When I started my first martial arts business, it wasn’t for the “business”, it was for the “martial arts”. Shipping off to get my master’s in psychology at UPENN (concentrating on skill development), I quickly realized that this “business” of mine had better start turning a profit or I’d have no way to pay the 55 grand back to the Ivy Leagues.
Lucky for me, many of the same principles of goal setting theory and skill acquisition apply just as well – and twice as profitably – in business as in sport. In order to learn sales, marketing, marketing automation, and management, I decided to find ways to “practice” and not merely “study.” Interviewing many of the world’s best researchers in goal setting and skill development, as well as dozens of martial arts world champions, I honed in on the key factors I’d need to focus on in order to build particular business skills quickly.
For learning code to learning sales – these 3 steps will get you to “expertise” faster:
1) Turn the Subjective into the Objective
In sport – as in business – people often get frustrated with their weaknesses and make passing statements about how they’ll improve. “Ah… I’m no good at sales, I’m going to get better this year” or “I really need to learn to develop the front-ends for these websites myself.” Most of the time, if you talk to these same people 12 months later, you won’t see any heightened level of skill in those areas.
Instead of thinking about the subjective desire (IE: wanting something to be “better”), aim to think about where you’d like to get objectively – in real, tangible metrics. For example: “I’m going to get to an 80% close rate on leads from this particular lead source,” or “I’ll master the basics of HTML by the end of the summer.” My recommendation is to begin with 3-month goals for skill development.
Often, this transformation from subjective to objective will help you determine how important this goal really is. If the objective goal is unrealistic, or really isn’t something you’ll be motivated enough to do yourself, then maybe it’s time to pay someone else to do it, or think of another solution. Keeping goals in the realm of vague / subjective notions often keeps us from the hard work of taking charge or handing it off.
2) Determine the Metrics That Matter
Next, once your goal is measurable and tangible, we’ll want to boil it down to it’s basic substrate: behaviors.
For someone aiming to diligently improve their writing, this might be something like 45 minutes at the keyboard each morning, with no exceptions (45 x 7 = 315 minutes per week). For someone aiming to improve their sales, that might imply a certain number of hours per week cold calling, a ritual of writing / reflecting session after each attempted sale, and reading 2 sales books, cover-to-cover, within the next 3 months.
What weekly metrics could you set in place to cultivate the skill you’re pursuing? If it’s web design, can you log in morning hours like a writer?… maybe meet up with a smart web development friend once per week for a 1-hour coffee to pick his/her brain?… maybe there’s an instructional site with tutorials that you can study for 2 hours every Saturday?
Once you have an overarching 3-month goal for your desired skill, and you’ve boiled it down even to just one or two rigorous, weekly metrics, you’ve now done more than 90% of people ever do to deliberated improve a skill. Just one more piece to the puzzle:
3) Stay Disciplined to the Finish Line
Starting off with a fresh journal page of goals and a behaviors to stay on top of can be energizing in and of itself, but it doesn’t mean you’ll stick to them. Here’s three additional pointers for staying 100% on the ball with regards to improving your skill:
a) Keep track of your metrics: I use an excel document for different weekly, monthly, and quarterly metrics. If all you have is 2 “boxes” per week that you put a “check” in, that’s at least a real, visual method of seeing if you’ve stuck to your commitment. It doesn’t matter if this is tracked in a paper notebook, or in an excel document
b) Same time, same place: Check your progress at the same time every week, and keep your goals in the same place. Mine are always open in an excel document, and years ago they were on my nightstand in a notebook. I recommend Sundays as a check-in day, but it’s possible to pick any day – so long as you stay consistent.
c) Accountability rules: If you’re a smart and ambitious person, I’ll bet you know at least one other person like yourself. Maybe it’s a best friend, co-worker, or spouse. Having a 60 to 90-minute weekly check-up with this person can give you a consistent reminder of your goal, and a little bit of social pressure to live up to your own commitments.
As an Olympic athlete will tell you, a little rigor goes a long way. The difference between having a gnawing sense of how you “should” improve is not a bad thing if you can channel it into a tangible goal – and real action steps towards improvement.
All the best.
Daniel Faggella is a national martial arts champion and online/offline entrepreneur. After selling his first business at the age of 25, Daniel started work at www.TechEmergence.com, a news and advice site for Emerging Technology entrepreneurs. He lives outside of Boston.
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