How to Master Your Craft, Even When You're Not a Natural

How do you become really really good at something, even if you’re not a natural?

Recently during an intense “rock your core” yoga class we were in the midst of practicing handstands without kicking up, using all upper body strength. For lack of a better phrase, it was impossible. I got my legs up maybe 2 inches off the ground, and let out grunts as if I was picking up boulders with my feet.

This process went on for about five minutes, and I wish I could tell you it ended with me in a handstand, but it ended with me crouched on the ground, chugging water and panting like a dog.

While enduring this hellacious process, Ali, my yoga instructor, mentioned a few different things about proper form in doing a handstand, down to hand placement, shoulder placement, elbows, and everything else involved.

Here's a photo of her in action, and from the looks of it I don't think I need to tell you she’s really fucking good at this stuff.


The thing is, she didn’t just become awesome at handstands all of a sudden--she wasn't a natural. She mentioned during class that for years she would practice and set up a video camera so she could watch her form and correct every last detail.


Let’s break that down for a second.


She found something important to her in yoga, then decided good wasn’t good enough, and she wanted to be great. She practiced for years on handstands. But she didn’t just practice, she analyzed what she practiced.

I’ve talked before about how LeBron James became the best by using Mastermind Groups to surround himself with the best. Even though he is a natural, he's absolutely spent thousands of hours analyzing every component of his game.


So why don’t we do this more often?


Here’s the problem: We’ve never really been conditioned to study ourselves. Realistically think about this. The whole time growing up we’ve relied on external influences for feedback. We have a school system that tells us if we do at least 90% of the work, that’s the best, if we do at least 80% of the work, that’s second best, and so forth.

Once we get beyond the school system, which for many of us is post-college, there are no more grades. So what takes its place? Our jobs tell us every 6 and 12 months how we’re doing, and our report card is known as a performance review.

Feedback from what’s around us is important, but to become really really good at something--to become a master, or an expert--we can’t rely solely on it, because other peoples' eyes aren’t always there to watch us.

That’s when we take it up a notch and get into the practice of self-analysis.

It doesn’t have to be videotaping yourself doing yoga. Self-analysis comes in so many forms. A couple years ago when I worked at an ad agency, I kept a spreadsheet where every day I wrote down one thing I learned about myself and the work I did.

Guess who had hundreds of reference points when it came time to make a case for a promotion and raise?

Let’s take it a step further. You all know I’m a rapper, but did you know I am probably the least natural rapper? I play exactly zero instruments, I don’t make my own beats, and I don’t even know how to read music.

I started rapping in high school and I was just bad. My first mixtape in college was subpar at best. But I studied my music. I listened to myself over and over again to see where I could improve. “I’m off beat here”, “my flow gets choppy here”, “this rhyme doesn’t really make sense”. From analyzing myself, I improved. I’m much better now, but still not at the level I want to be. So what do I do? I keep on listening. Have you heard the songs on my new album? I have---at least 2,000 times (that might even be an underestimation).


So whether it’s Ali my yoga instructor becoming an absolute handstand badass, LeBron becoming the best basketball player, you getting yourself closer to a promotion, dropping your marathon time, or even being a better partner to your significant other, if you’re not looking at yourself, you’re not mastering your craft.


Be awesome out there.

What up! My name is Rajiv Nathan and I'm the Cofounder of Idea Lemon. That banana peel you slipped on to land here came from me. That's because I fancy myself a human Curious George, and the yellow hat I chase is life's authentic moments. I share my chase one story at a time through this blog, our email newsletter, and as a rapper.

Oh and I'm a WWE fan 4 lyf!