Progress in anything requires us to learn and master new skills. But developing new skills isn’t enough; we must also master the skill of linking skills.
Note: This is post evolved from my notes for Episode 61 of My Circus Life, a weekly broadcast in which I share a lesson from my practice in flying trapeze and trampoline and apply it to life beyond the circus tent. You can watch the replay here.
The Skill of Linking Skills
In addition to being an amazing (and fun) way to stay in shape, flying trapeze and trampoline have taught me a lot about how to build skills toward a goal. In flying trapeze, every component of taking a trick to the catcher, returning to the flying trapeze bar and remounting the board (a “round trip”) is an independent skill. We learn and train each of the components for months or years before putting them together.
Trampoline follows the same process.
Progress in these pursuits is not just about developing new skills; it’s also about linking skills together.
Linking Skills Creates Sustainable Practices
Using this process has helped me create and sustain my “Ritual Stacks” — a growing set of daily practices that includes fitness, meditation, writing 2500 words, and completing 10,000 steps.
Whether you want to expand your habit stack or create more fluency in your workflow, it helps to master the skill of linking skills.
Here are 5 tips to help you establish the mindset for linking skills.
5 Tips to Establish the Mindset for Linking Skills
(1) You need to have proficiency in each skill before you can link them.
To effectively link two skills, I practice each independently for a long time until it is second nature. It’s not enough to know how to do the skill; I am confident that I can do it without thought. The skill must become embodied so that I can trust that my body will do what it knows how to do.
For example, before I take a trick out of safety lines on the trapeze, I must know that I can always turn safely to land on my back in the net. I don’t have time to think about it in the air; it must happen automatically.
(2) Linking 2 different skills is a skill in its own right
Linking skills isn’t just about doing the two skills one after the other. When we link skills, we create a new skill. And with that new skill comes all the typical trappings of learning a new skill: it’s often not pretty when you first start.
This is important to remember because the individual skills will change slightly when we link them. When I forget this, and when my individual skills, in combination with each other, aren’t as good as they are when I do them separately, I get frustrated. It can feel like I am regressing in both skills.
(3) Linking skills requires both planning and presence
To link the skills effectively, you need to plan to know where you are going with it, what you plan to do, and how you will execute it.
At the same time, you must stay present. Getting too far ahead of yourself is what leads to mistakes in the first skill, and then there’s nothing to link to the second skill.
This is the tightrope we walk in both circus and life: staying present while knowing where you’re going and how you will execute when you get to that place.
Related: Watch Episode 17: The Fine Line of Anticipation
(4) When linking skills, both skills will change slightly in the new skill
When we link skills, we often need to change how we exit the first skill and enter the second skill. The mechanics of executing the two skills are different when we do them separately. Sometimes the changes are subtle, and sometimes they are more noticeable. It’s important to be aware of how you the mechanics need to change when you do them in combination.
(5) Linking skills is often messy at the start
When we link two skills we are effectively learning a brand new skill. And like any new skill, it will be messy at the beginning. There is an element of fear, but my mindset is to just try to get it done, no matter what — within the bounds of physical safety, of course.
In life beyond the circus tent, my physical safety usually isn’t at risk; the fear is that I will damage my pride by not being “perfect.” Somehow, that feels more threatening than throwing tricks without safety lines.
The key to moving forward is to commit to doing it even if it’s messy. You can clean up a messy process, but stopping yourself from moving forward in the first place will breed self-doubt and fear.
Learning how to link skills together opens us up to a whole new world of fun. And as my trampoline coach says,
It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how.
Master the skill of linking skills, and you’ll know how.