Learning something new can be incredibly intimidating. While gaining a superficial understanding of any given topic can be done with relative ease, it takes time and effort to dig below the surface on your way to mastering any skill or subject. While learning something new is definitely not easy by any stretch of the imagination, with a few tweaks of your mindset and approach, it can be absolutely manageable. And let’s face it: in today’s ever-evolving world, you’re going to need to learn new skills once in a while, so you better find a way that works.
See Also: How to Learn New Skills Online
1. Set a Purpose for Learning
Think about what you want to learn, and why you want to learn it. Maybe you’ve been inspired to get into shape after reading an article about an Olympic athlete. Or maybe you watched a cooking show and realized you want to know how to make something a little more complicated than spaghetti and meatballs.
Whatever you set out to learn, don’t do it aimlessly. Don’t just learn something for no reason, or the knowledge will just sit in the back of your head with the Pythagorean Theorem or the fact that mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. Know what you want to be able to do with your newfound abilities. Do you want to be able to cook for your wife? Do you want to be able to run a faster mile? Are you looking to switch careers? Whatever your reason for learning may be, make sure it’s actionable.
2. Set Reasonable, Measurable Goals
When setting out to learn something new, you want to set specific benchmarks that help you itemize your progress. You might start out on your journey by saying to yourself: “I want to learn how to play guitar” or “I want to learn how to speak German.” But these initial thoughts are immeasurable. You could learn a few chords and legitimately say you can play some guitar; you can learn how to say “I am a jelly donut” in German, just like John F. Kennedy did back in 1963, and truthfully say you can speak some German. But neither of these abilities makes you anything but a complete novice.
Once you’ve gotten past the initial stage of “I want to learn (this),” break it down even further. If you’re learning to play guitar, set goals such as “I want to learn the G, C, and D chords this week.” That way, by the end of the week you’ll be able to determine whether or not you’ve reached the goals you had set. The goals you set should be ambitious but not so much so that you get frustrated and give up. Take small steps every day in order to build up toward the much larger goal you set when you began learning.
3. Set a Schedule
You’ll never stick with something new if you don’t set a schedule for learning, especially if you’re doing so recreationally. It’s much too easy to say “Eh, I’m too tired to cook today. I’ll just get McDonald’s.” If you didn’t work out a schedule for the week, you won’t have any problem taking the easy way out after a long Wednesday at work. But if you had written on Sunday that on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday you were going to try a new recipe, not only will you have prepared for a cooking session but you’ll also disappoint yourself if you miss it.
You also need to schedule some study time in which you’re not actually doing the activity you want to learn but spending time learning about it. Using the guitar as an example, it’s not enough to simply practice scales and chord transitions; you also need to spend time reading about why certain chords sound good together or why you use certain scales to solo over specific chord progressions. Building a strong background will help further your surface abilities, no matter what skill or piece of knowledge you’re setting out to learn.
4. Collect Resources
We live in an amazing time in which almost every bit of knowledge known to mankind is available at the push of a button. Take advantage of it. Don’t just think that you can read one article and automatically master a certain topic; it just won’t happen. Supplement your learning with various books, articles, videos, podcasts, and more.
And definitely don’t just move on if you don’t understand something. This isn’t high school. If you truly want to learn something new, you should be motivated to learn every tiny aspect of the topic. If something doesn’t make sense when you read it in an article, seek out more information. Like I said, there are plenty of multimedia resources out there that are bound to clarify any confusion you may encounter.
5. Record Your Progress
We earlier spoke about setting measurable goals in order to eventually review our progress. Once you hit a milestone, take a look back at everything you’ve accomplished so far. Even if you’ve only taken a few small steps, you’ll probably amaze yourself with how much more you know now than you did when you were just getting started. Bask in it, but don’t get too comfortable; there’s always more to know.
Also, be honest with yourself about your shortcomings. Like we discussed in the last section, think about any specific area you had trouble understanding or accomplishing. Amend your goals and schedule to include more focus on those areas in order to turn your weaknesses into strengths.
Once you’ve looked back at how far you’ve come, you can look forward to where you want to be next. Keep setting the bar higher and higher as you go. Like I said, there’s always more to learn; you should never be truly content knowing what you currently know. That will only lead to stagnation and complacency.
6. Follow a Model
You may have heard the saying: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The sentiment here is the understanding that every single one of the greatest minds of our times had someone to look up to.
Use the works of others to your advantage. Analyze the methods of the experts in the field you want to learn more about. Try to get inside their minds as best you can so you see how they thought, how they acted, and how they worked. Think of when you were a kid and saw Michael Jordan cut through defenders effortlessly and how you tried to emulate him with your group of friends on the playground. You might not have been the greatest baller on the court, but you had something to strive for because you’d spent hours and hours watching SportsCenter highlights.
7. Seek Out Feedback
Learning something new is tough, but it’s especially difficult if you go it alone. For this reason, it’s best to have a mentor or coach to help guide you in your progress. Even though you have been reviewing your progress diligently (I hope), it’s still better to have a more experienced individual around to help strengthen your shortcomings.
Of course, getting negative feedback might damage your ego a bit, but you should never take it personally and you should never let it stop you. Instead, realize that constructive criticism is meant to help you focus on your weak spots in order to make you better-rounded.
8. Teach Others
Once you reach a certain level of expertise, you should consider mentoring beginners in your field. Even if you just teach the very basics to friends and acquaintances before referring them to someone with more experience, doing so will not only further your own understanding of the topic but will boost your confidence as well.
Teaching something to someone else requires you to have more than just a surface knowledge of the topic. There’s no point in you teaching someone if you’re just reading straight from a manual (or teacher’s guide, as the case may be). You want to be able to go “off the books” and teach what you have learned and what has helped you succeed. Like I said, even if you’re just teaching the most fundamental aspects of something, being able to put your own spin on it shows that you truly understand what you’ve been striving to learn.
9. Reward Yourself
Once you start accomplishing the goals you’ve set for yourself, you should definitely treat yourself for getting as far as you have. But the rewards you give yourself should be intrinsic and should increase your motivation to keep pushing yourself further. For example, if you spent all week practicing boring chord progressions and scales on guitar, reward yourself by learning an actual song that uses what you’ve learned in a more exciting way.
Don’t reward yourself in extrinsic ways that don’t relate to or are counterintuitive to your goals. If your goal has been to lose weight by learning more about healthy eating habits, don’t reward yourself with a “cheat day.” Instead, discover a healthy alternative to ice cream or cake that is just as satisfying, if not more so. If you’re trying to get in shape by running more often, don’t reward yourself with a day off lying on the couch; change your route or run through the park rather than on the treadmill. Whatever reward you choose, make sure it doesn’t detract from the motivation you’ve been building up.
So many of us grow up hating to learn new things but it’s only because we were forced to learn things that didn’t interest us. While learning anything new is definitely not easy, it doesn’t have to be absolute torture. In fact, if you’re interested in a topic, hobby or skill, learning can be the most fun activity you can undertake.
Do you have any tips for learning a new skill that you’d like to share with us? Let us know in the comments section below!