Whether you are training as an apprentice for a new career, or simply trying to pick up a new hobby for your own amusement, you can improve your chances of learning a new skill by taking the right steps. Rather than floundering around with trial and error, by taking the right approach to learning your skill, you can seriously cut down the time it takes you to learn, as well as improve your chances of doing it properly from the outset.
However, before you can master the skill you need to really work out exactly what it is you are trying to learn. The more specific you can be the easier it will be to learn the skill – something like ‘learning about computers’ is too vague, so you will need to look deeper, do you want to learn about maintaining computers, about coding, about online security? Even a past-time like learning to fish is different depending on if you are wanting to do river or sea fishing, while ‘painting’ could be broken down into water-colours, oils, and so forth.
Once you have worked out exactly what it is you are trying to learn you are ready to start the ten steps:
- Break The Skill Down
Break the skill you are learning right down into small parts and learn the most important bits first. A guitarist, for example, will want to learn the most common chords and proper finger positioning before going on to more advanced things like reading music. It’s a bit like when a child learns to ride a bicycle – they may often start a push along bike to learn steering and balance before getting something with pedals.
- Learn From A Master
Whatever it is you are trying to learn, there is a good chance that someone has mastered it already. Apprenticeships are a good example of a situation where you learn from an expert, but even if you can’t find someone to teach you in person you can still learn from a master. Perhaps you could read a book about someone who has achieved what you are aiming for and use their story as inspiration and guidance for your own. If you know someone who already possesses the skills you want to master see if they have any advice or tips to help you along. No matter where you are in life you can always find someone who you can look up to and learn from.
- Vary Your Learning
It has been shown that it is easier to anchor new information in your brain if you can take the information in in a variety of ways. Reading books, watching TV programmes, and listening to podcasts will all activate slightly different areas of your brain and help cement the new information in your brain using several neural pathways. It may seem complicated but the more ways you can take in the information the better, and it is always worth writing down notes as you go (do this by hand – not typing!), as this will engage other physical and neural paths too!
- Spend More Time On Practice Than On Research
Of course you will need to research your new skill, but don’t get caught up in reading and researching too much. It is true that reading can improve your earning potential, but as humans, we have developed to learn best through practice, with experts saying that you should spend about a third of your time on research and the other two thirds on practice. As you continue to learn you can reduce your research time further until all you are really doing is practicing the skill. It is one thing to learn the theoretical technique to take a great free kick in football – but making it happen takes plenty of time on the practice pitches!
- Commit To 20 Hours Of Practice
A famous study conducted in 1993 found that it took 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. This study was based on looking at professional athletes and world-class chess players, but fortunately you don’t need to commit as much time in order to learn a new skill. Of course, you can build towards 10,000 hours if you want to become some sort of master at something, but actually just 20 hours of practice should be enough to learn your desired skill. This is equal to 40 minutes per day for a month, so is still quite a large commitment. There will be times when you don’t feel like you are advancing quickly enough, but by committing to 20 hours on your chosen skill you should overcome this in time. Just stick at it!
- Set A Timetable (& A Deadline)
It is not just enough to loosely commit to 20 hours of practice. You will also want to set some deadlines to keep you on track. It is all too easy to put things off, so instead create a timetable to manage your practice sessions. Some people like to set up a test for themselves to add some extra pressure – perhaps you are learning the guitar – in which case you might decide to set up a ‘concert’ to show off your skills. This deadline will also help to push you to keep going – or else face looking like an idiot when you can barely play a note!
- Get Feedback
Make sure you get some feedback as soon and as often as possible. This will help you make sure your learning is going OK and hopefully prevent any mistakes getting ingrained. You can ask your ‘master’ or tutor, a trusted friend or anyone else to give you feedback so you can see where you are going wrong and correct your mistakes. Negative feedback can seem disheartening but the sooner you hear it the quicker you can sort out any problems and move on.
- Stay Focused!
Practice time is practice time, so try not to waste any of it by being distracted. This might mean switching off your phone while you practice. You may think that you can multi-task, but since only 2% of people are capable of effective multi-tasking, compared to the 98% who end up being 40% less productive and 50% more likely to make mistakes is it worth the risk? Instead try setting yourself intense periods of practice interrupted by short breaks to allow you to rest and take in what you have learnt.
- Get Some Sleep
When you sleep your brain is able to process new information and memories. Without enough sleep you will not only struggle to perform at your best, but your chances of remembering what you have learnt is lessened too. Everyone needs different amounts of sleep, even at different times in their lives, so just make sure you get what you need.
- Keep Going!
There will come a time when you want to quit. It may be because you lose interest in your new skill, don’t feel you are progressing enough, or simply don’t feel very inspired on a particular day. Times may get tough and you may want to throw in the towel, but remember that you committed to 20 hours of practice (see above!) – so don’t let yourself down by quitting. Ultimately, for all the planning and preparation, it is only those who can stay motivated enough to keep going that will succeed.