How to Develop Skills: 3 Methods to Master Any Ability

Do you have skills that you want to improve? How do you develop skills?

If you have a goal you want to achieve, more than likely you’ll need to develop some skills to get there. In How Champions Think, Bob Rotella offers a few methods to master any type of skill.

Check out how to develop skills of any kind.

Engage in Quality Practice

You can’t achieve your ambitious dreams through wishful thinking alone. To turn your dreams into reality, you must put in quality practice to develop your skills.

(Shortform note: What’s the difference between quality practice and ineffective practice? In Decoding Greatness, Ron Friedman says self-reflection is the most important element of good practice. This means tracking your goals, the techniques you use to reach them, and how well you’re performing. By regularly reflecting on your practice, you can determine which strategies work best for you, which helps you concentrate your efforts in the most productive and valuable way. One easy way to practice self-reflection is by starting a journal, Friedman says.)

Rotella describes a few methods to learn how to develop skills:

1) Create a training plan. Rotella suggests you break down your ultimate dream into realistic goals that you can pursue daily. You’ll then not only have a practical roadmap to follow, but also a way to measure and take satisfaction in your progress. Your plan will differ depending on your aspirations, but it should lay out actions you’ll do to improve and progress to your ultimate goal. For example, if you want to run a marathon, your process might involve finding a coach, following a training program, and setting frequent goals, such as how many miles you plan to run each day.

(Shortform note: In High Performance Habits, Brendon Burchard provides a simple process for creating a practical plan for achieving your ambitious dream: First, write down your goal in a clear and specific manner. Next, break down your goal into five big steps you’ll need to take to accomplish it. Then, for each of the five steps, create a list of tasks you have to complete to accomplish that step. Finally, Burchard recommends you enter those tasks into your calendar and assign deadlines for each of them. This helps you stay disciplined and motivated to complete the tasks you set for yourself.)

2) Practice smarter. Although developing a training plan is vital for success, Rotella writes that it’s not enough in the long-term—you must not only practice your skills diligently, but also strategically. Don’t sink energy and time into inefficient study or practice. Instead, evaluate your practice approach: Consider how you can best challenge yourself and strengthen your skills in a way that best translates to the real-world scenarios you’ll face. For example, if you’re preparing for a test, you could quiz yourself with flashcards or ask your teacher for extra worksheets instead of spending hours memorizing facts.

(Shortform note: In Peak, Anders Ericsson provides deeper insight into what constitutes smart practice. He explains that simple repetition will only make you competent in your skill and that, to take your performance to the next level, you must engage in what he calls “purposeful practice.” To practice purposefully, you need four things: clear and specific goals, complete focus, feedback, and challenge. For example, if you want to improve your dancing skills, you could set a goal of doing a challenging section of a dance routine five times in a row without making a mistake, eliminate any distractions, and get feedback from a coach or partner.)

3) Watch the competition. By assessing your competitors and the standards of your field, you can get ideas of how to practice and prepare more effectively. Rotella suggests you compare yourself to people similar to you in skill level and be mindful of what they’re doing. For instance, if they’re practicing four hours a day and you only practice one hour, you should find a way to practice more effectively or put in more hours.

(Shortform note: Instead of comparing yourself to someone with a similar skill level, Simon Sinek recommends, in The Infinite Game, that you find a “worthy rival”—someone who has some skills or qualities that are better than yours. This should be someone you respect and feel inspired by as opposed to someone you only want to beat. By viewing your competitors this way, you can examine their strengths and improve your weaknesses, instead of dismissing them and missing out on valuable insights.)

How to Develop Skills: 3 Methods to Master Any Ability

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Bob Rotella's "How Champions Think" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full How Champions Think summary:

  • The secret to how some people can achieve extraordinary success
  • The shared mindset that sets champions apart from average people
  • How you can master skills, learn from challenges, and reach your goals

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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