Florian Felsing Jul 19th, 2023

If You Want to Get Good at Something, You Must Do the Reps

I listened to an older episode of the Lex Fridman podcast yesterday, where he interviewed John Carmack, one of the legendary co-founders of id Software, who, among other accomplishments, created milestones of video game history like Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM, and Quake, along with various significant technical innovations, such as the algorithm that is known as adaptive tile refresh which most famously appeared for the first time in the 1990 video game release Commander Keen.

Among the things that struck me most during the interview was what Carmack said at around 1,5 hours in about his back-then colleague and later co-founder of id Software John Romero:

“One of his teaching-himself efforts was he made a game for every letter of the alphabet.”

Let that sit for a moment: John Romero literally created 26 different video games at some point along his learning journey, one for each letter of the alphabet!

This repeated effort was most critical to the later success of id Software, as Carmack mentions a little bit later during the interview. John Romero himself has similar things to say in his book “Doom Guy: The Untold Story of John Romero: Life in First Person,” where he mentions that one of the essential aspects that made their small team in the early days of id Software so effective was the raw experience that all of the members of the team had under their belly at the time they started working together.

If you want to get good at something, you must do the reps.

The above is a universal principle that applies everywhere, really. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote something similar in his newsletter a couple of weeks ago. He said something along the lines of him always having invested at least 5 hours each day while acquiring a new skill - from bodybuilding to acting or politics when he became the governor of California in 2003.

It doesn’t matter whether you want to become great at business, programming, bodybuilding, running, cooking, dancing, public speaking, Yabusame, or something entirely unrelated. Yes, there is always an element of theory and learning from the books. Yes, there may be shortcuts and hacks along the way that you can make use of. But if you genuinely want to excel, you must get out there and do raw repetitions.