What if you could go to the gym once and be fit for the rest of your life? Or you could have one conversation in a foreign language and be entirely fluent?
The sad truth is you can’t. There just aren’t shortcuts to success. What’s more, imagining the possibility of such outcomes might, in fact, be the thing that holds you back from actually accomplishing these sorts of goals. When you look around at successful people—in any discipline—what you don’t see is the months, years, even decades of hard work and incremental improvement that brought them to where they are.
Mastery, it turns out, is not so much about innate ability (though that helps) or sudden revelation (even if artists sometimes depend on this) but something more akin to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule. But, what’s going on in those 10,000 hours exactly? Hard work, a little luck, and trust in incremental improvement.
Rhett Power, writing at Inc.com, uses the analogy of physical exercise to describe how one can actually improve at a skill. If you decide you want to get fit and spend 3 hours in the gym on the first day of your new regimen, you will burn out long before you see any actual improvement. What’s better is to set yourself small goals (smaller than your ambition might encourage), meet them, and then gradually expand the amount of time and energy you spend on practice, training, or study tasks.
Just do the math: if you could spend, say, 2% more time on a task every day—which seems imminently manageable if you’re starting from next to zero—then within just over a month, you will have doubled your regular efforts. Even better, you will have eased yourself into productivity without overburdening yourself and burning out. Just remember, mastering anything is a marathon, not a race.
Brad Kelly, the president of TestOwl Tutors, delivers Chariot Learning Test Prep Programs to the Detroit Metro region.