According to author and researcher Joshua Foer, it's the dedication and willpower to doggedly push beyond the “OK Plateau.” When most of us learn a new skill, we work to get just “good enough” and then we go on autopilot.
Foer identified four principles that he saw the experts using to remain alert and to keep learning:
1. Experts tend to operate outside their comfort zone and study themselves failing.
2. Experts will try to walk in the shoes of someone who's more competent than them.
3. Experts crave and thrive on immediate and constant feedback.
4. Experts treat what they do like a science. They collect data, they analyze data, they create theories, and they test them.
Those who excel continuously push themselves.
Surgeon and author Atul Gawande framed it this way in a recent New Yorker article:
Élite performers, researchers say, must engage in “deliberate practice” – sustained, mindful efforts to develop the full range of abilities that success requires. You have to work at what you're not good at. In theory, people can do this themselves. But most people do not know where to start or how to proceed. Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence. The coach provides the outside eyes and ears, and makes you aware of where you're falling short. This is tricky. Human beings resist exposure and critique; our brains are well defended. So coaches use a variety of approaches – showing what other, respected colleagues do, for instance, or reviewing videos of the subject's performance. The most common, however, is just conversation.
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