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6,362 posts
msg #39193
Ignore TheRumpledOne
11/29/2005 2:24:51 PM

In my email inbox...

"Practice is the best of all instructors."

- Publilius Syrus

How Good People Get Even Better

By Michael Masterson

Brian Tracy was the highest-rated speaker at this year's Bootcamp. To hear him talk, you'd swear he was a natural born orator. He isn't. In fact, he began his public speaking career as a rank amateur.

"I remember seeing him speak 15 years ago," RR told me. "He was awkward, wooden, evidently ill at ease. He read from notes and never even looked up at the audience. On a 1-to-10 scale, I would have given him a 1."

"And what would you rate him now?" I wanted to know.

"I give myself a 10," he said. "So I'd have to give Tracy a 10+."

It's amazing what practice can produce. To think that such an accomplished person could have once been so ... well, unaccomplished. I've told you about my "Levels of Competence" theory before - the first time, in Message #108 . In a nutshell, the idea is that for any skill - from piano playing to legal scholarship to public speaking - there are basically four levels:

Level One - Incompetence
Level Two - Competence
Level Three - Mastery
Level Four - Virtuosity

We all begin new things as incompetents - that is, as practitioners without any real understanding of what to do and why. Recognizing our incompetence is the first step in the learning process. Feeling okay about it is second. It is only when we are willing to demonstrate our ignorance - to ourselves and others - that we can move through this awkward stage to a level where we can do what we want to do with a certain amount of adeptness and ease.

It takes about 1,000 hours of practicing a skill to develop competency in it. It takes less than that - perhaps 600 or 700 hours - if you have the advantage of good teaching. Most people are happy with competence. Once they are "pretty good," they stop practicing. A few people are not satisfied with being "just okay" and strive to improve their skills. That's what Brian Tracy did. But it takes even longer to go from being good at something (competence) to being really good (mastery). That second, more advanced, journey usually takes about 5,000 hours, 4,000 more than were needed to achieve competence in the first place.

Very few people have the patience to work the hours to achieve mastery - but those who do are doubly rewarded:

1. First, because they have the personal enjoyment of doing something very, very well.

2. And second, because they get the benefits - the financial and social rewards - of being that one-in-a-thousand individual who has mastered a specific skill or subject.

The fourth level of skillfulness, virtuosity, cannot be achieved merely by practice. It is a level that only a rare few achieve. It is the level reserved for the legends - from Mozart to Michael Jordon to Bruce Lee.

Becoming a virtuoso is not something everyone can do, because one of its three essential ingredients - natural genius - is provided by nature. The other two key ingredients - a tenacious work ethic and the desire for perfection - can get you to the level of mastery. But unless, for example, you have a great natural voice, you can't will yourself to sing as well as Placido Domingo.

If this idea (that you can't attain virtuosity without natural genius) disheartens you, take heart in this: The joy that comes from mastering a skill or subject is not enhanced by natural talent. Mastering a skill or subject will give you all the rewards - personal, social, and financial. And virtuosity adds an extra burden that can never be lifted: the burden of perfection.

Of course, I'm guessing about this. Since I'm not a virtuoso of anything, I don't really know. But I base my opinion - as I sometimes do in these philosophical matters - on movies and books that I've enjoyed. In this case, consider Milos Forman's great Amadeus and its protagonists: Salieri (the master) and Mozart (the virtuoso).

I don't know if Brian Tracy has risen to the level of virtuosity in public speaking, but he's certainly a very accomplished master. His performance inspired me to improve my skills as an orator ... and I hope this message encourages you to achieve some mastery in your life.

Actually, my recommendation is that you develop mastery in four areas of your life:

1. Become a master of your wealth by mastering a financially valuable skill, such as selling, marketing, creating profitable products, or managing profits.

2. Become a master of your health by mastering the skill of eating well, exercising well, and sleeping well.

3. Become a master of your social environment by mastering the skill of conversation, care, and hospitality.

4. Become a master of your personal life by mastering a hobby, like playing chess, playing an instrument, cooking, painting, etc.

Don't be satisfied with getting to "good." Good (competent) is much better than not-so-good (incompetent), but it will not give you one-fifth the rewards you'll get when you become a master. If being competent at a skill makes you 1 in 10, being masterful makes you 1 in 100. Those who can perform in that top percentile not only enjoy its greater rewards but also have the comfort of knowing that their skills will always be in demand.

After his Bootcamp speech, Brian Tracy told me that when he began public speaking, he knew he "wasn't any good at it," and so he hired a professional speech coach to train him twice a week. Even today, he confided - even 15 years later - he still devotes at least 10 days a year to brushing up on his skills.

He could easily put himself on cruise control and rest on his laurels. "But I am not satisfied with being merely as good as I am right now," he told me. "I guess that's the thing about achievers. We aren't willing to slow down and let the current take us, because we'd rather feel like we are captains of our own boats. For me, I feel like I have a choice: Get better by continuing to practice ... or get worse by doing nothing. When I think of it that way - getting better or getting worse - it isn't hard to make the right decision."

Two years ago, I was inspired to improve my speaking skills by Bob Bly - who had always been our top-rated Bootcamp speaker. Last year, Robert Ringer's masterful presentation was an additional impetus (see Word to the Wise, below) for me to add to my skills. And this year, I have Brian Tracy as a role model. Although we have other business to talk about, I have had the chance to ask each of these three people how they were able to become so good at speaking - and they all told me pretty much the same thing:

You have to be willing to be bad for a while before you can get good. And then, when you do get good, you have to resist the temptation to shift into a coasting gear. There is only one secret to becoming masterful at anything, and that's to practice ... and then practice ... and then practice again.

Brian Tracy still devotes 10 days a year to improving his already prodigious speaking skills. Ten days to being coached.

How much time are you spending on getting better?

[Ed. Note: If you haven't reserved a spot at next year's Bootcamp, you should do so immediately - because here's what we're going to do if you reserve your spot today:

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