How to Get Better and Better!

If you’re feeling a bit stuck with life or work this bit of information might help. It featured in a recent newspaper article – I’d forgotten all about it. As you read it, think how you might apply it to you. It’s certainly given me food for thought!

How We Improve

There’s been a lot of research on how we improve and get better, and on why some people become experts in their field. Virtuoso musicians, for example, are generally no more naturally gifted than mediocre musicians. What they have is a drive and a passion to improve and be the best. Both groups practise regularly but the ones that go on to improve the most spend their time learning new things on their instrument and pushing themselves with complicated scales, while the mediocre tend to stick with tunes that they already know.

Apparently this has been well researched with speed typing! When people first learn to use a keyboard they improve very fast until they can do it without thinking. And at this point they don’t get any better. They plateau at a good enough level. They can get better, however, if they push themselves beyond what is comfortable for them and just keep typing faster and, crucially, allow themselves to make mistakes, they get better. They end up typing faster with fewer mistakes.

The Research

In the sixties, two psychologists, Michael Posner and Paul Fitts described the three stages people go through when acquiring new skills.

They are:

The Cognitive Stage, when we’re acquiring the new skill and intellectualising it; we’re looking for new strategies to accomplish it more efficiently.

The Associative Stage is when you’ve almost got it and are getting better at the task.

The Autonomous Stage is when you’re more or less doing it all automatically, like driving. You no longer think about changing the gears, you just do it automatically.

How many things in your life are plateaued? How much do you just do on auto pilot, on cruise control? Are you able to let yourself speed up and make mistakes? How much better might your life be if you could do that, in just one area? How prepared are you to take a risk to be better?

Photo Credit: Innosence


Posted on April 6th, 2011 by

7 Responses to “How to Get Better and Better!”

  1. Lynn MacAskill says:

    Good post Jane. In my experience, it is mainly fear of failure which prevents people from pushing themselves further, in whatever they are trying to do. That old chestnut of being afraid of making mistakes comes back to haunt so many of us, but it is where we do the most learning. And it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of it! Thanks!

    • Jane says:

      You’re so right, Lynn. It’s probably the most recurrent theme in my personal consultancy work; not to be afraid of making mistakes and going for it! Thanks for taking the time to comment. 🙂

  2. Louise says:

    I remember learning to touch type years ago – we had to type slowly and accurately and then at speed/ignoring mistakes and eventually the two skills came together smoothly. It’s been one of the most useful things I’ve learnt – being able to type at 75wpm without looking at the keys is an under-rated productivity tool!

    I’m always surprised when I see someone playing a musical instrument and as soon as they make a mistake they start the piece again, so they end up learning the mistake. If they play through to the end their skill and confidence improves. Making mistakes is a vital part of learning – you just need to keep going at that point rather than give up and return to your starting place.

    • Jane says:

      Thanks Louise (she says typing with three fingers!). I will try it out but perhaps not while blogging! And Ceri, yes, no way you are mediocre! In fact, two very successful women proving the point!

  3. Ceri says:

    This one resonates with me too. I have pushed myself totally outside of my comfort zone in setting up the website, have participated in virtually every webinar and workshop going, do things myself that I’m told only IT people can do as I am SO determined to succeed- I did the same in my previous career too- you have to keep pushing yourself or you stagnate.

  4. Ceri says:

    Now I’m blushing! The point is, I have never thought I cant do it, and when I hire people to do some of these things later I will know exactly what the job entails having done them myself. Think big. I had the opportunity to do something yesterday- my slot was immediately followed by the Telegraph- at no time did I let myself think I did not belong there!! You have to believe and really want to make things happen.

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