There’s an interesting truth that we all conveniently ignore or deny when we take on a new task:
Before you can be good at something, you have to be bad at it.
Or, said another way,
You can never be “good” at something you don’t do.
And, one of my favorite related truths:
Frustration is greatly underrated as a teaching tool.
We all start out un-able to do very much. I mean totally unable. We can’t even wipe our own noses. In fact, when we start out, we can’t even roll over in our cribs.
And yet, we all grow up to be good at a handful of things. If you are truly good at more than five things, you are a creative and amazing person. Most of us are lucky if we are “great” at one or two things, and good at a few more.
But we all could be good at anything we put our minds to. Personally, I would love to play the piano. But I’m not willing to practice it. I’m not willing to put in the work it takes to be mediocre – let alone good.
There’s a saying I hear sometimes among authors: Writers write. As simple as it sounds, this is the advice writers give each other to solve pretty much any problems. Write. Write some more. Then write.
Non-writers get out the computer (or tablet of paper) and stare at it. They stare for what seems like an eternity. It’s really three minutes, but it seems like an eternity. It’s has for them to write because they don’t know how.
I know that sounds insulting, but it’s not. I’m not saying that they don’t know how to type the letters and spell the words. But they haven’t practiced writing as an art form.
A practiced writer might have a different problem. He sits down to write and starts writing immediately. He can write five or ten or twenty pages right away. It might not be good – but it’s written down!
I set aside blocks of time. One-, two-, and four-hours blocks of time to write. I try to write for a minimum of one hour per day. So, yes, there’s a lot of bad writing. And a lot gets deleted.
After decades of doing this, I almost never sit down and stare at the screen. I sit down, pick a project, and start writing. It’s analogous to getting into bed and going to sleep.
When I get into bed, I almost always go to sleep instantly. If I can’t sleep, I get out of bed and sit somewhere. But I’ve trained my brain to make the connection between snuggling under the covers and going to sleep. Zzzzzzzz.
Of course, I spend a lot of time thinking about various writing projects. I do some research. I mark it up. I take notes. I sometimes outline what I need to write. In other words, I go through the motions of “managing” a writing project. Then, when I sit down to write, I write!
No matter how small or simple something is, you have to practice it.
Another great example is meditation. I can’t believe how many people have told me that they “can’t” meditate or that their brain just doesn’t work that way. Guess what? No one’s brain works that way.
The Dalai Lama has monkey mind, the same as you and me. But he has done something most people haven’t: He has sat down, closed his eyes, and meditated thousands of times. He knows how, not because it is difficult, but simply because he’s done it.
When you start something you have never done before, you don’t know how to do it. That makes sense. But let’s take that apart. What does it mean to say you don’t know how?
For starters, you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know what you’ll see, or what you’ll feel. You don’t know how your body will react, or what your brain will do.
Think about the first time you climbed to the top of a ridge, or rode a bike, or drove a car. You knew something about it, but you didn’t know how it would feel, or how your body would react.
I’m always amazing at gymnastics and acrobatics. When I see someone flipping around in the air or twisting their body in ways I can’t imagine, I always think to myself, “Imagine what it takes to do that the first time.”
I have never done a backward flip on skis (or anything else, intentionally). But I imagine it would be a great learning experience. You go from not knowing how that feels to knowing. And simply knowing makes all the difference. You may not ever do that again, but you know how it feels!
Why does it matter if a team has been to the big playoff game before? Because some members of the team know how it feels. They know what to expect. They have felt it before. They understand at a deeper level – and, therefore, it’s easier for them to keep their head in the game.
I encourage you to do more that simply go through your day. Instead, go through your day with intention. Practice what you do. Be aware of what you do while driving, reading, relaxing, eating, and every other thing. Be present in the experience and know what it feels like.