Definitive Guide To Getting Better At Shit

Posted on by Brian Hertzog

How many conferences do you attend, books do you buy, how much advice do you seek? Don't misinterpret what I'm about to suggest, but this isn't the stuff that matters. There's only one proven way to get better at something and I'm going to do my best to explain it as simply as possible.

To get better at shit, you have to do it. You have to roll up your pressed white sleeves, the bottom of your jeans, and get dirty. Theory and practice go together like "peas and carrots", but if you had to choose between reading about playing soccer or playing soccer, which one do you think will make you a better player? 

I've played soccer most of my life, so I'm using it as an example. I couldn't tell you the number of hours, days, months, I've practiced soccer, but it's a pretty freaking large chunk. So what?  Can't you hack skills and get good really quick?

Hacking will only get you so far. It's true there are people who are "naturally gifted". But for the rest of us mortals, to become truly great at something takes practice. At a high level of competitive soccer, you're not afforded the time to think when you get the ball. You have to already know what you're going to do with it once it hits your foot. Using official soccer jargon, a coach might say to a player, "anticipate the play". These precious seconds of receiving and distributing the ball to it's next destination separate the top players from the rest.

Beyond a certain level, the fundamentals are all there. The only way to pick up these sixth-sense details is to become fluent. Practice, practice, practice. Malcolm Gladwell describes this as the "10,000 hour" rule, suggesting that to become "an expert", you must practice at least 10,000 hours. I don't disagree.

There are ways of course, to accelerate learning. Studying the best of the best in any field will give you techniques to imitate or ideas to try. Reading books, listening to lectures, and asking plenty of questions might also speed up the process. But in "the laws of getting better at shit", experience trumps them all.

If you're not prepared to invest the time to learn something, ask yourself why you want to learn the skill at all. What's your motive? Is it money, fame, girls? You must confront your desire to get better at something and dismiss the other reasons. In my experience the best motive is love.

If what you're working on doesn't feel like work, chances are you'll be more willing to dedicate those 10,000 hours. Soccer practice never felt like work, with the exception of a few crazy amounts of running but even then, I knew it would pay off in my overall performance, so I was happy to sacrifice the energy. That's my best advice. Find stuff you genuinely would do for hours and hours for free. That's what will most likely get you fame, money, and maybe even the girls. 

Getting better is a great feeling. With each incremental improvement you bump yourself into the next percentile of people practicing your craft. What will be effortless to you might seem impossible to someone just beginning. Your time, energy, and extra laps around the field will be worth it.

Start with what you love. Let the rest take care of itself. One practice at a time, enjoy the process. Smile at the hurdles and focus on your goal. You'll get there. And when you do, don't forget to help others find their own way.