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In my opinion, one of the most valid heuristics in life is: “hard is good, easy is bad” – great ‘entities’ are time honored; and becoming an expert is not an exception.

Benjamin Bloom, (one of the pioneers of the psychology of expert performance) carried out a retrospective study probing the childhoods of some expert performers in a wide range of field in the 80s. Surprisingly, his battery of researches indicated that there are no correlation between expert performance and IQ. What tends to correlate with expert performance is the amount of practice – not just mere practice but what is called “deliberate practice”

In the book, Moon walking with Einstein, Joshua Foer gave a great description of what it takes to be an expert (or to be great at something):

3 stages in acquiring new skills:

Cognitive stage: Here, you are learning the techniques and “tricks”; so you will definitely make lots of mistakes.

Associative stage: Here, you kind of get a hold of the techniques; efficiency increases, with fewer mistakes.

Autonomous stage: You are in the flow. You get rid – for the most part – the conscious control associated with the prior stages. Joshua Foer called this the “OK plateau” “The point at which you decide you are OK with how good you are at something , turn on autopilot, and stop improving”

{For clarity: Think of when you started driving versus now (assuming you are good at it)}

Here is the key to becoming an expert: Stay off the autonomous stage.

How? Let’s follow the prescriptions of expert performance psychologists:

 1, Take on deliberate task beyond your competence and comfort. (Focus on techniques)

2, Be goal oriented (laser focus)

3, Get a very robust feedback (which means you have to continuously monitor progress aggressively) And tweak actions based on feedbacks

Psychologists believe that 10,000 hours of this process leads to expertise.

The important point here is – when you are doing this, you get your ass stuck at the cognitive stage! (Which is literally, the art of practicing failing)

By default this is hard – it should be – but remember: Hard is good, Easy is bad.

This is almost like the “Law of gravity” for mastery, even the super-smart don’t defy it.

Let me end with this apt quote from Macklemore “The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint, the greats were great because they paint a lot!”

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