1) Keep Trying New Things
Having lots of hobbies is one of the secrets of the most creative people.
“Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities— a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity— but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies…”
Matt Cutts gives a great talk about how trying new things for 30 days not only helped him learn new skills but also changed him as a person:
2) Don’t Fear Failure
In Eric Ries’ acclaimed bestseller The Lean Startup he makes it clear that little bets, or “experiments”, are critical to moving a business forward in a safe fashion:
“…If you cannot fail, you cannot learn.”
Getting it wrong helps you get it right. Making mistakes is vital to improvement.
“…Jevons is making a more subtle case for the role of error in innovation, because error is not simply a phase you have to suffer through on the way to genius. Error often creates a path that leads you out of your comfortable assumptions. De Forest was wrong about the utility of gas as a detector, but he kept probing at the edges of that error, until he hit upon something that was genuinely useful. Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.”
Taking tests increases performance – even when you fail the tests. Deliberately making mistakes during training led to better learning than being taught to prevent errors.
“…The group encouraged to make errors not only exhibited greater feelings of self-efficacy, but because they had learned to figure their own way out of mistakes, they were also far faster and more accurate in how they used the software later on.”
3) A Supportive Environment
The most effective way to change your behaviour over the long term is to manipulate your environment. Change your surroundings to make what you should do easy and what you shouldn’t do hard.
And I’m not just talking about moving furniture around. Probably the most important thing in your environment is supportive friends.
“The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. For people who want improved health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path of change.”
And when it comes to learning there’s nothing more valuable than a good mentor. How do you pick the right one?
Via Daniel Coyle’s excellent book The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills:
1) Avoid Someone Who Reminds You of a Courteous Waiter
2) Seek Someone Who Scares You a Little
3) Seek Someone Who Gives Short, Clear Directions
4) Seek Someone Who Loves Teaching Fundamentals
5) Other Things Being Equal, Pick the Older Person
4) Focus on the Long Term
Merely deciding you’re committed for the long-term vs the short-term dramatically increases progress and improvement.
“The differences were staggering. With the same amount of practice, the long-term-commitment group outperformed the short-term-commitment group by 400 per cent.”
5) Make It Fun
There are 1000 ways to improve but the truth is, you’re probably not going to follow through with anything too complicated, difficult or outside your normal routine.
Understand this, accept it and work with it. Fit new things in to your current habits and make them enjoyable. Playing and learning are not opposites. In fact, playing is the most natural way to learn.
“Play creates new neural connections and tests them. It creates an arena for social interaction and learning. It creates a low-risk format for finding and developing innate skills and talents.”
In fact, there’s some anecdotal research that shows we may need play.
“But when play is denied over the long term, our mood darkens. We lose our sense of optimism and we become anhedonic, or incapable of feeling sustained pleasure.”
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