If you’re interested in personal development and personal growth, it’s likely that you want to improve some area of your life or some skill. More than improve; you want to develop mastery.
The question is: How do you get better?
Here is a 7-step process to constantly improve and stay on the path to mastery:
(1) Learn from the Best Teacher
If you want to master a skill, learn from a master teacher.
Many people get this wrong. They seek out a teacher who is a master in doing the skill. The problem is that some people are masters at doing a thing but they are horrible teachers. They may not have conscious competence. Or they may not know how to teach to the level of the student.
A master teacher or coach can break down what someone else is doing and teach it at the level that works for the student.
(2) Practice: Do the Thing
If you want to improve any skill, you must practice that skill. But simply doing the thing isn’t enough.
Practice Good Form
Contrary to popular myth, practice does not make perfect. Although it’s true that the only way to learn how to do something is to do it, doing it alone won’t make you better.
Writing daily does not make you a better writer. Singing daily does not make you a better singer.
Perfect practice makes perfect. When you practice with poor form, you turn the poor form into a habit.
It’s harder to break habits than to make habits. Take the time to learn good form and the best techniques. Then practice in good form.
If you’re developing a skill for a specific purpose, practice under “game conditions.” You perform as you practice.
When I was preparing for my first stand-up comedy show, I went to open mics to practice on a real stage in front of an audience. If you’re preparing for a presentation, practice in front of people.
(3) Condition Your Craft
Always be working on your craft and the core skills that are essential to the skills you wish to improve.
A basketball player doesn’t just practice his free throws and jump shots; he hits the gym to keep his physical body in shape.
Jerry Seinfeld famously writes a joke a day. If you’re in any field where you need to develop ideas, you’ve got to hone your craft of ideation daily, by taking inventory of your ideas and developing new ones.
Masters in any discipline cultivate rituals as the bedrock of honing their craft.
No matter what skill you’re working on, it starts with a healthy body and mind.
Beyond that, what’s the craft that fuels your work? What rituals are essential to developing your skills?
(4) Listen to the Feedback
Be open to receiving criticism. Solicit feedback and be open to listening to the feedback you receive.
Listen with “honest ears.” Hear the actual feedback, not what you want to hear. (This does not apply to feedback from trolls.)
Find people who are willing to tell you the truth, and who can give you knowledgeable feedback.
(5) Analyze Your Performance
This is the crucial step for improvement. Without proper feedback and analysis you will just repeat the same motions over and over again.
CANI: Constant and Never-Ending Improvement
If you want to improve, you must be able to step outside of your actions to view them through an objective lens.
After any performance, talk, coaching call, presentation, event, closing, and even at the end of every day, I ask two questions:
- what went great?
- what could I do better?
This is the process of CANI — Constant and neverending improvement — that I learned from Tony Robbins. I list at least three things in response to each question. If you really want to make the lessons stick, write out your answers.
If you lead a team, this is a crucial exercise to do at the end of every project or at major milestones on longer projects.
Be Relentless in Your Search For the Distinctions
As a volunteer at Tony Robbins seminars I’ve learned to seek out the distinctions — the 2 millimeter shifts — that make the difference.
In a business of comedy class I took last week, comedians Harrison Greenbaum and Gibran Saleem shared this distinction between a great comic and a bad comic:
A bad comic will bomb, but one person laughed, and he focuses on that person.
A great comic will kill, but one person doesn’t laugh and he focuses on that person.
Obviously you’ll never please everyone, but being relentless in your obsession with understanding why one thing worked and why another thing didn’t work will only make you better.
Record, Watch, and Listen
You can’t fix what you don’t see or hear. Often, we remember things incorrectly. The camera or audio recording doesn’t lie.
In my flying trapeze classes we have a video camera connected to a TiVO. When we come down from the net after practicing a trick, we review it in slow motion. Frame by frame. This helps us see what we are doing and what we need to fix. We also record each other with our cameras (now our phones) to have a record of our progress.
I regularly record many of my trampoline skills to keep a record of my progress and see where to adjust. The more complex the skill, the more it helps to do video review.
I self-record all of my talks and have them transcribed. During the stand-up comedy class I took, I recorded my set in every class. I also record myself at every open mic.
If you can’t record your actions, pause periodically to write down what you’re doing. After my morning deep work session I will write an entry in my DayOne journal about my session. This helps me see my process and develop more effective systems.
Get Outside Perspective
Video and audio recordings won’t help you much if you don’t know what you’re looking for. This is where it helps to hire a coach.
A great coach will look at what you’re doing and point things out that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Unfortunately most coaches don’t do this.
(6) Adapt, Tweak, and Iterate
All that analysis is a waste unless you do something with it.
Pick one thing to change and test it.
One at a Time
This is crucial: change only one thing at a time. Often people want to change everything. When you change too much you don’t get a clear read on what really works.
Change one thing, see what happens. Then change the next thing.
Sometimes you can improve drastically just by changing one small thing. In trapeze, a small change can impact an entire trick. In comedy, a simple tweak to a set up can make the punchline work.
Be patient and methodical with this. You can’t rush Mastery.
You didn’t think once was enough, did you?
It takes years of repeating this cycle to develop mastery.
And here’s a tip: don’t claim your own mastery. True masters never believe they’ve attained mastery. They always see the next level.