The 10 Principles of Rapid Skill Acquisition

As a follow up to The Three Stage Model of Skill Acquisition here are 10 principles for staying in the Cognitive and Associative Stages for as long as possible.

  • Choose a lovable project
rapid skill acquisition
  1. You have to pick a project that you love. Period
  2. Remember how I said that the Cognitive and Associative Stages were painful? Your brain was designed to protect you from pain. That’s why it brings you to the Autonomous Stage as quickly as it can.
  3. However, that’s exactly why your skills plateau.
  4. If you don’t pick a lovable project, you won’t have the discipline to force yourself back into The Cognitive and The Associative Stages.
  • Focus your energy on one skill at a time
rapid skill acquisition
  1. You only have so many hours in a day, and learning a new skill is HARD.
  2. Trying to split your limited time and cognitive resources across a variety of skills is a recipe for burnout.
  3. You want to learn fast? Burnouts do not learn fast.
  • Define your target performance level
rapid skill acquisition
  1. What target are you trying to hit?
  2. Take chess.
  3. Do you want to be world class? The next Magnus Carlsen?
  4. If so you’ll want to dig into some intense theory. Spending thousands of hours on Deliberate Practice to achieve Mastery.
  5. Want to beat an obnoxious friend? You may be able to do that in as few as 20 Hours
  • Deconstruct the skill into sub skills
rapid skill acquisition
  1. A skill is rarely one stand alone thing.
  2. Let’s talk chess again.
  3. There’s opening theory. Tactics. The endgame.
  4. Deconstruct every skill you’re trying to learn into its composite parts. Then order those parts in such a way that will allow you to achieve your Target Performance as quickly as possible.
  5. Spoilers: For chess — study tactics. It’s not as sexy. But trust me. Tactics.
  • Obtain critical tools
rapid skill acquisition
  1. Most skills you’re trying to teach yourself will have tools required to practice.
  2. For music it might be your guitar and your pick.
  3. Chess it’s your board and your favourite Silman Book.
  4. Make sure you have the right tools with you.
  • Eliminate barriers to practice
rapid skill acquisition
  1. Again — remember how the Cognitive and Associative phases are painful?
  2. Your brain will look for any excuse to not practice. It will try to turn back at any barrier.
  3. Remove ALL of those barriers.
  4. Don’t have your guiter in the closet. Have it in the middle of the living room.
  5. Don’t put your chess board away. Keep it right on the kitchen counter.
  6. Make reminders of your commitment to practice as obtrusive as possible.
  • Make dedicated time for practice
  1. I wrote a blog recently on how powerful scheduling can be.
  2. And that’s extremely true for rapid skill acquisition.
  3. Having dedicated time for practice forces you to put the hours in to achieve your target performance goals.
  4. Plus, having it right on the calendar helps with Principle 8 — Eliminate Barriers to Practice. If you ALWAYS practice at the same time, then that’s one less excuse to practice.
  • Create fast feedback loops
rapid skill acquisition
  1. To achieve Rapid Skill Acquisiton you’re going to need immediate feedback.
  2. You need to know what’s right, and what’s wrong. Immediately.
  3. Otherwise you will lose precious hours doing something incorrectly, and risk jeopardizing your whole foundation for that skill.
  • Practice by the clock in short bursts
rapid skill acquisition
  1. Despite your best intentions, you will likely not be able to practice your skill for 5 hour stretches.
  2. Even if you had the time, you likely wouldn’t have the attention span. Learning hurts — remember?
  3. Utilize something like The Pomodoro Method. Define a sub-skill you want to practice. See Principle Four.
  4. And practice it intensely for a fixed amount of time (start with 25)
  • Emphasize quantity and speed
  1. When you’re starting a new skill you likely won’t be sophisticated enough to judge your quality.
  2. Alternatively, you might be hyper-critical.
  3. So when you’re starting focus on quantity.
  4. One code commit a day.
  5. 1,000 words a day.
  6. One drawing a day.
  7. Hey, if you want to enter to win The First 20 Hours and Mastery. Both mentioned in this post. Along with over $200 worth of some of my other favourite books you can do so here

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