Do it every day for a while: how to get better at a skill

It’s that time of year when you start to act on plans to hone existing skills and develop new habits. When the young Anne Lamott decided to start writing short stories, her father, also an author, provided some guidance about how to get better:

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As you chug along with your plans keep this nugget of wisdom in mind, for those times when you’ll be sinking in doubt and unsure about how to make progress.


Do it every day for a while

Developing a skill is hard work. To transform an unfamiliar activity into a habit, you need to work on it until it becomes second nature. Work on it every day – even if it’s for only a few minutes.


Do it as you would do the scales on the piano

The grunt work required to develop a skill is usually repetitive and excruciatingly boring. But it must be done if you want to progress. Understand this at the outset and plan for periods of boredom. Remind yourself that long-term success depends on your grasp of the fundamentals.


Do it by prearrangement with yourself

Make it a priority. Schedule a regular time and stick to it. If not every day then at least a few times a week.


Do it as a debt of honor

You owe it to yourself to become the best version of you. To give yourself the best chance of success, take on habits and skills that interest you personally. Taking on someone else’s suggestions or mimicking their behaviors will not work if they don’t align with your needs.


Make a commitment to finishing things

A few weeks, or months, or maybe even just days, into the project you’ll feel like you haven’t made adequate – or any – progress. Your goal will seem too far out, you’ll feel like quitting – don’t. Use the work and knowledge that got you to this point as guidance and recalibrate. Reduce the scope of your project or revise your goal, but complete something. A completed work of second-rate quality can always be improved, a first-rate project that is incomplete cannot.

Above all enjoy the process.

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