High Performance Habits: #4 Increase Productivity 3 (part 12 of 22)

Practice Three: Get Insanely Good At Key Skills

To become more productive, become more competent. You have to master the primary skills needed to win in your primary fields of interest.

When we say “skill,” we often mean a broad range of knowledge and capabilities that allow you to perform adequately in any given area. General skills might include communication, problem solving, systems thinking, project management, teamwork, and conflict management. There are also specific skills for any given task or company, such as coding, video production, finance, and computational skills. And, of course, there are personal skills such as self-control, resilience, and other forms of emotional intelligence.

My goal here is for you to determine the five major skills you need to develop over the next three years to grow int the person you hope to become.

One principle lies at the heart of this effort: Everything is trainable. No matter what skill you want to learn, with enough training and practice and intention, you can become more proficient at it. If you don’t believe this, your journey to high performance stops here. Perhaps the three best findings of contemporary research tell us that you can get better at practically anything if you keep a growth mindset (the belief that you can improve with effort), focus on your goals with passion and perseverance, and practice with excellence.

The concept of progressive mastery is very different from how most people approach skill development. Most people get interested in an idea, try it a few times, and gauge whether they are “good” at it. If they are not good, they chalk it up to a lack of natural ability or talent. At this point, most quit. And those who carry on think they have to use brute repetition to get better, hoping that simply by doing a thing enough times, they will become proficient and progress.

This, it turns out, is one of the lease effective ways to master a skill. Repetition rarely leads to high performance. and that’s why it’s important to understand “progressive mastery”:

  1. Determine a skill that you want to master.
  2. Set specific stretch goals on your path to developing that skill.
  3. Attach high levels of emotion and meaning to your journey and your results.
  4. Identify the factors critical to success, and develop your strengths in those areas (and fix your weaknesses with equal fervor).
  5. Develop visualizations that clearly imagine what success and failure look like.
  6. Schedule challenging practices developed by experts or through careful thought.
  7. Measure your progress and get outside feedback.
  8. Socialize your learning and efforts by practicing or competing with others.
  9. Continue setting higher-level goals so that you keep improving.
  10. Teach others what you are learning.

These ten principles of progressive mastery are a more nuanced version of what is often called deliberate practice, a term coined by Anders Ericsson. Like deliberate practice, progressive mastery involves getting a coach, challenging yourself beyond your comfort zones, developing mental representations of what success should be, tracking your progress, and fixing your weaknesses.

The difference is that progressive master places a high emphasis on emotion, socialization, and teaching. In other words, you are more strategic and disciplined in how you attach emotion to your journey, enhance your capabilities by training or competing with others, and leverage the extraordinary power of teaching to discover greater insights into your own craft. I find it a more humanistic, social, and enjoyable approach to mastering a skill.


  1. Three skills I could develop that would help me feel more confident or capable are …
  2. The simple steps I could take to improve the skills are …
  3. The coaches or mentors I could seek out concerning those skills are …