and worked diligently until the walk, it will likely do you some good. If you just left because you “felt like it”… you’re likely procrastinating.

And how about getting good at something super fast? Well, that brings us back to intentional practice. If you want to get good at poker by just playing, you won’t get good very fast. If you go over your hands, and analyze them with a computer, and talk them through with friends, and then go play some more, you’ll get good much faster. This is, again, the difference between hours and DEDICATED PRACTICE.

This applies to game as well. If you go out each night with specific goals, and spend the time to briefly go over your nights after (and update your goals for next time), your progress will likely be exponentially faster.

And this can be applied to so many other areas of life as well…

Your family interrupting you while you try to work is likely frustrating and unproductive, but finishing your work in a focused manner, and then taking a few hours focused on your family, will leave you, your family, and your company, all happier and better off.

So what’s the secret in all of these cases? Intentionality. Doing it on purpose or by plan. If you don’t PLAN to succeed, you likely won’t succeed.

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