It has never been as easy as it is today to learn a new skill. The internet offers a vast array of articles, blog posts, videos, and tutorials to teach you how to do everything from playing a new musical instrument to writing a book to moonwalking.
Yet, despite easy access to all of these resources, most people still lack the necessary time. As much as new skills can help you jumpstart a new career or boost your confidence, you don’t have unlimited hours to spend on the learning process. Life gets in the way, so follow these 12 strategies to help you learn new skills more quickly.
Pick a Skill
Deciding what you want to learn represents the first step to mastering any new skill. Choose something that really speaks to you because that passion will keep you going when you hit obstacles along the way.
Set Your Goal
Define your goal as clearly as possible. Make your goal SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound — to increase your chance of success. Instead of a vague statement like, “I want to play guitar,” say, “I want to be able to play the guitar for my wife on her birthday next year.”
Know Your Purpose
Having a specific reason for learning a new skill will help you stay motivated when things get tough. Ask yourself why you chose this particular skill to learn over others. Do you expect it to advance your career? Or, do you find the skill exciting?
When you try to learn something just for the sake of learning, you may find it boring after a while. However, you won’t have to force yourself to learn if the new skill brings you value and/or enjoyment.
Break It Down
You can break down almost every skill into subskills that, together, help you attain your final goal. In the example of learning to play the guitar, you must first learn how to hold the instrument and the pick correctly. Learning the notes and the correct placement of your fingers come next followed by rhythmic strumming and basic chords. Breaking down a huge goal into smaller, actionable steps helps to prevent it from overwhelming you while also providing a path to attaining that overall goal.
Use the Pareto Principle to Prioritize
Once you have a list of subskills to learn, it’s time to identify the most essential within that group. According to the Pareto principle, around 80 percent of your results come from about 20 percent of your effort. That means each subskill doesn’t carry equal importance. If you want to learn a foreign language before your vacation next month, for example, you should primarily focus on learning common words you’ll use most often in conversations.
Do Your Research
While you can learn a new skill in a variety of ways, choose the one that suits your needs and limitations. Look for books, videos, and other resources for the skill you want to learn. If you can find someone who can teach you a skill, that’s often the best way to learn. If not, talk to someone who already went through the same process. Find out the steps they took as well as the obstacles they faced, and then try to learn from their experiences.
Plan Ahead for Failure
Learning a new skill is never easy, which makes it tempting to procrastinate or give in to distractions. Be proactive by creating a list of all the reasons why you may try to quit and jot down ways to deal with them. This will help you prepare to quash the temptation to quit if and when it arises.
Be a Doer
Don’t keep waiting for the right time to start learning a new skill because it’ll never come. If it’s important to you, you’ll make time for this process. The key here is to take the first step.
In addition, don’t wait too long before you start to use your newly acquired skills. Many people get stuck in the preparation stage because they lack confidence to implement their knowledge. Yet, theoretical learning only gets you so far. The knowledge you gain by actual doing something will stay with you forever.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice is the only way to learn something. Set aside one hour every day to work on your new skill — preferably in a space with no distractions. If possible, try to break up the items on your subskill list into smaller goals for each practice session to help you stay motivated. Finally, take a deliberate approach to your practice by diverting more focus to those areas you find particularly challenging.
Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes
Babies don’t stop trying to walk even if they fall down many times. Yet, many people increasingly fear making mistakes or embarrassing ourselves as they grow older. This fear can hold you back from learning new skills or experimenting with anything that makes you uncomfortable.
You will make mistakes as you learn something for the first time — and that’s okay. Accepting it as normal enables you to stop judging yourself while boosting your confidence in your own abilities.
Make Yourself Accountable
When you commit to a goal publicly, your accountability increases. Share your decision to learn a specific skill with your friends and family. Join someone else working toward the same goal. If you’re preparing for a job certification, for example, sign yourself up for an exam in a couple of months.
If you expect to learn how to code a website after just one class, disappointment will follow. Learning takes time as well as lots of practice and persistence. Give yourself at least two months to learn a new skill to a reasonably good level.
You can apply each of these strategies to any skill you want to learn. If you feel it’s really not working after a couple of classes, that’s okay. At the very least, you’ll know you made an effort. Consider it an adventure, and start over again with a new skill. It’s never too late to learn something new.