The New Year is upon us. Actually, even more exciting, a new decade is upon us! With this in mind, many people probably have a long list of new resolutions. These resolutions are typically habit changers, either activities people want to do more of (ie. exercising or eating healthy) or activities people want to do less of (ie. drinking alcohol or snoozing the alarm). But hopefully, many of us are also planning on doing things we’ve never done before.
Learning new skills is a priority for me. I realize that when you acquire and master new skills, it brings new opportunities. Also, I really enjoy trying new things. It keeps me curious and scratches my itch of novelty.
Whatever it is–a new language, a hobby like surfing or a career skill such as Photoshop–I’m sure you want to progress through the learning curve as quickly as possible. Learning something new is almost always frustrating and requires a bit of courage to overcome the intimidation. Even though you get excited when you make progress, feelings of exasperation and embarrassment when you don’t get it can slow down or even stop someone from learning something.
How can you learn a skill faster and more effectively? Here are a couple of ways I intentionally do this:
1. Set a specific target performance level
I often notice when someone is learning something new, they don’t have a desired level of mastery they would like to achieve. If you haven’t decided what you want, it’s impossible to figure out how to get it. I’d suggest defining a performance level you’re working toward. I like to set a goal for where I’d like to be 3 months from now. Whenever you first start the learning process, this may be a challenge as you may not understand or have anything specific in mind but as you begin learning more about the skill, you’ll define a proficiency. For example, if you want to learn the guitar, you could set your target performance level at learning a certain number of chords, or a song. Then you have a goal to work toward.
2. Deconstruct the skill into subskills
Trying to learn a new skill can feel overwhelming at first. What I’ve found useful is to research the skill and begin breaking it into subskills. For example, with public speaking, a subskill could be having a clear speech structure, using vocal variety, proper use of hand gestures or speaking with slides. I like to begin by focusing on what is most relevant to my vision or starting with what subskills are advised as foundational. Then you can build from there.
3. Schedule intentional and challenging practices
If you are interested in learning a skill quickly, be dilerate with your practice. Build a curriculum that you follow and revise your practices as you progress. If you don’t know where to start, scour the internet, hire a coach or ask a friend who is proficient. This momentum will lead to constant improvement and help fight off becoming uninterested. Also, continue to challenge yourself with practices. Pushing on your outer limits is the only way to become more competent and comfortable, and going outside your comfort zone is an awesome and effective way to learn and grow.
4. Practice with people who are better than you
In my opinion, the fastest way to learn something is to hire a coach, but if that isn’t financially possible, my next best suggestion is to practice with people who are better than you. Now, fair warning, this will probably be intimidating. Most people’s preference is to practice by themselves or with people at or below their level so they feel comfortable, but anytime you have the chance to practice with someone better than you, take that opportunity. Obviously, they can mentor and share their advice, but what I’ve also found is they push me past my comfort level, which creates faster progress.
5. Measure your progress and get feedback from others
What gets measured gets managed. Measuring your progress will remind you of how far you have come. Also, if you are following my advice of deliberate practice, these measurements will help guide your practice and decide where your plan may need to be redesigned. Also, look to others for feedback. Share your results, let them know where you want to be, ask for their thoughts and they may be able to point out areas you need to improve.
6. Socialize your learning efforts by practicing or competing with others.
After getting over the intimation and frustration, I believe the third biggest obstacle to overcome is losing interest. After plowing through the early learning, progression will begin to level. You will then have to put in consistent effort and you’ll probably only see marginal gains. Socializing your learning efforts can solve that problem. With athletic skills such as rock climbing or soccer, this may come naturally, but for other skills such as a foreign language or drawing, you may need to seek out or create a community. Creating a friendly competition can be another way to keep interest. The element of challenge pushes you to the top of your game and shows you what you are truly capable of.
7. Teach others what you are learning.
If you want to know if you have mastered something, teach it to others. The act of teaching cements what you have learned and often times, you can teach yourself something new along the way. It’s also incredibly rewarding to help someone through the learning process and share the knowledge you have.
I know learning something new can be intimidating and frustrating, but humans are designed to learn challenging skills. We are built to be adept learners. With effort, patience and hopefully some new-found tactics, I believe you can learn whatever you set your mind to.
What tips do you have for learning a new skill faster? Comment your thoughts below!
If you want to connect with me, send me a message or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And of course, as always, thanks to my editor, my biggest cheerleader and amazing partner Gaby Deimeke.