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By Eric Barker
April 11, 2014

There’s a right way to learn.

Want to be more successful? Actually, that’s not ambitious enough — want to be the best?

I do. So I called my friend Daniel Coyle, author of the best books on getting better at anything: The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent.

Dan knows that the “10,000 hour rule” is nice but you need to align your effort with the way your brain was designed to learn.

Hours are vital but you can get to mastery faster — much faster — by practicing the right way.

So how can you and I do that? Here are 7 steps experts use:

1) Be Uncomfortable

You learn best when you’re reaching. “Flow” is great. But flow is not the best way to learn.

You want to be stretched to the edge of your ability. It needs to be hard. That’s how your brain grows.

Here’s Dan:

More on the best way for you to practice here.

2) Stop Reading. Start Doing.

Keep the “Rule of Two-Thirds” in mind. Spend only one third of your time studying.

The other two-thirds of your time you want to be doing the activity. Practicing. Testing yourself.

Get your nose out of that book. Avoid the classroom. Whatever it is you want to be the best at, be doing it.

The closer your practice is to the real thing, the faster you learn.

Here’s Dan:

More on how to shift from reading to doing here.

3) The Sweet Spot

You want to be successful 60-80% of the time when training. That’s the sweet spot for improvement.

When learning is too hard, we quit. When it’s too easy… well, we quit then too.

Always be upping the challenge to stay in that 60-80% zone.

Here’s Dan:

More on how to find your sweet spot for learning here.

4) Commit To The Long Term

Asking someone ”How long are you going to be doing this?” was the best predictor of how skilled that person would end up being.

Merely committing to the long haul had huge effects.

Here’s Dan:

Commit to the long haul. Don’t give up. Even works for mice:

More on how long term commitment can take you to the next level here.

5) Find A Role Model

Watching the best people work is one of the most powerful things you can do.

It’s motivating, inspiring and it’s how you were built to learn. Study the best to be the best.

Here’s Dan:

More on finding the best mentor for you here.

6) Naps Are Steroids For Your Brain

Napping isn’t for the lazy. It’s one of the habits of the most successful people in any field.

Sleep is essential to learning. Naps are a tool that will make you the best.

Here’s Dan:

More on how astronauts use sleep to increase performance here.

7) Keep a Notebook

Eminem keeps a journal. Peyton Manning keeps a journal.

Top performers track their progress, set goals, reflect and learn from their mistakes.

Here’s Dan:

More on how to use a notebook to be your best here.

If You Only Remember Two Words From This…

Dan says the two key words are “Reach” and “Stare.”

Reach: Always push yourself to the edge of your ability.

Stare: Look at those better than you and emulate them.

Here’s Dan:

Sum Up

Sadly, you weren’t born an expert.

But you can become one with practice and time. Start now. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve:

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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