Incremental improvement

How does one incrementally improve in a physical skill? How does one incrementally improve in the mastery of a subject?

Suppose one desires to progress from an average skill level to a skill level that would be seen by most to be superhuman? How does one attain a physical skill that is on-par with the Olympic athletes? How does one attain a mastery of a subject that vaults one into world-authority level?

Let’s take two concrete examples.

Suppose you want to have a superhuman ability to perform pushups – you are able to knock off hundreds, even thousands of pushups. How would you get to that level? Would you simply do pushups every other day, trying to do a bit more with each passing week? Certainly that is part of it. But anyone who’s ever tried that strategy knows that after a while you plateau and get bored.

Suppose you want to be the world’s greatest programmer in, say, Lisp – you know every nook and cranny of the language and are able to employ any feature to craft beautiful code. How would you get to that level? Would you simply read lots of books on Lisp and write lots of programs, mastering a bit more with each passing week? Certainly that is part of it. But as the months go by you will start to forget the things you mastered at the beginning of the journey.

A straight linear approach to incremental improvement does not work.

One thing that I’ve learned from observing top athletes and top subject matter experts is that they are constantly going back to the basics – performing basic movements, reviewing fundamental concepts. Incremental improvement is not linear, it’s linear for a while and then you circle back to the start. On the second iteration you go linear a little further and then circle back. On the third iteration you go linear even further and then circle back. Over and over. Faster and faster.

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