Development of Expertise

Set Really High Goals

“I would encourage you to set really high goals. Set goals that, when you set them, you think they’re impossible. But then every day you can work towards them, and anything is possible, so keep working hard and follow your dreams.” – Katie Ledecky


Passion, Persistence, Goals, and the Development of Expertise


An excerpt from How To Become The Best at Anything, Chapter 1, Passion and Interest

“What is your passion? What are you passionate about? Are you passionate about a sport, say basketball, or surfing? Tennis anyone? How about art, or music. Perhaps you’re zeroed in on an academic field such as biology, or economics. Maybe you have a passion for exploring, with an eye on the Himalayas.

Don’t have a passion, then what are you interested in? Interest and achievement go hand in hand. It is easier to achieve in a domain if you have a strong interest or passion.

I have achieved a much higher level of expertise in something that I am passionate about, than in something I only have a strong interest.”


“If you have an interest in something, it can grow into something more than an interest. It may grow into a passion as you pursue your interest. Usually an interest is just that, an interest, it will help motivate you to achieve in that particular domain up to a point. You might become very good at your interest, although you need to be passionate about something to become the best.

You need to have a passion for whatever it is you are trying to become the best. It will help motivate you to persist in your deliberate practice to reach your goal (more on deliberate practice later).

Passion will help you get up and out and practice. Passion will keep you going through adversity. In the introduction I briefly described my passions and interests. I devoted more time and resources to my passions than my interests.

Your passion will be your motivation along your path to becoming the best at whatever you choose.

So again, what are you passionate about?

While passion is essential to becoming the best, you need more than passion. You need much more. This book will help you along your path to becoming the best that you want to be.”


Persistence and Motivation

An excerpt from How To Become The Best at Anything, Chapter 9, Persistence, Motivation, and More About Your Path

“Keep practicing no matter what. It will take years, you know this, so you have to keep practicing. You have to keep practicing getting better every time you practice. This is a very hard thing to do. You will get tired, bored, and frustrated. It is hard to keep your focus while practicing.

I heard a story about John Wooden (often considered one of the greatest college basketball coaches, ever) while I was a student at UCLA. During practice one of the basketball players was not practicing very hard. John Wooden pulled him aside and asked the player what was wrong. He was only working at 70%. He told his coach he was very tired and that he would give 200% at the next practice. Wooden said, one can only give 100% at any given time, so go out there and give me 100% today, tomorrow, and the next day. The player went out and gave 100% for the rest of practice. You have to give 100% every time you practice.

The motivation to keep practicing and to practice 100% of the time to get better is probably the key to becoming the best. This is probably the hardest thing to do. You have to be motivated for years and over 10,000 hours of practice.”


How Motivation Works

“Basically, there are two types of motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation come from an outside source and intrinsic motivation comes from inside you. (To help you remember, Extrinsic, Ex = Exit = motivation from outside, Intrinsic, In = Inside = motivation from inside.)

Extrinsic motivation is like when your mother bribed you as a child with candy to do something. Receiving candy was your extrinsic motivation to do what your mother wanted you to do.

When you try something new and you receive praise from someone you value, this is extrinsic motivation to continue practicing. A child has been watching her father play the piano. The child sits down at the piano and plays a few notes. The father praises the child. The child feels good and is motivated to play more.

Sometime later the child has grown to love playing the piano for the joy it brings her. She no longer needs the praise from a parent, teacher, or friend. She loves playing for the satisfying feeling it gives her inside.

Intrinsic motivation is when you want to do something because YOU really want to do it, not because someone else wants you to do it. This is the kind of motivation you need to become the best.

You need to be very passionate about what you want to become in order to become the best. This passion will be your intrinsic motivation that will drive you to keep going and keep practicing even when a part of you wants to quit.”


Staying on Your Path

“Once you have traveled your path for awhile you will have some successes and some failures. You take the successes and use them to help fortify your resolve and your belief in yourself that you can reach your goal. You take the failures and use them to learn about your weak points and guide your practice, so your weak points become your strong points.

You need to expect that you will do well. You need to expect that you will have failures. You need to believe that you can learn from your successes and failures. You need to believe that hard work and persistence will help you reach your goal.”


How You Feel About Yourself

“Here is some academic educational jargon, self-esteem vs self-efficacy. You need to understand the difference between them because there is a lot of misinformation about how you need to have high self-esteem to have high achievement. This is not so.

You have probably heard of self-esteem. If you feel good about yourself, you are generally thought to have high self-esteem. Unfortunately, this does not mean you will be a high achiever in the domain you are trying to become the best.

You might not be very popular at school, but you are a math wiz. You know you can do anything when it comes to math, but you feel awkward in social settings, you only have a couple of friends, you aren’t popular, and you don’t feel good about yourself. You have low self-esteem.

