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Strategies for Learning New Skills

As kids and young adults, we are constantly learning new skills. Just because we get older doesn’t mean that we should stop learning. It is important to continuously cultivate a learning mindset and develop new skills and expertise throughout your life. Learning something new may be a challenge, but it’s not as daunting as it may seem. Let’s dig in!

Be warned, learning new skills requires work

I just want to get this out there up front. You can’t learn anything new or develop a skill without some good old fashioned hard work. No matter what you want to learn, it will take time and effort. But the benefit of skill development far outweighs the learning effort required. The more skills you learn, the more knowledgeable and well-rounded person you will become.

Here are 5 strategies for learning new skills (plus some bonus tips):

1. Accept frustration

Let’s just get this out of the way. Learning something new is intimidating, frustrating and challenging. When you try something for the first time, guess what? YOU SUCK AT IT! The easiest way to get back into your comfort zone is to stop doing the thing you suck at. That’s why most people don’t learn new skills. They don’t push past the fear and frustration that comes with starting something new.

Grumpy child holding sign saying back to school

Here’s the thing: indecision, intimidation, and frustration are known barriers to skill acquisition. If you know this, you can prepare for it. Plan for it and tell yourself up front that it’s ok to not be an expert in the beginning. Just accept it and keep moving forward.

In other words – embrace the suck.

2. Set a specific, desired performance level

Let’s say you want to learn how to play the piano. Do you want to be able to play a tune for family around the holidays? Or do you want to be a professional playing at Carnegie Hall? Those two desired skill levels will require a drastically different level of commitment and skill development.

Clearly define your desired performance level up front. Write it down. Completing this single step will make it much easier to identify exactly what you’ll need to practice.

3. Only focus on one skill at a time

We’ve all heard the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none”. Picking only one skill to learn and master is crucial when learning new skills. You may have great ambitions to learn several new things, but you must focus on them one at a time. Pick only one, and focus on it completely until you achieve your desired performance level.

Archer with bow outside ready to shoot

4. Break it down into simple steps

Another phrase applies here “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time”. Learning a new skill can be daunting if you think of all of the things you have to learn to master it. Instead, break down everything you need to learn into simple, manageable steps.

Let’s say you want to learn how to do a podcast. There’s a lot that goes into this. What are the topics? What is the name? Who will the guests be? What equipment do I need? How do you edit? How do you publish?

Instead of trying to learn and answer all of these questions at once, break down the individual aspects and tackle them one at a time. Make a list, your “curriculum”, and prioritize the most important things to learn. Tackle those first, one thing at a time. Repeat.

5. Commit (put it on the calendar)

In order to learn a new skill, you must commit yourself and put in the time to learn it. You must set aside the time and block it out on your calendar. If you don’t do this, you will never follow through.

The time commitment is a personal decision, but it is recommended that you work on learning and practicing your new skill at least weekly. A minimum of one hour each week will help you maintain progress in learning a new skill.

Close up of calendar planner with black glasses on top this recipe

To learn a new skill quickly, expert Josh Kaufmann, author of The First 20 Hours, has written that rapid skill acquisition can be achieved in just 20 hours! That breaks down to about 45 minutes per day for 30 days. You can check out his TED talk about this here.

Here are five bonus tips for learning new skills

  1. Make an investment – Putting dollars behind your commitment will hold you accountable and ensure commitment to learning.
  2. Seek out experts/mentors – Find experts in the field that you are learning. This can take many forms – books, podcasts, videos, seminars, teachers, coaches, etc. Don’t do it on your own, learn from the experience of others.
  3. Make it “hands on” – We all know that we learn by doing. Figure out how to practice your new skill outside of the “classroom”, it will accelerate your learning curve.
  4. Go “all in” – Work on cultivating your new skill constantly until you master it. Find ways outside of your dedicated practice to educate yourself. Audio books or podcasts are an excellent way to carve out some “extra” learning time.
  5. Set a deadline – It’s easier to go “all in” if you have an end date to look forward to. Set a deadline and hold yourself accountable. This will make your scheduled practice sessions more of a priority.

A final note

If you have read this post, you are on the right track. You are interested in learning and building new skills. Don’t worry about frustration and failure. Dig in, learn, and practice. Embrace the suck and and keep going.

Let us know in the comments below, what new skill do you plan on learning? You can even tag us in your progress posts on Instagram @realsimplegood and #TheRSGLife, so we can help cheer you on. Make sure to give us a follow if you don’t already – let’s stay connected!

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Strategies for Learning New Skills


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