There is no Royal Road

John Cousins
February 7, 2023
4 min read

In learning and acquiring skills I have found two competing tendencies: my desire to learn things fast and my desire to learn something well.

Some things you can learn quickly. You can apply accelerated learning principles and take a Pareto Principle approach and become “good enough” fast. This can be a super power in acquitting skill sets and knowledge aimed at better performance over a wider set of tasks.

With so many fields merging in cross-disciplinary ways, an accelerated learning approach is a competitive advantage and a survival skill.

There are other disciplines that are deeply satisfying that don’t fall into this category: skills that there is no royal road to acquiring.

When I lived in New York I heard about a guy who had made a boatload of money as a Wall Street banker and wanted to learn to play the piano. A piano teacher told him that it would take time and that if he practiced an hour a day it would realistically be around four years before he would acquire the requisite technique to consider himself able to play.

He didn’t want to wait four years. His aggressive style solution was to hire a teacher for eight hours a day for six months. He paid in advance. It didn’t work out as he planned.

Some things take time to seep in and become second nature. Some things can’t be rushed. Some things have rate limiters.

You can’t have a baby in four and a half months by getting two women pregnant.

You can only speed these up so much through focused, mindful, engaged practice.

Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

I have always loved to travel and explore new places and experience new things. There is something deeply energizing about novelty. This goes for romance too. Staying in that ecstatic state of the initial blush of an affair is seductive enough that flitting from one to the next holds its charms.

I have come to realize that the things I do that hold the most satisfaction for me are things that I have practiced and have performed over long periods of time.

There are deeper satisfactions to be had in long term encounters with experience. Activities like practice, rituals, routines and habits can add up over time to incredibly satisfying mastery and intimacy.

I like to immerse myself in activities that develop skills over time like exercise and conditioning, playing music instruments, studying and reading, writing, drawing, computer programming, meditation, yoga, martial arts and the list goes on and on.

These things take time to get good at, and that takes consistent effort.

I have come to a place in life where I am more attuned to my daily routine and the different practices that I perform. Morning rituals have become popular and they help set up the day. Exercising every day is a great way to get an accomplishment each day. Practicing and exploring musical instruments is immensely satisfying.

Finding myself getting better and more accomplished is really what’s deeply satisfying.

“Success requires first expending ten units of effort to produce one unit of results. Your momentum will then produce ten units of results with each unit of effort.”

— Charles J. Givens

So now I’m not so eager to travel or break my routine. My routines seem so robust until I get out of them and then I realize how fragile they are and how challenging it can be to jumpstart them.

If you suffer like me from Fear of Missing Out FOMO it can lead you to pine for a splashy life of exotic travel and lots of variety and change. Be careful what you wish for. For me, staying at home and honing my skills has become what I long to do. And the great thing is that this is within our sphere of influence to effect.

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John Cousins
Author, Entrepreneur, & Teacher

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