I like to think about learning new skills as a pursuit of happiness. Some skills are easy to learn and can provide a lot of joy, like playing ping pong. Others seem impossible to learn but if only you could learn them then you’d be happy, like being a successful entrepreneur.
Here’s how I’d graph out the fun generated by playing ping pong over time:
For the most part it’s a linear progression. It’s easy to make improvements when you first start playing. You learn to keep the ball on the table more often, you learn hit the ball with spin, the ball actually starts going where you want it to.
Every one of those moments is a rush. A rush that brings you back to the table. A rush that keeps the fun going. A rush that makes you want to practice. Over time the rushes come from more advanced shots.The cycle continues as more practice begets more fun, and now you’re a great ping pong player.
Great! But why are some skills so much harder to learn? Well, let’s go to the graph:
Learning to play the piano is hard. Most people never get past the valley of despair. That’s because to truly have fun playing the piano you want to be able to improvise, make up your own songs, pick up a tune by ear, and entertain yourself with your creativity. Just imagine how much fun it would be to create great music at any moment.
Here’s the secret: You can change the graph of happiness to skill learning if you can measure improvement in smaller increments, deriving joy from each achievement along the way.
You need to make the graph of learning those difficult skills look like this:
You have to measure smaller elements of skill learning that will generate joy for you, so that you can forge right through the valley of despair.
Instead of starting off trying to write a bestseller, start measuring how many daily visitors you can get to a blog. Can you get five people to read your next blog post? As traffic begins to grow, move onto weekly and monthly visitors. Instead of going into a startup thinking you’re going to sell the business for $50MM, measure how many new people you tell about the company in a month. Then move on to measuring the number of leads you get. Evolve the measurement so that you have attainable goals that bring you joy, but so that you’re also marching forward.
Life is nothing but skills waiting to be mastered. You just need to pick the ones you want to master and start finding ways to get joy out of the journey.
What new skills are you trying to master? What do you want to be the best at?