Journalist and author Joshua Foer speaks here about getting past what he calls the "OK Plateau."
• Research found that when acquiring a new skill, you pass through three stages: the cognitive stage—intellectualizing the task, discovering new strategies to perform it better, making mistakes, concentrating, consciously focusing on what we're doing; the associative stage—making fewer errors and getting better; the autonomous stage—deciding that we're OK at what we've learned, putting the learned skill on auto-pilot. Usually it's a good thing to be on auto-pilot for routine tasks because it allows us to focus on other things.
• It's hard to improve a skill, to develop expertise, to get past the plateau, when in the autonomous (auto-pilot) stage. People who get past the plateau use strategies to stay out of the autonomous stage. They keep whatever skill they're trying to develop in the cognitive stage, under their conscious control.
STEP 1: Experts tend to operate outside of their comfort zones and study themselves failing. The best figure skaters practice the jumps that they can't land, the lesser skaters practice the ones at which they're already good.
• Deliberate practice is, by its nature, hard.
STEP 2: Experts walk in the shoes of someone who's more competent. Chess-playing success will be greater if you study the actions of the grand masters than if playing lots of games of chess. Break apart what other experts have done in their work.
STEP 3: Experts crave and thrive on immediate and constant feedback.
STEP 4: Experts treat what they do like a science. They collect data, they analyze data, they create theories about what does and doesn't work and they test them. They discover what their best practices are.