How To Become So Good They Can’t Ignore You
I stole the title of this post from Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. But I did so for a purpose. I picked this title because it is so good you can’t ignore it.
That is what you should strive for if you wish to do something you are passionate about or succeed as a writer or whatever your craft is. Strive to become so good others in your field can’t ignore your work.
Cal Newport found, after interviewing professionals from various professions, that people are passionate about what they do when they experience creativity, control, and impact with their work.
But the thing is, these work traits — creativity, control, and impact — are rare and valuable. Only rare and valuable skills can allow you to have this flexibility with your work. And to develop rare and worthy skills, you need to build a craftsman mindset.
Everyone talks about all the tips and tricks to become so good at something, but so rarely do I hear them talk about the mindset for success and mastery.
When I started writing about 16 months ago — when my writing skill was embarrassingly terrible — I wanted to become so good at writing. But there were was one thing holding me back: my passion mindset.
But after I ditched my passion mindset and developed a craftsman mindset, everything changed. My writing skill excelled, and I went on to accomplish a lot of writing goals and got articles published in major publications.
Here’s what a craftsman mindset is, why it beats a passion mindset, and how to build it yourself:
What Is a Craftsman Mindset and How Can It Help Me Succeed?
“Craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world. The passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you. This mindset is how most people approach their working lives.” — Cal Newport.
A craftsman mindset means the mindset to know all the ins and outs of your craft. It means doing it every day, regardless of how you feel and the time you have. The craftsman mindset is the mindset to become the go-to guy or gal for it. It is about enjoying getting better at your craft as you go along in your journey.
Take, for example, a carpenter in the middle ages. He is a craftsman who needs to always get better at his craft because there are thousands of other carpenters in the city market. He needs to get better so he can charge higher rates and quit working for this grumpy bald guy who pays him pennies for hours of work. So he can have more flexibility, creativity, and control over his craft — and most importantly — more coins.
But how can he achieve that? By working on his craft every day, to become so good. He does this to survive. The only way for him to become better at what he does is by developing a craftsman mindset, and how to build a craftsman mindset is what I’m here to show you today.
Before adopting this mindset, I had the passion mindset.
I saw writing as just a passion I have — not a craft — and not a profession. This mindset led me to have more days off than I can count. But after I began building and adopting a craftsman mindset, I started to write even when I had 0% passion or motivation for it. Because of that, I was able to write a lot more and get a whole lot better.
In this paper for psychological science, the Stanford researchers found that a fixed passion mindset can even discourage people from developing in their interest area. They also found that when people with this mindset encounter inevitable challenges, they are more likely to quit and leave their interest.
Because people with this mindset usually expect boundless motivation from their passion, so when their passion doesn’t give them that, they start to have second thoughts about it.
The study also found that the fixed passion mindset makes people think that once they find their passion, pursuing it will be easy. Then, they get punched in the mouth by reality. That’s exactly what happened to me.
Build the Mindset of a Craftsman
To develop your passion, craft, or your fundamental skill, you need to practice it every day. To get so good, you need daily deliberately practice.
To do so, you need to build the right mindset.
Here are the four steps you need to follow to build a craftsman mindset:
1. Shift Your Thoughts
The first step I took to build my craftsman mindset was to shift my thoughts. I stopped perceiving writing as just a passion — but a profession — and a craft.
If our friend, the carpenter, kept looking at his craft as just a job he does to make pennies an hour, working for this bald always-grumpy guy that he despises, he would barely get better.
But by developing his craftsman mindset, he began to live and breathe carpentry. He started to live and breathe the cutting, the shaping, and the framing. He began to enjoy the noise of the hammer on wood. And the screeching sound of the wood against the saw. As the carpenter was struggling at night, itching his head in his rugged pillow while trying to sleep, he thought about how to improve. What tools can I use to help me get better? How can I have more time to work? What techniques can I use to achieve better results?
By shifting your thoughts and approaching what you want to get so good at as something you do to survive — like the carpenter — and actually doing it, your mindset will start to change. And will slowly turn to a craftsman mindset.
Even if this skill you want to get good at is not your number one skill or just a hobby you sometimes do on the side, developing the craftsman mindset and tackling it with the same determination and grit will make you get pretty good at it much quicker.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll find yourself really digging it and end up making a career out of it.
2. Take on Challenging Projects
When I decided to try writing about 16 months ago, I knew what I wanted to write from the get-go.
It was a +100,000 words epic novel with dozens of characters in a whole new fantasy world. Mind you. I haven’t written any story before or article except rarely for school and in English exams.
Professional Writers always advise new writers who want to write a book to start small, write something short and easy. But, I’m one stubborn guy, so I couldn’t sign up for that.
Although English is not my first language, and I was a full-time college student, 13 months later, I finished the novel. It was such an intense and complicated project, especially for a newbie like I was, but I pulled it off by adopting a craftsman mindset. Because I did this and took on this challenging project that most writers don’t, I was able to become a whole lot better.
But even after I finished my first book, my writing skill was still far from excellent. I realized that if I really wanted to do this for a living, I had to take on more challenging projects and write in various ways.
I started to study copywriting and wrote ads to focus on getting better at writing compelling copy. Now, my focus is on writing articles and blog posts. So, now I’m writing articles every day to get better.
Whatever it is the thing you want to get so good at, you better off tackling challenging projects if you strive to get pretty darn good.
Taking on challenging projects will get you significantly better at your craft, and your confidence will increase, and your craftsman mindset will naturally start to develop.
3. Daily Deliberate Practice
I only started to see real change in my writing skill after I began deliberately practicing the craft.
Let’s return to the best practitioner, our friend the carpenter.
While he was rolling around in his rough bed in the cold night, he figured that he needed not only to take on challenging projects but also change his workplace and practice a bit in his room after returning from the merchant’s workshop.
