I’ve been obsessing a bit about a crazy American that was known for exercising in one of the most barren, inaccessible regions of the world. There is a moment in Christopher McDougall’s book "Born to Run” when Caballo Blanco, a nomadic ultramarathoner living in the wilds of Mexico instructs the author on how to run:
"Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a sh*t how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one – you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”
I find that I’ve been thinking about that quote a lot. For Caballo Blanco, those four steps were what he needed to remember to run dozens of miles each day. However, the more I considered it, the more I realized that those four steps are really the optimal way to learn any skill.
First, Make it Easy:
- Make it simple, but not too simple.
- Every step in the process must have a purpose.
- Consider which steps can be automated and which will need individual attention.
- It doesn't need to work 100%, but needs to work at least 80% of instances.
NOTE: Often, there will be one step in the process that makes everything more complex. Remove that step and then consider the “easiest” way to connect the two steps on either side of the gap.
Then, Make it Light:
- If the process requires iron will-power and ridiculous levels of motivation, it won’t work long-term.
- It needs to be something that is intuitive enough to do when you’re distracted or tired (see Make it Easy above). Think to floss, or making your bed.
- To quote David Allen: “is it something that works when you are sick in bed with the flu?”
- Consider ways that you can make it easy [working on something at a specific location, keeping all items for a task together, using a checklist or script].
Then, Make it Smooth:
- Is it something that can work into your life easily?
- What is disrupted in your life if you follow this process? Is the disruption good (getting you out of unhealthy habits) or bad (it keeps you from accomplishing the important work that you need to do every day.
- does doing it interrupt lots of other things that come after.
Finally, Let it become Fast:
- Give yourself twice as long as you think it should be when you first get started.
- If it is something that needs to move fast to be effective, then practice it during non-critical times.
- If something doesn’t move faster, see if there are steps that are either badly defined or maybe need to be re-worked.
Not every skill can be practiced in these four steps. Some have too many variables, others require individual attention on each step. However, I think that is the exception rather than the rule in most areas. If you take the time, you'll find there are many examples of processes that can eventually become effortless and second-nature, like Caballo Blanco running through the mountains of Mexico.
Check out the Digital Training Podcast - Episode 9 where we discuss this article.