Be a master, not a dabbler

5 fantastic ways to master any new skill

In February 1994, Seinfeld aired the episode, The Marine Biologist. I wasn’t yet 10 years old and I didn’t see it. It wasn’t until I reached my mid-twenties that I truly started to appreciate the artist that is Jerry Seinfeld. Recently, I read an interview with Jerry talking about the best joke that he had contributed to the series. It was the final moments of this episode.

Where does this one sit in your list of great jokes?

The success of this joke and of Seinfeld as a series is no accident. It took years of work for Seinfeld to master his craft and he’s still developing his skills to this day.

There have been plenty of crafts I’ve tried to master in my time. Some have been a resounding success and at some I have failed miserably.

One such failure has been my many attempts to learn guitar. I love everything about guitars from the sleek, sultry look and feel to the multitude of sounds that 6 little strings can deliver. Let’s face it, when you’re at a gig, what instrument are you eying off?

Every now and then I’ve decided that it was the right time to learn the guitar. I pick up one of the guitars lying around our house, re-learn the basic chords and maybe put them together into some kind of tune. I usually do this for a couple of days before I start to get frustrated.

Firstly, the tips of my fingers are by now hurting like hell. Secondly, I’m still not the rock ‘n’ roll hero I thought I’d be by now. So by the end of the week, I’ve generally put down the guitar and reminded myself again that it’s just not for me.

Now, whenever I pick up a guitar, I can easily find E minor, but I’m never going to be able to belt out a tune.

Regardless of the new skill, this sort of dabbling will really only get you so far. It’s easy to learn that you need to tailor your communication style to meet the needs of the person you’re communicating with. It’s another thing altogether to practice this change in the style and language you use, day in and day out to as many different people as you can.

Jerry Seinfeld Photo: Jerry Seinfeld tour shot

Don’t fall into my trap. These 5 tips will have you mastering your art in no time!

  1. First, start off easy

Instead of deciding to pick up the guitar in the hope of fast-tracking your way to the Rock n Roll hall of fame, chunk it out. Set yourself a target for the week or the month and make it something that gets you an inch closer to where you want to be, that way each week/month you’ve moved that inch and after a year you’re well on your way to being the superstar you know you are.

Chunking it down to 10 minutes is a great mindset hack. It makes it seem easier and therefore we become more willing participants.

This great technique isn’t just used to learn a new skill, it’s also great to develop habits. Consider all of the great interval based classes offered by your local gym. The benefits in terms of fitness will be debated for many years to come however it’s in a different benefit where this really shines. By breaking your work out down, you’re more likely to stick to it. If I asked you to do 5 minutes of burpees you’d probably hit me BUT if I asked you to do burpees at 30 seconds on, 20 seconds off until you’ve been working for 5 minutes, you’d smash them out.

One of my favourite tips to chunk down goals was shared by a friend who was learning a new instrument. He told me that he dedicated just 10 minutes a day to his practice. It’s a mindset thing and everyone can find 10 minutes right? Genius!I love this tip so much that do this with everything now. 10 minutes of reading, 10 minutes of writing, 10 minutes of walking even 10 minutes of cleaning.

2. Make it fun

A while back I stumbled across a great 5 minute TED Talk by Cosmin Mihaiu. In it he discusses using games to get physical therapy patients to complete the exercises they were sent home to do, an important nut to crack given the around 70% noncompliance from patients.

Mihaiu demonstrates one particular game where the player has to help a bee collect pollen and avoid various other interferences. The player is able to control the bee using elbow extensions which they have been set by their therapist to complete prior to their consultation. Their model is simple. By making the exercises fun they can increase compliance in patients and that can ultimately lead to a faster recovery.

Cosmin Mihaiu with his game Photo:

Adults learn in the same way as children, we like fun and we like to be entertained. In fact, the good old smartphone has made this more imperative as it’s dramatically decreased the human concentration span. Gamification isn’t just a buzz word. A study by Technology Advice showed that over 50% of employees say that they would be more willing to complete a task if it incorporated gamified elements.

Adding games to your learning is easy. Set time, word or any other targets to your study, set a challenge with a friend or group and add in a scoring system to track your progress. Most importantly, reward yourself for your achievements.

