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The Bruce Lee Way of Mastering A New Skill

The Bruce Lee Way of Mastering A New Skill

Focused practice is one of the best ways to learn and master a new skill. Legendary martial artist and actor Bruce Lee (1940-1973) used this approach to great effect in building his skills. Lee’s technique is all about in-depth practice. Bruce Lee put it in these terms: “I don’t fear the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks. I fear the man who practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

1. Seek Out New Environments To Grow Faster

Though he was born in the United States, Lee spent much of his early life in Hong Kong. That meant he faced a significant challenge when he decided to move back to the USA as a young man. To grow his skills, Lee enrolled at the University of Washington and worked as a waiter to pay his way through university. Lee’s decision to study drama at university gave him a strong foundation for his acting career.

Apply this skill to your career by looking for new environments where you can challenge yourself to grow. Is there a new project you can join? Is there a newly formed work committee you can join? Expand your expertise and take on new challenges.

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2. Commit To Learning A Skill like Lee

Lee’s commitment to learning martial arts is well-known. His studies began as a teenager and continued throughout his career. Before he started to innovate and create new forms, Lee focused his effort on learning the basic techniques for years.

You can apply this approach to your career in two ways:

Study and work toward a “black belt”: Keep studying and work toward advanced certifications in your field. If everyone has the entry level certification in your department, look for an advanced certification that will deepen your skills further (e.g. earn the Six Sigma Black Belt from ASQ).

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Do regular drills to keep your skills sharp: In learning martial arts, Lee performed the same moves over and over again. Look for ways to polish your performance in the same way. Can you learn how to run meetings better? Or perfect your sales presentation so that you close more sales? Practice makes perfect even in your professional career.

3. Deepen Your Understanding through Teaching

Starting in 1959, Bruce Lee started to teach martial arts to students. By teaching his techniques, he learned how to go deeper. He learned how to view his skills and techniques as a system and communicate that to others. You can share your technical knowledge with others and also pass along what you know in a variety of ways.

For example, sharing technical knowledge can lead to helping your team members. If you are a highly skilled Excel user, offer to leave a “lunch and learn” session where you demonstrate your favorite time saving approaches.

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Also, once you understand a skill consider putting the ideas into writing. For background on how to make complex skills easy to understand, I suggest taking a look at the For Dummies books. That book series does great work in making complex topics easy to manage.

4. Seek Out Clear Feedback To Improve

Bruce Lee’s commitment to improving his skills meant seeking feedback. In martial arts, feedback is instant and impossible to avoid. Bruce tries a kick or a punch and he could immediately see the results. Seconds later, he could try another kick in a slightly different way. Performing music or creating computer code also offer instant feedback on your efforts.

If you are not in a field where immediate feedback is needed, try these techniques. First, act on past feedback. At some point in the past, you have been given feedback on how to improve. You may have forgotten to put it into action. Start by putting that feedback (e.g. showing up on time at the office or taking care of household errands faster) into action. Once you do that, you will be more likely to receive more feedback.

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Second, ask clarifying questions about criticism or negative feedback. Feedback is useless if you don’t understand it at work or elsewhere. If the feedback is confusing, ask for clarification. Consider asking for a suggestion on how you can improve next time.

Featured photo credit: Bruce Lee/Guerrilla Freelancing via guerrillafreelancing.com

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Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham is a Project Management Professional and Founder and CEO of Project Management Hacks.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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