Scott H Young

How to Build Skills Faster


Most goal achievement will require a certain amount of skill building. These can be external skills like communication, programming or design. They may also be internal skills like courage, discipline or emotional mastery. Much of faster achievement means faster skill building.

Practice Makes Perfect

The cornerstone of building any skill is practice. Instruction, modeling and study can all accelerate progress but they can’t replace practice. Watching excellent drivers, reading about how to drive or even being taught how, are all useless without actually getting in the drivers seat.

The first step to rapid mastery is to increase the amount you spend practicing it. If you want to become a better programmer, spend more time programming. If you want to become a better speaker, deliver more speeches. If you want to become better in social situations, interact more.

Once you’ve added more practice you need to start maximizing the value of each practice session. I’ve seen people who come to Toastmasters regularly and make sluggish improvements and those that quickly master the skills. Making every opportunity count is essential to mastery.

Set Your Focus

The number one way to increase the value of your practice is simple: Before each practice time set a specific focus for where you would like to improve. If this is speaking you may decide to focus on your body language, word usage or voice projection. If this is your discipline you may decide to focus on making a small improvement in your ability to keep working when your normal inclination is to quit.

A skill is a collection of thousands of unconscious habits. There are too many variables in each skill to focus on improving everything at once. When you try to improve everything you end up making only minor, undirected improvements. When you specify an area of improvement, you make rapid, controlled progress in that area.

A side-benefit of setting your focus is that it becomes easier to see your growth. If you don’t set a specific focus with each new practice session you may end hoping you are getting better but be unable to see it. Usually after setting a focus you can clearly see small improvements in that area.

Identify Growth Points

Setting a focus is useless unless you know what to focus on. Identifying growth points can allow you to see where you would benefit most from practicing.

Start by breaking the skill you would like to improve into components. Every skill can be split into smaller, component skills. Public speaking can be broken into components like eye contact, voice projection, pacing, gestures, word usage, humor, etc. Self-discipline could be broken into parts like persistence, commitment, stress-resistance.

Once you have the components of the skill you would like to improve, ask yourself, “What would benefit me most to improve now?”

This could be enhancing a personal strength or recovering a personal weakness. Imagine what you would be like if your effectiveness in that area were at a maximum. How would it improve your overall performance?

Enlisting Outside Help

Instruction, books and modeling are designed to help you find growth points you might otherwise be neglecting. When combined with practice they can offer a new perspective to your skill and give you new ideas for improvement.

People often make the mistake in thinking that reading or studying more should come first in building a skill. All a book and studying can do is hopefully expose you to a broader range of ideas for potential improvement. It can’t build skill. Coaching and instruction works because it allows for the immediate input of new growth focuses that could otherwise take months or years to discover.

If you want to get good at something start practicing more. With practice, identify your growth points and specify a focus for every single opportunity to improve. Skills can’t be built in a day, but they can be built faster.


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7 Responses to “How to Build Skills Faster”

  1. Sham says:

    Thanks you for the useful and practicle advice.

  2. Wulfen says:

    Hi there Scott!

    A very good post as usual. I just wanted to mention that I am already going to my local spanish Toastmaster group. I haven’t made any speeches yet, but I plan to start rather sooner than later. I think it will be a very useful skill to have, specially if one is going to talk at seminars (something I plan to do). I’ll tell you how it’s going.

    Rock Hard, Ride Free,

    Wulfen

  3. Scott Young says:

    Good luck at Toastmasters Wulfen!

  4. AL says:

    Thanks for the advice. I have also been under the impression that formal introduction to any skill through reading and researching is a must before embarking on practicing this skill. Now I can do less of this and more of that (practicing, that is).

    Thanks again!

  5. [...] How to Build Skills Faster (650) is Scott Young’s advice to improve your skill on whatever you focus on, be it internal or external. It all boils down to a simple choice. [...]

  6. jenala mwanza says:

    hi scott
    you have said setting focus is uselesas unless you know what to focus on. is it not that one set to focus on something they have already set to focus on

  7. Scott Young says:

    Jenala,

    Not sure what your question is. Perhaps you could explain a bit more?

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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