Although each skill requires a slightly different approach when learning it, every skill has several universal elements that, if applied well will vastly accelerate your ability to learn.
Here are five universal principles I use when learning anything new or teaching a new skill to clients.
1. Do One Thing At A Time
“Be like a postage stamp – stick to one thing until you get there.” – Josh Billings
If you really want to learn a new a skill, you need to focus on that, and that alone, until you are at your desired standard. People tend to try and start several new things all at once. This just overloads you and makes it far too easy to give in. Do one thing at a time, get to the standard you want, create a “maintenance” process and then, and only then, move onto learning something else.
2. Have a Clear Outcome
Imagine what it will be like when you have mastered this skill. What will you do with it? How will you use it? How will you be/act? Make a really powerful, strong mental representation of it.
Now write down your goal in a measurable way. How will you know when you have learned it to the standard that you want? Keep this somewhere to hand and read it often.
HINT: You can never fail to learn a new skill, you will only ever give up! The only time you will “fail” is if you put a time constraint on it (you can fail to learn it in the time allotted). Everyone is different, and having a strong deadline can really motivate some people, but for others it can be a massively demoralising factor (not getting as far as you want in the time you allotted yourself). Be honest with yourself, are you a person who is motivated by deadlines? If not, don’t set yourself any (unless of course, there is a natural deadline you have to hit)!
3. Get In The Right Frame of Mind
This is my “immediate motivator” that I use on myself when embarking on learning a new skill or starting a new project. I have taught it to countless clients who have all benefited from it as well as on my NLP courses.
It is a simple 2 step process that goes like this:
- Imagine yourself now, in the future, after you have mastered this skill and find the continual practice easy, enjoyable and simple to do. Look “back to the past” and recall the effort you went to to succeed; especially the times you struggled and nearly gave in, the times you couldn’t be bothered but carried on, and so on. Acknowledge it wasn’t easy, but you are so glad that you stuck with it. Focus on that and the overwhelming good feelings it gives you.
- Think of a skill you have learned (driving for example), that at the time felt overwhelmingly complicated, but now you do it easily and effortlessly. Now, with that in mind, take that feeling of success and think of this new skill you are going to learn and recognise you have done the same in the past.
These two simple, yet potent exercises will help you remain focused, motivated and confident as your journey to mastery ebbs and flows. Especially at those times where you “just can’t be bothered” any more or are struggling to “get” something.
4. Immerse Yourself
A friend of mine, on a whim, enrolled on a business degree where he spent half the year in Paris being taught at the Paris West University Nanterre La Défense. Whilst in Paris he would be taught entirely in French. The problem was he couldn’t speak French. Not a word! And he had three months to get to the point where he could do a degree in that language!
He attributes his success in learning French in three months largely down to immersing himself in the language. He did nothing but listen to French radio, watch French films and read French magazines, newspapers and books for that time. To begin with, he admitted he hardly understood a word, but he stuck with it and very quickly it all started to make sense.
Our brain is an incredible thing, it will pick things up we don’t even notice and make amazingly complex and subtle connections and associations. Think how quickly you “get” a new workplace culture when you start a new job, because you are there all day, every day.
If you want to learn something new you need to immerse yourself in it for as long as it takes to get to the standard you want or need to. Read books about it, watch people doing it, collect paraphernalia about it…
5. Do It in Small Chunks to Start With
We learn much faster and build more powerful habits if we do something a little each day, rather than a lot once a week or month. Rather than spending an hour on it in one session every week, do 5-10 minutes a day. It is easier to find that time and easier to stay motivate than if you did bigger chunks less often. It also associates with the principle of immersion above; you are spending more often doing it, which means your brain has more chances to make those subtle associations that mean you learn faster.
HINT: Stop when you are winning! By which I mean, don’t wait until you are feeling tired, frustrated or bored with your practice. The last thing you feel about your practice session will be the feeling you recall when thinking of the next one. It is better, in the early stages of practice to stop when you are still enjoying yourself, this will create anticipation and motivation for the next session.
Very quickly, to get better, you will have to force yourself through times of struggle, frustration and demotivation. By starting out only doing it a little a time and stopping when you are still feeling good about your practice will cultivate motivation to push through these more difficult times.
Applying these for simple principles and processes to any skill you want to learn and watch your learning speed skyrocket!