For many people, the hardest part of getting good at anything is consistently repeating and practicing a certain task until they are good at it. For others, just getting started is really difficult in and of itself. It’s easy to admire skilled musicians and artists for what they can produce, but what you don’t see is the years of practice, hard work, and mistakes that led to their mastery. Because of that, many people fail to realize their true potential – they are unable to chart out a clear path towards realizing the goal they have in mind. They want results, but have no way of achieving them.
What do you hope to achieve in the future? Do you want to learn how to play an instrument? Do you want to learn how to speak a foreign language? Do you want to educate yourself in a demanding yet rewarding field? Now ask yourself why you haven’t done it yet. Most people give themselves the same kinds of excuses year after year: it’s too difficult. They don’t know how to get started. They don’t have the natural talent that other people have. They don’t have enough time in their day.
What these excuses all have in common is that they serve as justifications for why they have defeated themselves before they ever even begun. If you find yourself falling into this same self-reinforcing trap of mediocrity, sometimes the solution is as simple as a paradigm shift and a plan. These simple yet powerful steps can serve as a guide that will steer you towards what you know you are capable of achieving.
1) Narrow your focus
Before you dedicate yourself to mastering a skill, you have to know what that skill is! Playing an instrument or learning how to code are great goals, but those are very broad categories that contain quite a bit of variation within them. Learning to play the viola is much different than learning to play the drums. Instead of thinking of everything you want to do, start with a single goal in mind. Choose a specific skill to master, and carry what you’ve learned there into other skills you want to acquire next.
2) Set lots of small goals and a few large ones
In many cases, people make the mistake of setting a few grandiose goals that, while they sound great on paper, can prove to be much more time-consuming to achieve than they originally thought. This leads to discouragement and a false sense of failure. It’s good to keep sight of the big picture, but remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Before you have a city, you must build a village. The same concept applies to any skill that you want to master. If you want to learn how to write a novel, consider breaking up your targets into individual chapters, or even pages. Motivation carries its own inertia: it’s difficult to get started, but once you see results, it’s hard not to keep going.
3) Take regular steps
Notice that the size of your steps isn’t specified. You don’t need to practice the piano for four hours every single day to get good at it. In fact, excessive practice can work against you – the law of diminishing returns will eventually kick in. What’s more important than lots of practice is consistent practice. Maybe you can only work on your coding project for thirty minutes in a day. That’s okay! What matters is that you are disciplined enough to apply yourself even when you’re tired and don’t want to. Think of it as like going to the gym – you can’t slack off for two weeks and then work out extra hard to make up for your down time. You have to be consistent about learning a skill if you want to master it.
4) Find a support network
Seeing your own success is motivating in and of itself, but it’s even more motivating to have the encouragement and support of the people around you. Bodybuilders frequently benefit from having like-minded friends who are all set on the same goal. When things get tough, they provide support and advice that can get you through a rough patch. Conversely, you will eventually get your chance to mentor and advise the people around you. If you surround yourself with people who are similarly motivated, you’ll be amazed at how much more you get out of your dedication and practice. You might even learn a few new things along the way.