How to Learn New Skills
Have you heard of the 10,000 Hour Rule as popularized by Malcolm Gladwell before? It states that you need 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a skill. This statistic has taken the world by storm and gotten debunked by multiple sources as being a half-truth, but the truth stands that you do need to practice a lot to become a master.
For most of us, we don't need to become a master at 95% of the things that we do. Sure, maybe you want to become an expert in your field of work, but the chances of you simultaneously wanting to be a world-class pianist are close to zero. Practicing until you can play recreationally in an orchestra or band might be closer to your actual goals. In that 95% of skills that we aren't aiming for mastery for, how long do you think it takes to get to a reasonable skill level? One particular TED speaker, Josh Kaufman, says that number is 20 hours.
The First 20 Hours: How to Go About It
If you haven't watched the talk by Josh Kaufman yet, I highly recommend you to give it a listen - it's highly motivating in how it convinces you that you can learn whatever you put your mind to. In summary, he states that in the first 20 hours of learning anything, you should:
- learn how to deconstruct the skill
- such that you are able to learn how to self-correct
- remove practice barriers (modify your environment to encourage practice)
While it's a good framework, I have a few of my own thoughts to add. I've learned many skills to varying degrees of success from foreign languages to musical instruments to programming, so I believe I know what I'm talking about. Of course, the process of learning varies from person to person, so you should always aim to construct your own method of learning.
Overcoming Early Roadblocks
The biggest issue for most people when it comes to learning new skills is that they get lost easily and don't know how to progress further once they hit a roadblock. Or they simply don't see progress even after putting in hours of effort. In my opinion, the right choice for most people is to find someone who can teach you the basics. If you know someone who is already well-versed with the skill you want to learn, learn from him or her! If not, find a teacher.
I find that a good teacher or mentor who can lay the foundation for you can save you tons of hours in learning. Let's take, for example, learning how to play the piano. Without a teacher, you wouldn't be aware of the importance of your posture and fingering which can impede progress if not learned well. A teacher can also guide you into learning pieces that are level-appropriate which can form the foundation for better playing later. In many circumstances, a good teacher will help eliminate any early roadblocks that you face and can be a great motivator.
These days, you might not even need a physical teacher. In fact, YouTube is one of the best teachers for many different skills. And the best part is that YouTube is free! That being said, getting a good teacher who can mentor and guide you in private will be the best way for you to identify what you need to work on.
If you're more of a community person, find a learner's community! Humans are social creatures and joining a community can help you keep at it for longer. Furthermore, whatever roadblocks that you're facing have most likely been encountered by someone else before. It's also great fun seeing each other progress!
Learning How to Self-Correct
Learning how to self-correct is essential for reducing your reliance on teachers and community members, but I'd wager that it's actually pretty tough to do for a good number of skills. You don't have enough experience to tell what's wrong just yet, and you might end up self-correcting... in the wrong way!
I find that the best way to learn how to self-correct is to ask my teacher what they look out for when they are correcting something. You shouldn't guess how to self-correct - you need a way to find out what exactly is done wrong, and how it can be fixed.
That being said, I believe that this isn't necessary for the first 20 hours of learning, especially for more complex skills, and you should aim to absorb as much as you can from your teachers first. Don't jump the gun!
Putting in the Hours
Of course, the hardest part about learning anything is probably going to be putting in the actual hours of practice and work. This gets harder as you grow older, mostly because society has primed us to deem ourselves to "not have an aptitude for X" when we fail at something for the first time.
Practice isn't tough. Not seeing progress is.
If I could see myself improving visibly every single day, I would be fired up to practice each day. Sadly, this isn't the case.
You will see days where nothing goes right and you seem to be stagnating. Or becoming worse. These can really be a downer on your motivation, but you have to trust the process - put in the hours and you'll see progress eventually.
James Clear claims that you should focus on the systems that propel you towards your goals rather than the goals themselves. I agree with it fully - you need to focus on fixing your processes and systems of practicing if you want to get good at something.
Trust the process.
I hope you've obtained some insight into how you can go about learning something new. Maybe you'd like to learn juggling, learn to program, or learn a foreign language. Start now - you'll be grateful to yourself in the future.