The tl;dr version of it is: the thing that differentiates the greatest among us from the rest is not their talent, but the manner in which they practice. Specifically, they practice an awful lot, and do so in a reflective process that efficiently translates the invested time to a consistent improvement in performance.
|Mozart - a guy who was great at something|
Let's call it deliberate learning.
1. Choose a mentor and follow blindly, for a limited time
|For a limited time, blindly follow you will|
The idea is to find a teacher, who may be someone teaching you a course at the university, a colleague at work, or even your superior. This person should be very experienced and much better than you at what you're trying to learn, and should be available to you on a regular basis. You should buy into this person's point of view on the subject you're trying to learn: imitate this person's methods, ask for advice, ask questions, and just believe everything they tell you (professionally). For the limited time that you're adopting this person as your mentor, you should also suspend your disbelief about their professional shortcomings. It is a surprisingly powerful approach, as it let's you really run with ideas and concepts along a path someone else already paved, and with their help. After the limited time has passed (e.g., the university term), you can reevaluate all the stuff you used to embrace, and gradually throw away whatever you disagree with, or adapt it to your own style. One last point: this mentor doesn't have to be a person - it may even be a book.
2. Steer toward the boring and the difficult
|Boring and difficult? Do go on!|
Like the mentor thing, this is about suspending the self for a while. After you finish your learning period on the subject (I know the common wisdom is one should always be learning, but very rarely can one maintain a state of learning about everything) you'll naturally stay away from the stuff that bores you or that you don't understand well. This means that now is the only time you'll have to gain some ground in these areas. This being a learning period, you're also relatively energetic, and can muster the courage to face those areas, so it is very literally now or never. So be on the lookout for boring or difficult topics, and fearlessly dive into them. Your environment (at work or school) knows you're just learning, so it will be more forgiving to failure, which is inevitable when trying new and difficult things.
3. Get people whose judgement you trust to criticize your work frequently
|My work sucks? I demand a trial by combat!|
- Paraphrasing Fight Club - you are not your work, so your work can and will suck sometimes, which doesn't mean you, in general, do.
- Going from terrible to okay is way easier than going from good to great, so if your work is shitty, this is good news as it means with little work you can improve a lot.
- Crummy work counts for experience too, so it wasn't a waste of time.