4 Tips to Learn Any Skill and Excel at It

When we’re learning a new skill, there’s usually a moment of truth.

Maybe it’s when we first step in front of an audience with our guitar, when we cook dinner for guests, or when we showcase our artwork online.

No matter our skill, this moment occurs when we transition from practice to performance.

Learning how to transfer the skills we develop in one context and apply them in another can be challenging.

We’re moving from isolated practice to the pressure and complexity of a real performance, but by following the advice I’ll describe in this article, we can transition to “the real thing” with as little stress and disruption as possible.

Here are four tips to learning mastery and taking your skills from practice to performance.

4 Tips to Learn Any Skill and Excel At It

1. Simulate the “Real Deal”

If the goal is to move from practice to performance, it seems natural that our first step should be somewhere in between—a strategy called bridging (aka integrating practice).

Bridging is a way to prepare for the “real deal” by practicing in realistic-yet-controlled settings.

Professionals like police officers and firefighters use bridging whenever they run drills, but the training technique can work for any lower-stakes skill, too.

For example, boxers bridge the gap between practice and performance by simulating fighting scenarios with their coaches and sparring with fellow boxers.

4 Tips to Learn Any Skill and Excel at It

When we practice in a simulated environment, we get to see the use and value of what we are learning.

Theory becomes relevant and concrete, making it easier to internalize.

Simulation also provides a realistic but safe environment that offers us the freedom to try new things without fear of the outcome.

2. Up the Difficulty

To take the benefits of simulating a performance to the next level, we should increase the difficulty beyond what we might expect in a real scenario.

This might involve tweaking the rules or creating situations that are more challenging or stressful than normal.

This forces us to work on specific techniques and become more adaptable.

For example, imagine that we’re learning to play basketball and want to improve on our three-point shots.

We could practice shooting repeatedly from behind the three-point line, but shots in isolation won’t be enough to prepare us for a real game.

We need to shoot under pressure.

A good option would be to play a practice game where the only shots allowed are threes.

These tweaks will force us to practice our three-point shots while keeping us in a dynamic environment that resembles a real game.

In my new book, Learn, Improve, Master, I show how we can apply the same strategy to anything else by following the principle behind it: creating circumstances that force us to work on specific parts of our skills.

4 Tips to Learn Any Skill and Excel at It

3. Conquer Mental Obstacles

Aside from technical preparation, another key factor influencing our performance is our mental training.

Without a strong mindset, even the most skilled among us can crumble under pressure and perform below our capabilities.

Doubt, fear, anxiety, blocks, negativity, and criticism can get the better of us if we don’t know how to deal with them.

In sports psychology, a field that applies to optimal performance in any craft, conquering our mental obstacles is referred to as “inner game” training, and it includes meditation, positive beliefs, visualization, breathing exercises, self-talk, rituals, and motivation, among other things.

The main takeaway from this tip is to not overlook our mindset as a key part of performance preparation.

Otherwise, we risk choking under the pressure of the real deal.

4. Trust Our Training

Lastly, when we finally step up to the stage, ring, field, or other performance venue, we must make a conscious decision to trust our training.

Contrary to practice, where it’s important to remain conscious, in performances we want our unconscious to do most of the work.

If we give attention to every detail, we’ll interrupt the muscle memory we’ve spent so long developing.

Trusting our training also means sticking to it in the face of challenges.

Armed forces go through extensive preparation and are taught to trust that training, even in frustration or despair, because it’ll give them the best chances to survive.

It takes discipline to follow our training, especially when the stakes are high and things are not going our way. But if we don’t trust our training when it matters most, why put energy to go through it in the first place?

Our training can’t guarantee the results we want, but it will set us up for success.

Taking the Leap

At a certain point, we have to take the leap and give our first real performance.

It’s stressful, even terrifying, but by following the tips above—simulating the real deal, increasing the difficulty, conquering our mental obstacles, and trusting our training—we can get as prepared and close to the real thing as possible.

By the time we go for it, we’ll say, “This is what we’ve been training for. We’re ready.”

This article is an excerpt from author Nick Velasquez and his number 1 best-selling  book, Learn, Improve Master which is available on Amazon.

Nick Velasquez is a passionate learner and devoted student of mastery. He’s the author of the popular blog UnlimitedMastery.com, where he writes about learning science, peak performance, creativity, and mastering skills. His writing has been featured in outlets such as TIME and Thought Catalogue. Nick speaks multiple languages and spends his time between Tokyo and Montréal.

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