When you are in your domain of math, working very complex problems, putting lots and lots of time to get better at math you feel very good about yourself when it comes to math. This is called having high self-efficacy in the domain of math. Self-efficacy is domain specific and high self-efficacy in a domain leads to higher achievement. This means you can be very confident in a specific domain, be very successful in that domain, but have low self-esteem.

You need to be successful in the domain in which you are trying to become the best. Success leads to more success. A little success in the beginning leads to more and more success. The belief that you can be successful in your domain is key to your success. This will keep you going when you have failures. You have to believe that hard work, deliberate practice, etc. will make you successful. This is high self-efficacy in a particular domain. You can feel bad about yourself in one area but have great success and achievement in another. Focus on the successes in the domain you are trying to become the best and use that to help motivate you to keep going. You must persist to become the best.

You also need to feel like you are in control of your successes and failures.”


An excerpt from How To Become The Best at Anything, Chapter 6, A Goal and a Plan

“You need to have a specific ultimate goal. Let’s say you want to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming in the 200-meter freestyle. You have a specific ultimate goal, which is a good start because you know your final destination.

When I was in graduate school in biology at UCLA one of my classes was a graduate seminar consisting of three students and two professors (George “Bart” Bartholomew and Thomas Howell, both top in their fields). One day in class the professors posed the question, “What does a migrating bird need to know to be able to find its way to winter nesting grounds?” All of us thought for awhile and I timidly answered, “They need to know where they are, and they need to know where they are going.” One professor said, “That is correct.” And I stopped shaking.

To navigate to anywhere you need to know your starting point and where you are going. Once you know that, you can determine the direction and the amount of time it will take you to reach your final destination. You will need a navigation system to guide you along your way. Let’s call this your path.”


Your Starting Point

“You must have a realistic evaluation of your starting point. What do you know? What don’t you know? What can you do? There are so many aspects to developing expertise in your chosen domain. How do you know what you know and what you don’t know? This is one of the reasons why you need a coach. More on coaches in the next chapter.

What is your starting point? You might be part way to your goal already. You might be very close to your ultimate goal and just need a little help to get to your final destination. You might know your starting point already. If not, you need to figure it out.

When I was 17 years old and a freshman in college, my grandfather brought a Canon FTb single lens reflex camera home from a trip to Japan. He gave the camera to my father, who gave it to me.

I always liked taking pictures with a brownie point-and-shoot camera as a kid, but that was it. Now I had this really cool camera. So, I went and bought a beginner’s book on photography and started from the beginning, with no real prior knowledge of photography.

What was my starting point? The very beginning.”


Goals for Practice

“When you are planning a practice session, set a specific goal for that particular practice. Just like setting your ultimate goal, set your practice goals the same way. You know your starting point (current ability level), now determine where you want to be at the end of the practice.

When I was learning photography, I wanted to be able to focus faster and consistently (there were no auto focus cameras back then). I went down to the beach with a 200mm telephoto lens and would try to focus on the seagulls in flight. The seagulls had to fill the frame and be in sharp focus. It took awhile but I was able to consistently take sharp pictures of seagulls in flight. My starting point, I was not able to focus consistently on moving objects. My practice goal, to consistently take sharp focused pictures of seagulls in flight.

For my USPSA/IPSC pistol sport there is what is known as a Bill Drill. The steps of a Bill Drill are (1) start with your wrists above your shoulders, (2) draw your gun from the holster, and (3) fire six rounds into the “A” zone (center of the target) of a standard USPSA target placed at seven yards as fast as you can. The goal of this drill is to be able to perform the Bill Drill in two seconds or less.

With this drill you are practicing your draw, grip on the gun, stance, sight tracking, proper visual reference, recoil management, and trigger manipulation, not to mention controlling your nerves, mental focus, etc. This may sound to some like a simple drill, but it is very hard to accomplish, especially in the beginning.

My goal was to accomplish the Bill Drill in two seconds or less. My starting point? I went out and tried the Bill Drill in practice. I don’t remember what my time was, but I remember it was either over two seconds or if I achieved two seconds or less the shots were all over the target. So, I broke the Bill Drill down into its’ component parts. First, what draw time do I need to have with an “A” zone hit and what average split time do I need to have between shots to have a time under two seconds? I worked on my draw, grip, etc. until I could consistently accomplish a first shot “A” zone hit in 1.15 seconds or less. I then worked on my split times between shots until I could consistently accomplish .15 second splits or less. Eventually I was able to consistently accomplish a Bill Drill in under two seconds.

I set my goal and determined my starting point. This gave me my path to accomplishing my goal. Use the same process for accomplishing any of your goals.”