From “To Kickstart a New Behavior, Copy and Paste” by Kathy Milkman, author of the new book, How to Change, which suggests the best way to master a new skill is to emulate the methods of someone successful.
Happily, it’s easy to turn yourself into a deliberate copy-and-paster. The next time you’re falling short of a goal, look to high-achieving peers for answers. If you’d like to get more sleep, a well-rested friend with a similar lifestyle may be able to help. If you’d like to commute on public transit, don’t just look up the train schedules—talk to a neighbor who’s already abandoned her car. You’re likely to go further faster if you ﬁnd the person who’s already achieving what you want to achieve and copy and paste their tactics than if you simply let social forces inﬂuence you through osmosis.
Kinda maybe sorta.
There is a big, big difference between emulating psychosocial habits (like vegetarianism or fashion) or noncomplex skills (like a workable commute route or some forms of regular exercise) and achieving success in a skill-based habit like practicing medicine or playing an instrument.
For low-stakes or low-commitment behaviors, sure. It’s reasonable to try to save time and give yourself the boost of something that has worked for someone. Copy-paste saves you from analysis paralysis.
But copy and paste is also a guaranteed way to fully embrace survivorship bias. You don’t know if the people you are emulating succeeded because of their methods or despite them. You don’t know if those methods are optimal for you or if the most important aspects of said methods are even those which are externally visible or consciously retrievable from the expert.
A lot of people don’t know why they’re successful, and their attempts to craft a narrative about their successes are fiction.
And when it comes to experts instead of peers, one of the common difficulties for many is that it’s been so long since they’ve been a novice that they literally don’t know what it’s like anymore. Their memories of their early growth are fuzzy and often out-of-date to boot.
As we are back in the middle of USMLE Step season for the medical students among you, I am reminded of this post I wrote in 2014 about the Methods to Success Fallacy.