3. Create a chain

Jerry Seinfeld has said that the only way to become a better comedian was to write daily. What Jerry was saying was that it isn’t the focus on writing the best jokes — the results — that is important, it is the actual consistency in writing that makes all the difference. Some days he may smash them out of the park and other days he probably isn’t feeling it. The important thing is that regardless, he does it, every single day.

It was Jerry who first talked about creating chains. It’s simple, it’s catchy and I love it. All you need to do according to Jerry is grab yourself a calendar and a bright red pen. Each day commit to spending time (the amount is up to you) completing your task — you know, the one you want to be the master in. Once you’ve completed your task for the day, draw a big red cross on your calendar.

Keep doing that each day and pretty soon you’ll have a chain. The thing is that once the chain is started, you won’t want to break it so you’ll have to keep going. How simple is that for great motivation!

Don’t break the chain! Photo:

4. Get in the zone

Do you find that some days everything just clicks, whereas other days it’s all a bit of a struggle? What are you doing on those days where it seems really easy? Do you have a routine that really works? Something that gets you in the zone?

Being a master isn’t just about the time you put in when you’re “doing,” it’s also about how you go about preparing yourself and your space. To do that, you need to understand how you “do you” best and that’s something I can’t tell you. I can tell you how I do me best but you’re going to have to figure out your own “zone” yourself.

Here are a couple tips.

Firstly, always take care of the fundamentals before you start. Ensure that you’re not hungry, thirsty, tired, need the bathroom. These are all distractions and with so many things vying for our attention, we really don’t need any others.

Know how and when you do your best work. Many people find that a little exercise has benefits far beyond getting fit and helping you lose or gain weight. It’s also been proven to help concentration and output and decreases fatigue. A walk in the fresh air or your favourite fitness class might just be the perfect pre-mastering activity. Others prefer to meditate, read or listen to some music. Learn what works for you.

The other thing to consider is the time of day you tend to work best. If you haven’t got this figured out yet then spend 2–3 weeks measuring your energy and focus. Measure both on a scale of 1–10 each hour for 3 weeks. At the end of that time you’ll start to see a pattern forming. When you’re focus and energy are peaking, that’s your best hour. For me, I hit a peak in the am and then get a second wind about 4pm. These are my perfect mastering hours.

Finally, Set up your space. What’s the look and feel of your perfect learning space? I know loads of people who prefer to write whilst sitting in a cafe drinking coffee. As a people watcher, this provides me with the perfect distraction from actually doing any work. Similarly, If i’m at home I may find that I’m doing more cleaning than I am working.


My perfect learning space is the local library. It’s quiet, clean, full of all the resources I need and I can quite easily set up some light classical music and sit for hours on end.

If you’re working from home then I suggest getting all of your cleaning done before hand, avoiding working with the TV on and exercise your pet before you start so that they’re not desperate for your attention.

The zone is a personal thing but with a small amount of effort, you’ll have yours figured out in no time.

5. Apply it to real life

When I was a little younger, I used to play the saxophone. When I was starting out, my teacher would teach me a scale or two and then it was my homework to go and play these scales over and over again for a week. I had a friend who was also learning saxophone however she had a different teacher. Her teacher taught her jazz and blues and each week she had a song to practice. Which one of us excelled do you think?

Unsurprisingly it wasn’t me. I got bored with my scales and fell out of love with the sax until I came to realise that it wasn’t the instrument that was the problem but the way I was learning.

Applying your new skill to real life is a great way to speed up your progress. If you’re learning a new language then practice speaking it with a native, or if you can’t do that then you can watch tv or cartoons and read children’s books in that language. If you’re learning to write then practice with a subject you love and start putting pen to paper. If you’re learning to present then download Virtual Speech and grab a cheap pair or VR glasses so that you can practice in front of a “live” audience. Regardless of your skill, there’s always a way to fit it into your daily life.

So there you have it, 5 simple techniques that are going to have you Jedi Mastering your way to your next success. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some fundamental skills to develop in our ever changing world. If you’re not dabbling in anything at the moment then these are going to be great places to use your new techniques.

Until next time,


One last thing…
If you liked this article then please do me the honour of clapping below. It allows other people to enjoy it too.

About the Author

Rebecca Sharp is a lover of learning, driver of talent, passionate about people, and an advocate for lifelong learning. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.