Only a handful of people ever become world experts in their field. The rest attain somewhere between a functional and world expert level of knowledge.
So what makes the best better than the rest? Are they born with greater knowledge? Intelligence? Inner strength?
Well, the latter is the more likely. Although some world experts are genuine geniuses, most are simply people of normal intelligence who happened to work harder than anyone else. If you want to be a world expert in your field, this is good news. The ability to work hard and efficiently at becoming an expert is much easier to attain than genius.
So how do you learn to become an expert?
The basis of becoming an expert is to read more than anyone else on your subject. If you read on your subject for one hour per working day for seven years (that’s a PhD and one post-doc position), that 1820 hours of reading is going to take you a long way to becoming an expert. Especially since the majority of your peers are unlikely to read even half of that amount.
Although reading for one hour every working day is a tough goal to set yourself it is by no means an unattainable one. Here’s how to ease yourself into the discipline of reading every day and onto the path of world class expertise.
You are already an expert – in training.
Think of yourself as an expert in training. This will help you to see your goal and shoot for it. Realise that although a lot of hard work lies between you and your goal, if you set the path and stay on it, you will make it.
It’s a bit like training to be able to bench 100 kilos. If you put your mind to it, kept your discipline to visit the gym every day and stayed focused on your goal you would definitely make it. More on self discipline and weight lifting later.
Make the time
One hour per day is a fair old chunk out of the working week. How can you make that time? Here are a few suggestions:
Stop wasting time: According to a 2007 survey by salary.com, 63% of workers waste an average of 2 hours per day on various activities such as idle chit-chat or surfing the internet. This means the average worker has two hours of valuable time per day that could be put to better use. Think about whether you tend to waste time like this – if you do, then you could use valuable time in your quest to become a world expert.
Make reading a priority: If reading for one hour per day was your top priority, other less important tasks would have to give way to allow you to achieve it. Try thinking about reading in this way – are there tasks that you could delegate, speed up or simply omit from your working day to make room?
Get up earlier: An easy way to gain an hour per day is to get up an hour earlier! It’s a sacrifice, I know, but perhaps a small price to pay to become a world expert.
Get into the habit
To maintain a schedule like reading for one hour per day, you have to make it a habit. A great tip for establishing a habit is to focus on maintaining it for 30 days. It takes 60 days to establish a habit but 30 days is a less daunting time to aim for. It’s only a month after all.
A great time to start is at the beginning of the month – then you just have to focus on maintaining the activity until the end of the month. Once you are there, you are halfway to establishing a habit so you will be inspired to continue for the next 30 days.
Fitting a new habit into your schedule is often easier if you tack it onto an existing habit you already have. For example, if you normally have a coffee when you arrive at work in the morning, you could do your reading along with that. Or maybe reading immediately after lunch would be a better option for you. Think of the habits you already have that you could use to help squeeze your new reading hour into your schedule.
This is the biggest point. It’s no good doing any of the above if you can’t maintain the self-discipline required to read for one hour, each and every working day.
This takes me back to the weight lifting analogy.
Just like muscle strength, self-discipline strength varies from person to person. If someone with average muscle strength goes straight into the gym and tries to bench 100 kilos with no training, chances are that they would fail. Try it every day and they’d soon lose the inspiration to reach their goal.
Similarly if you have average self-discipline strength and you try to go from scratch to one hour’s reading per day, that’s likely to prove too much. You might do it for the first day, maybe even the second but without the required level of self discipline you are unlikely to be able to maintain the effort.
But here’s the good news. Just like muscle strength, self-discipline strength can be built up. And just like muscle strength, the best way to build self-discipline is to embark on a training program, starting with small “weights” and progressing to increasingly larger ones. For building up reading discipline, this could mean starting off with reading for 10 minutes per day and slowly building it up. Or reading for one hour for one day per week, then building it up slowly to reach 5 days per week. Whichever suits you.
All it takes to become a world expert is to focus, make the time, get into good habits and build your self-discipline. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But the fact is that it’s not. Most people won’t put in the immense effort required to achieve this goal, which is why most people aren’t world experts.
The monthly meeting with your supervisor is approaching and you are getting nervous. What can you do to get the most out of it? For starters, let’s hope that you are actually having regular, one-to-one meeting with your lab head. If not, you have bigger problems than just preparing (look out for my upcoming article […]
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