The Little Book of Talent

Author: Daniel Coyle

52 Tips for improving your skills

  • We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.  Aristotle
  • Small actions, repeated over time, transform us.
  • Talent begins with brief, powerful encounters that spark motivation by linking your identity to a high-performing person or group.  This is called your ignition, and it consists of a tiny, world-shifting thought lighting up your unconscious mind: I could be them.
  • Improve your learning by stealing effectively from top performers
  • Bookmark a few YouTube videos and watch them before you practice or at night before you go to bed
  • All improvement is about absorbing and applying new information, and the best source of information is top performers.  So steal without apology.
  • How do top performers perform these moves differently than I do?
  • A high percentage of top performers keep some form of a daily performance journal.  What matters is that you write stuff down and reflect on it.  Results from today.  Ideas for tomorrow.  Goals for next week.
  • Be willing to be stupid (take risks): Google offers “20 Percent Time”: Engineers are given 20% of their work time to spend on private, non-approved projects they are passionate about, and thus ones for which they are more likely to take risks.
  • Precision especially matters early on, because the first reps establish the pathways for the future.  Neurologists call this the “sled on a snowy hill” phenomenon.  The first repetitions are like the first sled tracks on fresh snow: On subsequent tries, your sled will tend to follow those groves.  Our brains are good at building connections.  They are not so good at un-building them.
  • Four ways to pick a high-quality teacher or coach: (1) Avoid someone who reminds you of a courteous waiter (you want someone who makes things hard not easy).  (2) Seek someone who scares you a little: watches you closely, is action oriented, is brutally honest.  (3) Seek someone who gives short, clear directions; they give short, unmistakably clear directions.  (4) Seek someone who loves teaching fundamentals.
  • Practice is transformative, if it’s the right kind of practice.  Deep practice.
  • The key to deep practice is to reach.  This means you stretch yourself slightly beyond your current ability, spending time in the zone of difficulty called the sweet spot.  It means embracing the power of repetition, so the action becomes fast and automatic.
  • Seek out ways to stretch yourself.  Play on the edges of your competence.
  • Break every move down into chunks.  Chunks are to skill what letters of the alphabet are to the language.
  • Deep practice has a telltale emotional flavor, a feeling that can be summed up in one word: “struggle”.
  • With deep practice, small daily practice “snacks” are more effective than once-a-week practice binges.
  • Don’t do “drills”.  Instead play small, addictive games.  Dig into the biography of any world class performer and you’ll uncover a story about a small, addictive game.
  • Practice alone.  The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when no one else is watching.