Learning Anything Fast

 New skills or learnings can be in the forms of upgrade skill set to expand your professional opportunities or as fun hobbies. They can also be divided into two types; cognitive based (such as learning new languages) or motor skills (such as yoga or sports).

Remember the saying by Gandhi, Live as if you are going to die tomorrow. Learn as if you’re going to live forever. My hero, Tim Ferriss wrote ‘Successful people normally add 1-2 new skills per year’.

The problem is, there seemed to be so little time left to even do our normal chores let alone finding the time for the new activities. Lucky for you I have stumbled upon the hack of learning. While I’m admittedly still learning the ropes of getting this framework into my head, I found it to be immensely beneficial to be shared to you.
This technique has been originated by Jaush Kauffman in his book “ The First 20 Hours “ and I have been able to learn singing while playing the guitar to certain songs, speaking in Mandarin in certain occasions and train my body to run more than 5km 5 days a week.

How do I do that? According to Josh Kauffman, and I summarized it in 4 steps.

Step 1 is deciding what do you want learn in a very specific-goal oriented form. The intention is to ensure you had a very clear idea what is the target performance level. What would you feel and experience at the stage once you master the skill.

Let’s have an example.

Can you give me anything that you want to learn?

What would be the top things that you want to learn?

My favourite skill that almost always appear in my yearly goals are adding one new language.

For me, I want to be able to speaking Mandarin. In this frame work, it would be – to go into a Mandarin-speaking restaurant and be able to converse through the ordering of the food process and have a good time doing it.

You almost make it too specific so as to ensure it is what you want and clear vision to attain it.

Let’s go to step 2.

 In Step 2, we will need to deconstruct the skills. The idea behind this is that whatever the skills that we are saying let say playing golf, playing guitar, learning to program and learning any language – those are not skills, it’s a global combination of activities comprising a lot of skills. That’s why it’s hard to practice being a good at guitar. But it is easy to practice strumming major chords using acoustic guitar. You have A-G, know the major at the front of the guitar and you are good to do your research. At this stage, you skim through the book/website quickly just to know what the other subskills are. The minor chords strumming, singing while playing guitar, following the cranberries songs, power chords. So when you have an overview of all the subskills and a clear target performance level from step 1, you would see that 1-2 sub skills are the ones which are crucial to you getting there.

Deconstruct the skills. 

Step 3: Remove the barriers that may prove to be a resistance. This is required so that performing the practice and research is easier with no distraction. It’s hugely related to inculcating habits as well.

For example I would like to be able to run everyday in the morning, I remove the barrier of having to search for the apparels and cloths in the morning but I prepare for it upfront. When I wake up in the morning, I got the visual cues looking at the shoes and cloths and less resistance for me to do anything else other than running. Other example, let’s say you would want to play the guitar, you would in this framework spend some time to put it just beside your couch and at specific time of the day block your internet and close the TV, so it become easier for you to reach the guitar and play it everyday for practicing.

Identify the barriers and remove it.

 Step 4: Precommit into practicing within 20 hours of time.

Ask yourself, am I going to invest 20 hours for this skill?

As a normal human being, with other commitment in your life, you won’t be able to do this in one go.

The frustration of doing the new skills in the first barrier alone will crush your soul. So, considering you can only spent 40 minutes a day practicing the skills, you would need to do it everyday for 30 days or a month. Roughly it’s a 2, 20 minutes session in a day. Pre-committing here means you had already had in mind when and where you’re going to do it. The resistance should be minimal and you would almost very sure that you can do it. At this stage, generally the things which aren’t important would go away.

For example for my case of wanting to learn to cook. After some thoughts, cooking is not in my to-master list since my wife already cooks and I can’t see myself being in the kitchen 20 minutes a day for 2 session in 30 days. Having this perspective, I decided that I need to learn something else, life is short – do what you love to do.

 Using this frameworks, two things emerge.

The first is, the need to be having a clear understanding of why is super important especially in self-learning settings. It helps us to zoom into what are actually the sub-skills. Because you’re forced to determine the specific target performance level. Having this understanding about the whys and the self-check of your motives also provide the push you need to ensure to go beyond the first few hours where generally it sucks. The thing to note is that it is a misery for everyone, who is learning new things.

The second notion is you don’t have to “master” every skill you ever learn. I believe you don’t need to be very good as the top ten people in that sport, but you would only want to feel good and enjoy doing it.

Let me summarize for one more time:

Step 1; know the target performance level that you want to attain specifically.

Step 2; deconstruct your global sets of activity (playing golf) into sub-skills that help you achieve the target performance level at step 1. (swinging the club at the driving range to attain 100m distance).

Step 3; Remove the barriers that prevent you to actually perform the practice required.

Step 4; ask yourself whether you might be able to pre-commit 20 hours of learning and practicing. When the answer is yes – you’re good to learn your new skills.

It’s super easy to learn new things and let’s start now!


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