Have you ever wanted to become an expert at something? Well I am a firm believer in some things are best left to the experts. And the rest of us are better off just becoming familiar enough to carry on a decent conversation.
Whether you are interested in rolling up your sleeves to spend the recommended 10,000 hours, time needed to become that expert, or just garner enough knowledge to understand your client’s product line or service process, you need an established, deliberate, intelligent approach to learning before the learning spark fades. According to Seth Godin people quit because they experience “The Dip.” They lose interest, run out of time, run out of money, get scared, or just don’t take it seriously any longer.
New challenges invigorate us and increase dopamine in our brains. But over time we lose that spark. The key to learning new skills is to achieve some level of success to help propel you through the highs and lows of learning.
Keep it simple.
The first challenge is to narrow down your learning goal to a specific skill, not just writing but for example specifically blog posts. I think we all have a tendency to overestimate our cognitive abilities and bite off more than we can chew.
Break the skill into logical, bite sized pieces, and prioritize those smaller parts. By focusing on the parts essential to your success, those that actually help you get what you want, you are more apt to see results sooner which is encouraging. With every layer of success you add another layer to your learning goal. Nothing is more encouraging than success itself.
For example, let’s say you want to learn how to effectively use social media. Diving in and trying to tackle Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. all at once may sound simple, but once you start you’ll probably realize you are best served to tackle one platform at a time; and, even break that down into smaller components like learning where your clients are, best times and frequency of posts, what to say, how to engage, and how to track analytics.
Learn from someone already an expert.
Clearly the fastest way to get good at something yourself is to find a person who’s already getting the results you want, and then have them teach you or model them.
“It doesn’t matter what your age, gender or background is — modeling gives you the capacity to fast track your dreams and achieve more in a much shorter period of time,” wrote Tony Robbins, a motivational speaker and self-help author, in his book Power Talk.
Don’t know any experts in the skill you want to learn? Go to the internet and do a search. You’ll find a bevy of sources claiming to be experts; narrow down and choose someone whose name pops up most often. If you are more of a visual learner focus your search on YouTube. Don’t rule out community colleges either. Many have shorter skill based offerings on software like Photoshop, Excel. etc.
Different media activates different parts of our brain and that brain teamwork makes it easier to retain knowledge better and remember things more quickly. Studies show that you are more likely to retain information if you learn that information from different ways. So don’t stop at just one source. Read, watch, listen and write.
Something about pen in hand really solidifies the learning process. Jotting down notes as you learn creates spatial relationships between the information we are jotting down, “tricking” your brain into thinking you’ve actually done what you’ve just written.
Practice makes better.
If you set your sites on learning something entirely new and are starting from scratch, you’ve obviously spent some time reading, listening, and watching what has worked for others so you know what you are supposed to do. It’s now time to focus your time on actually practicing what they’ve preached.
Dan Coyle, author of The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent, suggests using his aptly named “rule of two-thirds.” It means for every one-third of your time absorbing the information, you should spend the other two-thirds of your time testing yourself on that knowledge. So there was a reason for all that homework.
The amount of time you practice is dictated by the amount of time you have. But remember it doesn’t take 10,000 to get good at something; it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a highly competitive field. To get good at something, Kaufman says it takes about 20 hours or 40 minutes per day for a month of focused, deliberate practice. If you’re serious about the skill, make a commitment to practice for at least 20 hours before considering quitting.
Don’t forget about seeking feedback on your performance and correcting mistakes before they become ingrained. Enlist the help of a mentor, a coach, a friend to point out and help you correct your form and mistakes. Sometimes we are just so close to the process, we are oblivious to the mistakes we are making, and those mistakes become ingrained in our muscle memory. The quicker you get feedback and correct your form and mistakes, the quicker you’ll improve.
Don’t forget to set deadlines.
Set aside specific times to work on your skill. Put it on your calendar; an appointment with yourself, and set deadlines for checkpoints.
According to Parkinson’s Law. “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Turn Parkinson’s Law into your favor by setting deadlines. Hold yourself to the commitment, it’ll make you do it more efficiently. Take videos of your progress and publish a promotional time lapse on YouTube or lock yourself into outside presentations. Both force you to spend time preparing and learning.
Eliminate shiny objects.
To learn quickly, it’s important to commit your full focus and attention to the task of researching and practicing your skill. Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is a bad habit. Only 2% of the population benefits from multitasking, the rest of us become less productive and make 50% more mistakes than non-multitaskers.
To help you stay focused eliminate your “shiny objects” by turning off your cell phone and closing your email program.
Keep your tools sharp.
Did you ever wake in the morning to have the answer to yesterday’s puzzling thought? Sleep plays an important role in our ability to learn new information and skills. When we’re asleep, we consolidate the new memories associated with the day’s stimuli. This is called the brain plasticity theory which suggests those all-important structural and organizational changes take place in our brain when we are sleep.
Without adequate sleep, learning becomes more difficult because our brain doesn’t have the opportunity to review, process, and absorb the new information.