How To Master Any New Skill
Everyone has a skill they want to learn.
Speak french. Learn how to dance. Become a great fighter. Become a great writer.
The problem is most of us don’t want to take the time to master it. We don’t want to risk failure, we don’t want to put in the effort, we don’t we to risk finding out we didn’t have what it takes.
A lot of the time, the things we want to learn are deeply tied to an idea of who we fantasize about being. Over time, we come to depend on these fantasies to help put a bandaid our fluctuating self-esteem.
This means risking failing at learning what we want to learn means risking tearing the bandaid off.
But if you can take that risk… Just how do you develop a new skill?
We’ve all heard of the 10,000-hour rule. Spend 10,000 hours doing something and you’ll master it.
This makes sense, I’m sure if any of us, no matter our capabilities, invested 10,000 hours in anything, we’d end up pretty good at it. Most of the “techniques” of learning new skills we’d stumble onto just through our time investment alone.
But the problem is, most of us don’t WANT to practice something enough to accumulate those 10,000 hours. We run out of motivation, or worse, ride short highs of drive then hit a difficult roadblock in learning.
So we give up, or worse: we barely even start.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The first thing you have to do if you want to learn a new skill is to check your certainties that you hold about yourself.
If you’re telling yourself “I could never do that” then you’re unlikely to ever attempt to learn it.
You might not even be aware you’re telling yourself this. But if you are, it’s important to challenge this belief. Because how can you be certain about your ability at something you haven’t even put serious practice in to?
Your certainty is just another way you’re protecting yourself from trying.
Likewise, it’s important to check an overinflated opinion of your own ability.
If you unrealistically believe you’re incredibly competent at something you’re barely even tried, you probably have a bad case of the Dunning-Kruger effect and need to reassess.
As I stated at the start of the article, the skills you really want to learn will be tied to fantasies you have that around your idea of who you are and who you want to become.
As these are something you already devote a lot of time thinking about, it stands to reason you’re going to have more motivation than usual to pursue them.
Likewise, you’re going to have various immediate needs in life that will require you to re-skill in order to get those needs met.
Most of these will revolve around your work, but in other instances – such as a newly single guy needing to learn how to approach women – you will need to learn new skills to get your basic emotional needs met.
As with fantasies, immediate needs provide a stronger foundation of motivation from which to pursue learning a skill.
The good thing about learning new skills is that everyone has done it all before.
No matter what the chosen skill is there are people who have an enormous amount of experience and expertise at teaching it, learning it, and doing it.
This means that you can find a tried and true method to tackle any skill and learn it in an efficient way.
Sometimes this will be simple, like following a cooking recipe, but other times it will require you to break down HOW people who are skilled came to be so.
How did they learn it? Which elements did they try first? Deconstruct what they did and find out the tried and true methods, then do it yourself.
One of the easiest ways to fail in learning a skill is to overburden yourself at the start. By not setting achievable goals, putting yourself under too much pressure, and then beating yourself up when you underachieve – you guarantee an early failure.
Be realistic. If you’re just starting out, you probably suck. And it’s going to take a while before you’re going to be any good.
You want to start small. Set yourself the smallest possible goal that will get you moving towards your goal.
When I was first learning to approach women, I would set myself a goal of going to a bar once per week.
Not approaching. Not getting numbers. Not asking anyone out. Just going to the bar.
Once I’d done that, then I set myself a slightly bigger goal, then another one, then another one, until I was finally approaching and it was no problem.
This works because it helps you build momentum. You get the ball rolling and you’re in control of the momentum of your own progress.
This is done by starting small, building from day to day, week to week, and month to month.
You keep it a daily practice, with easy goals, focusing on the immediate practice that you need. You don’t get bogged down on how far away you are from next month’s goals, or someone else trying the same thing… You just focus on the small, smart, achievable goal in front of you, and you achieve it.
When you first start learning anything, you will likely become possessed by a swell of motivation that sweeps you off your feet and makes it seem like you’re going to have an incredibly easy time changing your life.
You get out of bed earlier, you work hard, and things really look like they’re on the up.
For a few days at least.
Then, the motivation wanes and you come crashing back down to earth. You wake up later. You procrastinate. And you can only imagine yourself failing and being a loser for the rest of your life.
So you stop. And you learn nothing new.
This happens for one reason:
You were riding the wave, not the lows.
When you ride the wave, you’re basically being swept by random motivation. You have no conscious control over it, and you’re allowing things to feel more controlled than they actually are.
This is fine when it works, but it always fails because it’s ALWAYS finite.
It runs out, and you stop.
In contrast, when you consciously ride the lows, you anticipate that the majority of your experience trying to learn any new skill is going to be hard, lacking in motivation, and going to require a lot of conscious effort.
It’s going to be a slog.
But you know this, and you know you’re going to have to slog through it. So you do.
Nothing will teach you more about how to learn a skill than failure.
You could even say there is no better teacher in the world.
This is ironic because when learning a skill, most people will do anything in the world NOT to experience failure. They want to avoid it at all costs.
It’s like going to a language class, but closing your eyes and ears whenever a non-English word is spoken or written down.
You won’t learn a damn thing.
You want to consciously give yourself experience in failure. You should even aim to fail.
When I was trying to change my dating life around, I would sometimes aim to get rejected 20 times a week.
It was those weeks I saw the most success.
The same has been the case for almost everything I’ve tried. The more I failed, the more I succeeded.
The last thing you want to do is to make sure you do at least 20 hours of practice.
This is the bare minimum.
The reason for this is simple:
In trying to build a new skill, you’re also trying to build the new habit of consistently trying to learn this skill.
This takes time. But even more so, it takes time to actually get a complete experience of whatever it is you’re trying to learn.
Odds are, the beginning stages are not going to mirror your fantasy. They’re going to be difficult, hard, clumsy, awkward, and grating.
This is going to make you want to quit.
Giving yourself at least 20 hours of practice helps you to truck through this, develop the habit you need and gives you a more solid, confident grasp on what it is you’re attempting to learn.
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About John Matich John is a writer from the UK who splits his time between travelling the world and trying to find unconventional solutions to dating and personal development. You can find more from him at www.lifeuncivilized.com.