He figured that if he wanted to get really good, so good — real fast — he needed to work in periods of undistracted focus. Because in the workshop, there were other carpenters who preferred to gossip about the bald merchant instead of focusing on their cutting and framing. So he bought the material he needed to practice carpentry on his own, in his room. Also, he bought himself some proper middle ages earplugs from the city market and wore them in the workshop to focus on his craft.
By doing this, he was able to get a lot better — a lot quicker — and slowly the merchant started paying him more after the carpenter threatened him to leave his workshop and go freelance on his own.
What we can learn from the carpenter, and what I learned while developing my writing skill is that the best way to get so good at anything is to practice it. Deliberately. Daily.
That, I found, was the number one thing that helped me build my craftsman mindset. Because a craftsman works and practices his craft every day.
Anders Ericsson wrote in his co-authored book Peak the method of deliberate practice, and the main points are those four:
Periods of undistracted focus:
Find the time during the day when you’re least distracted to practice your craft, and cut every distraction to focus solely on what you do.
Cut social media, avoid using your phone, and just force yourself to focus on your craft. Find the best time that suits you, then practice your craft at it every day.
Picking a specific goal:
Pick a specific goal for every practicing session, and try to make it more difficult with every session.
If your goal for today’s session is to write 1,000 words or write for 1.5 hours, then tomorrow try writing 1,250 words or writing until 2-hours. Picking a specific goal in every session will also help you to do deep work and enter the state of flow.
Shifting between comfort and discomfort:
Shift between times of comfort and discomfort while practicing your craft.
Times of discomfort means intense focus, and possibly frustration, where you push yourself to the limit of your capabilities. If your craft is writing, then write until you reach discomfort and always challenge yourself by picking and trying to achieve tougher writing goals. Such as more time writing, more words down, writing on complex topics and trying other forms of writing.
Getting feedback and guidance from experts:
The best way to know that you’re any good is to have others — especially experts on the craft — look at it and give you some honest-useful feedback.
If you’re a writer, keep publishing stuff and work with editors to improve. There’s nothing more valuable than experts’ advice if you want to get better at your craft.
Deliberate practice is your best friend to master any skill and develop your craftsman mindset.
4. Do It for a Living
A craftsman doesn’t practice his craft every day, only to get better because he wants to, but he does it for a living.
Would our friend, the carpenter, practice this sweaty and draining craft daily just for the sake of getting better? Why would he spend all morning and even after he returns from work cutting, framing, and shaping stiff wood to get better? Why does he want to get so good anyway? He isn’t in the business for fun, but to earn back his effort and be fairly and generously compensated for his work.
If you want to become so good at your craft and take it seriously, then doing it to get paid will shift your mindset to that of a professional and a craftsman.
You don’t have to quit your job immediately and pursue this craft full-time. But maybe create a side-hustle doing it. If your skill is writing — again with the writing examples — sorry, that’s what I can think of for now. I’m too lazy to think of anything else. As I was saying, if you’re a writer, try writing a book and selling it, or writing here on Medium, or even selling writing services for companies.
Doing this will also help you get immediate feedback for your work from people and experts in your craft. And as I said, getting feedback and experts’ advice is one of — if not the most — valuable things for your work. Doing it for a living will provide you real-life experience practicing this craft, and that by itself will boost your confidence and help build your craftsman mindset.
When I first started writing, I felt like a fraud. That imposter-syndrome was hitting me hard, and at times it got to the point of becoming crippling. One of the main reasons for that was because I wasn’t doing it for a living.
It wasn’t until I pursued writing for a living that I was able to ditch the passion mindset, build my confidence by getting real-life results and experience, and fully-adopt the craftsman mindset.
And there is no better feedback than actual money for your work.
To be passionate about what you do, Cal Newport found that you need to experience creativity — creative control over your work — and flexibility (control), and experience impact with your work.
These are very rare and valuable work traits that only people with rare and valuable skills experience — for the most part — and to build rare and valuable skills, you need to develop a craftsman mindset.
You need to get really good at what you do. Scrap the passion mindset and don’t wait for passion with every project and every step of the way. As the passion study, I discussed earlier showed, passion is better developed than awaited for.
I wouldn’t have gotten better at writing if I only wrote when I had a passion for it. There were many days when I could find neither passion nor motivation — but by building a craftsman mindset — I was able to push through them and do my writing.
Here’s how to build a craftsman mindset in summary:
- Shift your thoughts: Stop perceiving your craft as a passion, but as a craft that you must do to survive. Remember the carpenter in the middle-ages who is trying to survive by always getting better at what he does, and start approaching your craft as he does.
- Take on challenging projects: By taking on challenging projects, you’ll force yourself out of your comfort zone, and your mind will get forced to adapt, and your skills forced to develop.
- Daily deliberate practice: The best way to get better and build a craftsman mindset is through deliberately practicing your craft daily. To do so, pick a specific time to practice, then define a specific goal for every practicing session. Cut all distractions while practicing, shift between comfort and discomfort by challenging your capabilities, and also, don’t forget to get guidance and feedback from experts.
- Do it for a living: A craftsman is a craftsman not just because he is quite good at what he does, but because he does it for a living. Doing it for a living or at least money on the side is the best thing you’ll do to develop your skill and build that craftsman mindset.
Doing those four steps helped me ditch the passion mindset, get a whole lot better, and build my craftsman mindset.
From now on, I’ll approach any serious skill I want to develop with this mindset. Maybe I’m not so good at writing yet, but this mindset allowed me to reach a level I never thought I could be at in my craft, and it still serves me every day to hustle.
Build the mindset of a craftsman, then act to embody to become a professional — and be like the carpenter — to become a master.