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Daniel Coyle

The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills

# PART I: Getting Started

  • Engrave a skill: intense observation, short-burst, repeat.
  • Spartan - humble spaces focus attention on deep-practice.
  • Luxury - says "relax - you've made it".
  • Hard Skills == High Precision
    • correctness & consistency
    • one path to ideal result
    • repeatable precision
  • Soft Skills == High Flexibility
    • agility & interactive
    • recognizing patterns and making smart, timely choices
    • broader, less-specialized
  • Identify the type of skill. TIP: skills with coaching are usually hard skills
  • Hard Skills - careful, slow and keenly attuned to errors.
    • Our brains are good at building connections but bad at unbuilding them.
  • Soft Skills - play & exploration inside challenging, changing environments.
    • High number of varied reps with clear feedback; errors happen during exploration.
  • Prioritize Hard Skills

# PART II: Improving Skills

  • Learn in the sweet spot - right on the edge of ability:
    • comfort zone (ease / effortless / flow)
    • SWEET SPOT (frustration, difficulty, alertness to errors) ENGAGED
    • survival zone (confusion, desperation, scrambling, guessing)
  • TIP: Avoid flow. Do what does not come easy.
  • Deep practice is measured in high-quality reaches and repetitions, not time.
  • Break moves down into chunks:
    • see the whole
    • identify smallest masterable element
    • find other chunks that link to mastered chunk
    • put them together
  • Embrace struggle
  • 5 minutes per day > an hour per week
  • practice alone
    • best way to find your sweet spot
    • develops discipline
  • Think in images: easier to grasp, recall and perform.
  • Attend to errors immediately to prevent them from becoming habits (which are hard to break).
  • Slow Down, even slower than you think.
  • When you get it right, mark the spot. This is the new starting point.
  • TIP To Master a Skill, Master Something Harder.
  • To learn a new move, exaggerate it, then dial back later. First find the outer edges of the move, then build precision
  • Focus on achieving the target, not avoiding the mistake
  • TIP Create Beauty, Don’t Avoid Ugliness. Have an image of what perfect execution looks like that includes all of the relevant senses
    • Weaker performers try to reactively move away from mistakes, while stronger performers move towards a perfect mental image.
  • 3x10: practice 3 times with 10 minute breaks between reps.
  • Stop before you're exhausted.
  • Practice immediately after performance, and end on a positive note.

# PART III: Sustaining Progress

  • Embrace Repetition; this reinforces skills with biological mechanism for making the wires of our brains faster and more accurate.
  • Blue-Collar mindset: inspiration is for amateurs; pros go to work every day, whether they feel like it or not.
  • For every hour of performance, spend 5 hours of practicing.
  • Don't break bad habits, displace them with new ones.
  • Our brains are good at building circuits not unbuilding them. Ignore the bad habit and put energy toward building a new habit to override the old one.
  • To learn a skill more deeply, teach it. Teaching something well forces you to go through the processes outlined above, which benefits your learning too.
  • Give a new skill time to mature and develop. Anecdotally 8 weeks seems to be common.
  • When you plateau, shift. You get stuck on autopilot, performing without conscious thought. Change practice method to disrupt the automatic response. Change:
    • speed
    • order
    • timing
  • TIP Systematically eliminate weakness (handicap your strengths).
  • Keep your big goals secret. Sharing goals tricks your brain into thinking you've already accomplished something and then we don't work as hard or long, and it reduces motivation.

# Bonus Reading

Flow is the Opiate of the Mediocre: Advice on Getting Better from an Accomplished Piano Player (opens new window)