Master a New Skill With Quantity (Yes, Not Quality)
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” — Chinese proverb
We hear the phrase “quality over quantity” time and again.
But in the pursuit of building a new habit or mastering a new skill, quality doesn’t really cut it, at least at first. In the beginning, the focus must be on repetition. The truth is that — despite the popular love of quality — we can’t get to quality without quantity. Mastery of a skill is the product of repetition.
This philosophy is true whether you’re teaching yourself to read a balance sheet, trying to read more often, or working on being a better spouse. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s look at the core concepts using the example of someone brand-new to fitness who’s starting a workout routine.
Just show up
New studies show that it takes on average, 66 days before a new behavior becomes automatic — more than two months! That means that finding a pace and intensity that allow you to do something regularly is much more important than setting a specific threshold for intensity.
Make a commitment to just show up at the gym or lace up and go for a run three times a week, versus setting an intimidating high-intensity goal (e.g. “I WILL run for 5 miles straight!”). Guess what? It counts if you put on your running shoes and walk out the door and around the block. It counts if you just walk through the front doors of the gym. End up in the sauna and not on the treadmill one day? Still counts. Don’t be hard on yourself for the intensity of the work. You get an A — at least initially — just by actually showing up. Seriously: feel good about it.
Over time you’ll run two blocks, three blocks, then two miles. You’ll skip the steam and spend 20 minutes on the StairMaster. If you continue to just show up, soon you’ll surprise yourself with 45-minute workouts and yes, even five-mile runs.
This applies in business — whether you’re doing something skill-oriented like learning to code or mastering understanding financials. You’re not going to build a perfect website, complete with intuitive UI and beautiful functionality, right off the bat. Nor will you be able to see complex financials and instantly see the company outlook they reveal. But if you focus on consistently sitting down and going through the motions of learning, you’ll get there.
Study after study shows that “self-compassion breeds resilience.” We see and accept our flaws and become motivated to work through them.
In other words, treat yourself with kindness and it’ll be easier for you to become that resilient person. You’ll develop the grit you need to hold yourself to showing up — and the wisdom of forgiving yourself on the rare occasions you don’t.
You’re not perfect, but the beauty is that nobody is. We’re perfectly imperfect, yet we often project our own insecurities onto others, giving them the perfections that we can’t see in ourselves. Giselle, President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, you name him or her — these are all people who struggle with overcoming their own insecurities on the path to greatness. But they’re successful in large part because of accepting and then moving past their failures and setbacks. They get up off the mat when life knocks them down — and you can too.
Find a Regular Time
Building a routine is easier when you do it at the same time on the same days. Condition yourself in more ways than one by sticking to a specific time — every day after lunch, first thing when you get up, right after the kids go down for the night, whatever. Set the expectation for yourself and soon your body and mind will get accustomed to using that time for the workout. It will become easier to motivate yourself to lace up as time goes on. Similarly, that holds true in a work context. If you’re trying to show your boss you’re ready for more responsibility, work on a new and valuable project or develop an additional skill as an ancillary task, focusing on it around the same time every day.
But remember to be compassionate to yourself — things will happen and you might miss a day or week. Don’t get deterred. Don’t beat yourself up. Just pick it up again and don’t look back.
Whether it’s finding a new job, building a new skill, learning to meditate, or starting to workout, the advice is the same: focus on doing something regularly, even at small intervals, before you start to amp up quality and intensity.
The quality is sure to follow.