James Altucher is a former hedge fund manager turned bestselling author and angel investor. He hosts a popular podcast that features guests like Tim Ferriss, Tyra Banks, Richard Branson, and Mark Cuban.
James has mastered a variety of skills, ranging from chess to poker. His most recent adventure involves learning standup comedy.
A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed him for a special two-part episode on his podcast, and I was eager to learn how he masters new skills and the strategies he uses to perform at his peak.
Here are three strategies he says work for him:
1. He focuses on learning microskills.
It's tempting to convince yourself you'll never be able to learn something--like a foreign language or how to play an instrument. James has found the best way to learn is by focusing on microskills.
He systematically breaks down new skills--like learning how to write a book or how to do standup comedy--into manageable chunks. He said, "You figure out what the microskills are, which you could do by reading a lot, trying a lot, and watching a lot. Then, you compartmentalize those microskills and try to get better at each one."
He also figures out how those same microskills help him in other areas of his life. For example, the "crowd work" he learned for standup helps him perform better during TV interviews or when he's dealing with customers or employees.
How to apply this to your life: Rather than say, "I'm a bad writer," identify the microskills you need to improve, like storytelling or sentence structure. Then, sharpen those skills one step at a time. Keep in mind that everything you do, from golfing to closing sales, requires a set of microskills you can improve.
2. He uses a warm-up strategy that helps him get in the right state.
Having all the skills in the world won't help you if you choke under pressure. You have to know how to get in the right physiological and mental state to perform at your peak when it matters most.
There's a lot of advice out there about what you should do to get into the right physiological state before you step into a high-pressure situation. One expert might say to pump yourself up while the next might say you need to calm yourself down.
But James doesn't follow any of this generic advice. Instead, he figured out what specifically works best for him.
In talking about getting in the right state when he's about to perform comedy on stage, he said, "I've experimented with dealing with my anxiety before going onstage with comedy. For instance, is it better to have a drink or not have a drink? Is it better to have one cup of coffee or not have a lot of coffee, like take a stimulant or not a stimulant? I find actually having a mild amount of anxiety is the best. You're not so anxious that it's ruining you, but you're anxious enough that you're hyper-aware of everything that's going on."
How to make this work for you: Whether you're asking for a raise or interviewing for a new job, it's important to know what physiological and mental state will help you perform at your peak. Conduct experiments to help you gain insight into what level of anxiety will help you do your best and then develop a warm-up routine that will help you get into the right state before your big moment.
3. He strives to become 1 percent better every day.
Even when James is learning to master a new skill, he doesn't allow his work to overtake his entire life. As the author of a book called Choose Yourself, he says one of the best ways he invests in himself is by diversifying.
He said, "I diversify the way I invest in myself, and that helps spread out the anxiety. So if three things are going well, but two things aren't, I don't have to focus anymore on the two things that are causing me the most anxiety."
In addition, when he notices that he's overextending himself, he cuts back (he recently cut back on how many podcast interviews he does each week because he didn't want to burn out). He said, "For me, the sign of burnout is that I am not able to do one percent better every day."
How to make this work for you: No matter how excited you are about something, don't let your entire identity get wrapped in any single thing. Develop interests and hobbies outside of your work and strive to become a little better every day.
Although James has been dubbed a self-help guru, he makes it clear that he's only telling people what works for him. But there's a good chance you can take the strategies he uses and apply them to your own life.
It may take some experimenting, however, to figure out exactly how to make those strategies work best for you. To hear more of the strategies he uses, like writing down 10 ideas each day and creating a powerful inner circle, listen to the full podcast interview.