The unwritten rules for becoming world class at anything

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Every human brain has a built-in capacity to become, over time, what we demand of it. No ability is fixed. You can become world-class at anything with the right mindset, tools and principles.

Millions of people have so much they can offer the world but they feel inadequate. Others can’t push themselves because they think a lot can go wrong. Many people give up too soon because of obstacles.

I started blogging a few years ago, and guess what I kept pushing, showing up every week, refining, and doing more of what works. I never studied to be a writer. I have a degree in Law and Sociology but enjoyed sharing what I found useful when I was studying software entrepreneurship after my degree.

Today I make a living from writing. I keep pushing myself to become better at it. I’m still learning. I still demand more from myself. I am nowhere near world-class but I intend to keep persevering. My goal is progress and improvement, not perfection.

The key to unlocking your most prolific self lies in the consistency of action. Success will meet you because you keep going, learn from what doesn’t work, improve what works, and make progress every day.

“…the real secret of world-class performers is not the daily routines that they develop, but that they stick to them. That they show up, even when they don’t feel like it. Call it drive, call it passion, or call it grit; whatever you call it, it must come from deep within,” explains Brad Stulberg, in his book, Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success.

Expert practice entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts. These ideas, mindsets and habits can help you master any skill.

There is never a perfect time to take action

You can only make progress if you start today, right now!

Most of us live with the stubborn illusion that we will make time tomorrow to finally get started. We consistently hold on to this belief and keep procrastinating until it’s too late to do anything worthwhile with our lives.

Left unchecked, we always default toward a more comfortable path — the path of least resistance. Your comfortable zone provides a state of mental security. You can understand why it’s so hard to kick your brain out of it to achieve anything worthwhile.

Adopt the craftsman mindset — what can I offer the world?

Train yourself like an athlete, artist, musician, or chess player!

Cal Newport explains in his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, “You shouldn’t just envy the craftsman mindset, you should emulate it. In other words, I am suggesting that you put aside the question of whether your job is your true passion, and instead turn your focus toward becoming so good they can’t ignore you. That is, regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer.”

Consistently will improve your craft, and it will definitely push you towards traction and attraction. You might not know enough…but teach anyway. You might not see clearly enough…but make a move anyway. You might not be good enough…but show your work anyway.

And don’t expect a sudden breakthrough. A good career mission is similar to a scientific breakthrough. It takes a lot of consistent experiments to get to that all-important discovery.

Embrace the messy middle — be consistent until you have a breakthrough

The journey to achieve anything worthwhile in life is not linear. There is no perfect system. There are principles, frameworks, and models that can guide you. The good news is, you don’t have to imitate the daily rituals of those you admire. You can learn from them, but what you do on a daily basis will be different from their routines.

After years of using different systems and models to bring out the best in me, I can confidently say that there is no one-size-fits-all hack for getting good at anything. What works for Tim Ferriss may not work for you. There are good guidelines and high-level principles that are universal, but you alone can define and refine what works for you. Hone them, and do more of brings out the best in you.

Scott Belsky, author of The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture, explains, “Sadly, most people are not patient enough to reap the fruits of their own labour. Great teams gain their strength and resilience while toiling their way through the valleys, not just from relishing the view from the peaks.”

Don’t compare your process to everyone else’s great work. It doesn’t work like that. To become world-class at anything, you have to learn to love your messy middle. Your job is to show up every day, hone your craft, and get to the point where learning becomes unconscious and automatic.

According to journal Nature Neuroscience, one of the most effective strategies to becoming an expert in anything is to practice something called ‘over-learning’ — “the continued training of a skill after performance improvement has plateaued.” That means you study or practice what you want until you fully understand it. Then you practice some more.

In their visual-recognition study, the researchers concluded that that over-learning helps to cement new information in your head. It also helps to block other information from coming along and replacing the thing you’ve been working hard to learn.

Free yourself from the fear of mistakes

When you follow your own true north, you will encounter setbacks. When you do, don’t let the fear of making mistakes be greater than the excitement of becoming a better version of yourself.

Screwing up does not mean it’s the end of your pursuit. Trying and failing is a necessary step for making real progress. It shows you what doesn’t work. When you fail and learn from it, you eliminate processes that don’t work. Remember, being completely terrible at something is the first step to being pretty damn good at it.

Financial Times columnist Tim Harford writes in his new book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, “success comes through rapidly fixing our mistakes rather than getting things right the first time.”

Heidi Grant Halvorson, social psychologist and author of No One Understands You and What to do About it, recommends you begin every endeavour by acknowledging what is difficult and unfamiliar, and accepting that you will need some time to really get a handle on it. She writes, “You may make mistakes, you may not be perfect, but are you improving? That’s the only question that matters.

Learn to appreciate micro-mastery — look for little wins

Forward momentum, no matter how small, is one of the biggest motivators. Progress can boost performance and improve your ability to acquire and retain new skills. By focusing on daily victories, you reinforce your actions, thus making it likely you’ll have more small wins on subsequent days.

Drawing on the work of organizational theorist and psychologist Karl Weick, Mehrnaz Bassiri, an educator says, “Small wins have transformational power. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion to favour another small win and another small win until the combination of these small wins leads to larger and greater accomplishments.”

Building self-confidence, boosting your mood, and energy is a process, not an event. Celebrate progress. Learn from them. Take a moment every day to acknowledge small steps forward and even recognize failures, when the effort was a good one.

Prioritize rest and recovery

Your ability to get better at a high level is like fitness. If you never took a break between sets to recover, you won’t be able to build strength, stamina, and endurance.

According to a study published in Current Biology taking short breaks to rest while we’re in the process of learning something new can improve our memory.

“Everyone thinks you need to ‘practice, practice, practice’ when learning something new. Instead, we found that resting, early and often, maybe just as critical to learning as practice,” Leonardo G. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., a senior investigator at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and a senior author of the paper said in a statement.

Your brain needs downtime to recover, learn better and commit new information into long-term memory. A break is essential to achieve your highest levels of performance. Take proper breaks, often. Completely clear your mind and begin again. Your success depends on it.

“Stress + rest = growth. This equation holds true regardless of what it is that you are trying to grow,” says Brad Stulberg.

Becoming world-class in anything will require hard work, sacrifice, and consistency. A combination of these ideas among others can lead to an impressive level of success in anything you choose to pursue.

This article first appeared on Medium.