The First 20 Hours

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult. —E. B. WHITE, ESSAYIST AND AUTHOR OF CHARLOTTE’S WEB AND THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

By nature, I’m a do-it-yourself kind of guy. If something needs to be done, I’d rather give it a go myself than look for help. Even if someone else could do it faster or better, I’m reluctant to rob myself of the learning experience.

As Dr. Dweck says in Mindset: “Your mind is like a muscle: the more you use it, the more it grows.” The more you practice, the more efficient, effective, and automatic the skill becomes.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done (2002), recommends establishing what he calls a “someday/maybe” list: a list of things you may want to explore sometime in the future, but that aren’t important enough to focus on right now.

The more periods of sustained practice you complete, the faster your skill acquisition. Set aside time for three to five practice sessions a day, and you’ll see major progress in a very short period.

Take white-water kayaking. What would I need to know if I wanted to be able to kayak in a large, fast-moving, rock-strewn river? Here’s the inversion: What would it look like if everything went wrong?

I do not measure my progress in Yoga by how far I can bend or twist, but by how I treat my wife and children. —T. K. V. DESIKACHAR, RENOWNED YOGA TEACHER

If you’re interested, you can try the program yourself: it’s at

Recent research suggests that, for greatest effect, it’s best to sleep within four hours of motor skill practice: even a short nap is better than nothing at all. Any longer, and your brain’s ability to consolidate the information it gathered during practice is impaired.

Human languages, including English, follow a power law curve called Zipf’s law: a very small set of words makes up the vast majority of actual usage. Based on an analysis of The Brown Corpus (1964), a 1 million-word collection of 500 modern English documents, only 135 words account for 50 percent of all English usage.21 The word “the” itself accounts for 7.5 percent, while “of” accounts for 3.5 percent.

What surprised me most about learning Colemak was how easy it was to overwrite almost twenty years of previous experience touch typing using QWERTY. I assumed that two decades of muscle memory would take way more than twenty hours to replace. I was wrong. Our brains are easier to change than we think.

If you don’t want to do something you’re currently doing, make it impossible to do. If you can’t make the behavior impossible, make it as difficult, expensive, or prohibitive as you possibly can. The more effort required, the less likely you are to go back to your previous behavior.

If you ride a tiger, it’s difficult to get off.