How to master any skill or subject in days not years?

As a species we have always been obsessed with finding hidden treasures in search of wealth, success and happiness. Man has struggled, toiled and risked his life to find the hidden treasures such as gold, silver and companionship.

For as long as I can remember I read books, studied science and technology, practiced martial arts obsessively and watched sports to find the secrets of being a master or a champion. The more I learnt about a subject, skill or sport the essence became more obscure and difficult to find. I was going crazy with all the information. I desperately needed to make things simple.

To get to the heart or the essence you have to strip away the unessentials.  Peel away the outer layers or the skin to get to the juicy fruit. Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee captured the essence.

“It’s not the daily increase but a daily decrease. Hack away at the unessentials to find the truth” Bruce Lee

Strive to make things simple and focus on practice to achieve mastery.

“Things must be made as simple as possible and not any simpler” Albert Einstein

Once you have identified the essentials or the essence of any skill, knowledge or sport  focus intensely on mastering them.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” Bruce Lee.

Let me illustrate with 4 examples

1. Essence of Sports

There are hundreds of moves, forms (kata) and drills to learn a martial art such as karate and perform efficiently and effectively to earn a black belt individually and with an opponent. However, the essence is only a few techniques.

Punches – straight, up and round (from left to right and vice verse). In boxing they are called left jab, right cross, hook and uppercut

Kicks – front, side, roundhouse (front and back)

Attack and evasion — move forward, backwards and sideways

To win in combat you must do these movements faster, stronger and longer than your opponent and at the right time. This is simple but not easy. You much practice daily to develop the speed, power and endurance. The key to mastery is repetition.

“Repetition is the mother of skill”. Tony Robbins

If you notice the top tennis players in the world they will only have one or two shots where they are better than anyone else. They are the best at either at the serve, forehand, backhand, serve and volley with an occasional drop shot. The rest depends on speed, power, endurance and timing.

2) Essence of strength

To develop great strength focus on just 3 exercises. Do 5 repetitions and 5 sets 3 times a week with maximum weight you can manage.

i) Bench press

ii) Squat

iii) Dead lift

Make sure you warm up throughly and concentrate on low repetition with heavy weight. As your muscles get stronger add a little more weight. Eat more protein and vegetables. Get plenty of rest.

3) Essence of doing a PhD

To do an excellent PhD find out what has already been done and do something new. You then have to write it up in a theses. The essence involves doing 3 things daily

i) Read 1 paper, article or page

ii) Plan and do 1 experiment.

iii) Think about your results, compare them with other people and write up the experiment.

These 3 things make up for over 90% of what counts.  The rest is easy and involves training, seminars, meetings, conferences, presentations, viva and discussions.

4) Essence of Learning

To remember new information or learn any subject whether it is science or humanities or languages is simple but requires effort. Follow these 3 steps

i) Associate what you want to learn with something you already know in a ridiculous, exaggerated and weird way.

ii) Picture it in your mind. See it, feel it, smell it, touch it and hear it.

iii) Repeat frequently

You must apply these three steps to the right materials. Choose the material using the Pareto Principle commonly known as the 80/20 rule which dictates that 80% of the results in any endeavour come from 20% of the input, material, or effort. When you apply it to learning a new language then you can understand 95% of a language and hold a good conversation is a few months of focused learning. However to learn 98% of a language may take 10 years. To learn English it will take you a week or two to learn the 100 most common words.

1. the
2. of
3. and
4. a
5. to
6. in
7. is
8. you
9. that
10. it
11. he
12. was
13. for
14. on
15. are
16. as
17. with
18. his
19. they
20. I
21. at
22. be
23. this
24. have
25. from
26. or
27. one
28. had
29. by
30. word
31. but
32. not
33. what
34. all
35. were
36. we
37. when
38. your
39. can
40. said
41. there
42. use
43. an
44. each
45. which
46. she
47. do
48. how
49. their
50. if
51. will
52. up
53. other
54. about
55. out
56. many
57. then
58. them
59. these
60. so
61. some
62. her
63. would
64. make
65. like
66. him
67. into
68. time
69. has
70. look
71. two
72. more
73. write
74. go
75. see
76. number
77. no
78. way
79. could
80. people
81. my
82. than
83. first
84. water
85. been
86. call
87. who
88. oil
89. its
90. now
91. find
92. long
93. down
94. day
95. did
96. get
97. come
98. made
99. may
100. part

About half of all written English involves these 100 words and the first 300 words make up 65% of English Language. This can be applied to other languages such as Hindi and Urdu. To develop vocabulary beyond the most common 300 words focus on reading about subjects that you are most passionate about. Reading news papers or something you have no interest will make you quite after a while. Use the language as a vehicle to learn more about a subject. If you have poor material then you will be rubbish at the language you’re trying to learn.

It is difficult for westerners to learn Indian languages. The words, sounds, structure and pronunciations seem weird. My sister-in-law, a native American, learnt to understand and speak fluent Hindi and Urdu in a few months by watching Bollywood movies everyday. She never attended any classes or used language tapes or books and shocked the whole family with her fluency. Her motivation was to enjoy the movies. She loved the fancy costumes and exotic locations in these films.  By the way the stories are always the same. Once she understood the basic grammar she acquired vocabulary surprisingly quickly just by watching popular Indian dramas daily. She has picked up all the culture and customs along with the languages. She cooks great Indian dishes as well.

If enjoy the material then you will invest the time and get a very return on you investment of effort. Focus on the essence, commit to mastering the fundamentals and in no time I’ll see you at the top or on stage accepting your PhD.

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4 responses

  1. Extremely nice explanation.

  2. Yep! it makes a lot of sense.

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