How to Learn Any Skill 2x as Fast in Half the Time — Making Greatness, Pt. 1

by Alexander Heyne · 4 comments

How you invest your time into something is much more important than how much time you invest.”


There is Skill Involved in Learning Skills

I want to lay something down here first of all: the majority of us suck at learning skills. Believe it or not, there is a skill.. to learning skills.  Just like there are better ways to learn, there are ways and methods that can seriously improve the rate at which you learn anything skill related- whether that’s a sport, instrument or new language.

Rote repetition or memorization usually falls at the bottom of the list regarding efficient methods for learning.  Sure it works if you invest a ton of time, but it’s boring as hell and extremely unrewarding compared to other methods.

Why Practice “Deliberately?”

The majority of this post is going to come from two main sources: my own experience trying a huge variety of learning techniques (e.g. sources unknown) OR literary sources, particularly Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
and Talent Is Overrated.

The “why” part of the question is easy: you can learn pretty much anything (especially sports and tangible skills) way faster than you could or would otherwise.  There is loads of research backing up what I’m going to share here, so keep posted! This is accelerated learning at its best.

What is “Deliberate Practice?”

Here are some “givens” I want you to have faith in for the moment:

  • The amount of hours practiced is only weakly correlated with skill (remember that)
  • The greatest of the great usually do not have innate skills or super high IQs
  • You can keep getting better at a skill, indefinitely
  • Hard work itself does NOT lead to greatness
  • How you use your time practicing is way more important than how much time you use**

What deliberate practice actually is:

  • Focused, regimented training with target goals and feedback
  • Finding specific parts of your skill to train
  • Keeping yourself within the learning curve at all times
  • Highly demanding intellectually
  • Avoiding automation in training

How to Apply the Principles Here

Throughout this explanation, I’m going to use learning tennis as an example.

There are three phases in learning a skill in regard to Deliberate Practice: the before, during and after phases.

  • Before
      1. Have a clear goal.  E.g. hit the tennis ball over the net.  Without a goal, it is very difficult to measure progress, and especially easy to hit plateaus once you get into the middle-high level phases of a skill.
      2. Have a specific task for each training session.  E.g. today, work on serving the ball and making it over the net.
  • During
      1. Self observation with clear feedback.  E.g. if you have hit 15 balls, and not one has gone over the net, why is that?  Change your grip and try again.  Change your foot position.  Change your follow through.  Change your power.  Try each of these as an experiment and make sure whatever you test has clear feedback.
      2. Clear feedback means this: if I hit the ball softly, it won’t go over the net.  If I hit it hard, it will. Feedback is an immediate, clear indicator of the results from testing a new variable.  I know that hitting the ball softly in this case won’t work, so I hit it a little harder.  Clear feedback.
  • After
      1. Comparison to some other standard.  Comparison is often the only way to determine your skill level. You have two options here: A. Compare yourself to a previous record you had or B. Compare yourself to someone else’s record.
      2. The only way to improve your skill is to consistently improve since the last time.  Write down and beat your previous record. The only way to improve is stretch your limits.
        1. Faster serve?  Record your last one, and train until you beat it.
        2. More accurate backhand?  Set up targets on various parts of the court and hit the increasingly difficult ones.
        3. Better overhand?  Practice getting the ball tighter and tighter over the net. You need specifics to train and improve or else you’re just spinning your wheels.

A Brief Recap

I want you to print this out and put it on your wall.  Next time you are learning something new, refer to it every single training session:

  • A. Have a goal to reach, and a specific part of your skill to train. The goal needs to be a little harder than the previous ones, and extremely specific.
  • B. Have feedback while training. Are you reaching the goal or not? Test strategies and try it again.
  • C. Review your training and set a new goal to reach next training session.

Next In the Series (Part 2): Making Greatness (Flow with Doc. C)

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan December 16, 2012 at 2:21 am

Hey Alex,

Great points. I think the 10,000 hour rule actually works to become a master, but with an asterisk next to it.

Over the course of 10,000 hours, one figures out the mistakes they’ve made learning the skill.

However, with your methods that you mentioned, or by finding a great mentor, that number can be cut down significantly. Hence, the weak correlation between hours practiced and skill. I want to read “Mastery” by Robert Greene soon to find out more about this kind of stuff.


Alexander Heyne December 18, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Hey Ryan —

That’s an interesting observation and I totally agree — in 10,000 hours hopefully you know what DOESN”T work haha. But that’s also why I’m against the 10,000 hour rule.

That doesn’t factor in a bazillion other variables — it’s like the worst-case scenario, just invest 10,000 hours. Well I learned to speak/read/write chinese at almost the highest level (based on the HSK test) in 12 months. 99% of people study for 5, 10, 20 years and never even get close to where I am.

Also, is 1 hour a day every day equal to 6 hours a day everyday? Hell no! I bet, even if you did the math, the 6 hour a day person learns faster because with so much back-to-back experience you learn quicker because it also stays fresher.

Agree with you, it’s definitely a weak correlation.

Mastery is on my reading list too !


Uldis October 5, 2013 at 11:23 pm

Hi !

I am learning Texas Holdem (poker) now, to become a professional player.
I read poker theory and play micro-stake games, striving to put that theory to practice and see what works for me and what not.
My only measurement is win rate, but it is not very good indicator if measured for a training session because of fluctuations.
Of course, after a game I review my actions, look at what went wrong and what mistakes I’ve made, write it all down and try to avoid these mistakes next time, but it’s hard to dissect game to elements and train each element separately. May be it’s possible with some training software and some specific skills , e.g. calculating odds and outs, I don’t know.

I’d like to hear your opinion about how to use your method to improving card playing skills.


Alexander Heyne October 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Hi Uldis,

What are the core skills in poker? To be honest I know next to nothing about the sport so I’m kind of useless.

What do to player pokers know that you don’t? How do they practice?


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