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To be better at something, study it

Think of a skill or hobby you'd like to improve. How much time do you spend studying your craft instead of practicing it?

I’m currently reading “On Writing” by Stephen King. The book includes his abridged biography and actionable guidance for aspiring writers.

This quote stands out:

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

Stephen goes on explaining that you can’t be a good writer if you don’t read a lot. It's like the common saying: "become a student of the game”. You learn writing by writing. To learn more, you must study. You study writing by reading. Reading exposes you to good and bad writing. It provides inspiration. You discover what is possible. What you like. What you don't like. Things to imitate and borrow. By studying the craft, you become better at it.

You must invest in both the work and study of your craft. This applies to any skill or hobby.

To be a better actress/actor, you need to watch films.

To be a better rock guitar player, you need to listen/watch rock guitarists.

To be a better creator of iPhone apps, you need to use a variety of iPhone apps.

To be a better chef, you need to try different foods.

To be a better basketball player, you need to watch the game.

Kobe Bryant is a student of the game. He watches game film religiously. It allows him to identify what his team is doing well, and what to improve upon. He also studies opponents through film. He looks for patterns, player tendencies, and any detail that can give him an advantage when playing that opponent. Kobe Bryant understands that to be a better basketball player, he must dedicate time to the mental aspect of the game. This means being a student of the game. Asking questions from living legends (Magic Johnson, Michael Jordon,  Bill Russell, etc.), training with legends (Hakeem Olajuwon), and learning as much as possible about the game of basketball.

While writing and recording my band's Progressive Rock album, I would channel my Progressive Rock knowledge for inspiration and guidance. Having listened to an array of songs in the genre, I'd internalized the style of music. This would then come out in my guitar playing, song writing, and producing skills. It wasn't intentional, it would just happen. It's like if you surround yourself with smart people, they "rub off" on you and make you feel smarter. You pick up on their behaviors and mannerisms subconsciously, and exhibit them. Through my love and study of the craft, I empowered a level of creativity I would not have had if I did not listen to Progressive Rock music. Through listening I was subconsciously building a library of music elements that I would later reference, not knowing it was there.

To be better at something, it pays to study it. To learn from those who have done what you want to achieve. To see how far they pushed the boundaries so you can set your own goals. To learn what they did well and not so well. This is just the baseline. Things get interesting when you start drawing inspiration from unrelated fields. For example studying how a a chef leads the kitchen staff, and applying those leadership tactics to a basketball team. Inspiration can be drawn from anywhere, you just have to be curious enough to make connections. But it all starts with a decision to dedicate time to both the work and study of your craft.