The greater your expertise in a skill, the more of the created value you can command for yourself. Therefore it makes sense to improve your skills to the highest level of expertise that you can attain.
Developing expertise takes time and commitment. Prior to setting a goal of achieving expertise in a skill, first determine whether the skill is aligned with your passion, personality and purpose. This will help ensure that you will have the appropriate motivation and discipline to succeed.
Once you have established a rock-solid commitment, then embark on the learning process. Develop a plan to deliberately study the skill and set interim goals. Your plan will need to include a full scope of the information or activities you will need to master, along with benchmarks and progress measures. Martial arts schools are a good example of developing a structure for mastery. Belt colors are earned as techniques are mastered. Progressively more difficult skills are introduced at higher levels approaching the coveted black belt. However, even once a black belt is awarded, the student typically finds there are greater degrees of difficulty still ahead.
It is often helpful to have a mentor who has already achieved mastery in the skill to assist you in setting goals, determining benchmarks, and monitoring progress. Not only will a mentor help provide guidance on achieving skills faster, but they will be able to help determine when you should stretch your goals and help you avoid wasting valuable time.
Coaches from every sport will tell you “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect”. Maybe this guidance is a bit unrealistic but the important point is that continually making the same mistakes will never lead to mastery. You have to be able to identify the mistakes and have the discipline to correct them in order to master any skill. Since most people avoid looking at themselves critically, doing so will give you a huge competitive advantage.
Another tried and true nugget of wisdom is “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. Again, the exception could be found where natural talent exceeds practice, such as in gymnastics, where physical ability is critical to achieving the most difficult skills. However, even here, a gymnast that flawlessly performs a simpler routine can outscore another gymnast that can “land” the bigger skill, but not cleanly. The main point is that persistence to practice and the mental toughness to do it as close to perfect as possible each time is a powerful combination for consistent success and progress toward becoming an expert.
The time it takes to become an expert in any given skill depends upon the complexity of the skill, relevant natural ability or prior experience, and absorption rate.
The absorption rate is the amount of information that is retained after each practice. The absorption rate can be improved by understanding your preferred learning method. Learning methods may include verbal, visual, tactile, or experiential. For example, if you are told the stove is hot and you believe this, then you may be considered a verbal learner. However, if you are told the stove is hot and you feel the need to test the theory by touching it, you might be an experiential learner. If you are able to recall information when applicable, it may be preferable to having to “learn the hard way” by experiencing the knowledge firsthand.
Knowledge gained but not applied is also not absorbed. For example, I “know objectively” that eating greasy foods will clog my arteries and cause weight gain. I fail to apply this knowledge on a regular basis, however, and the objective scale in my bathroom heartlessly reminds me.
Knowledge is only absorbed when it becomes available and useful. Experts have absorbed knowledge that allows them to recognize and analyze opportunities and threats more quickly and with greater assurance of the outcome. This is a result of their deliberate study.
Increased practice makes routine but potentially important things automatic. I appreciate, for example, that the experienced steward has closed and locked the boarding door thousands of times! Making things automatic allows your mind to focus on stretching to the next level of mastery.