Most of the world is in some of lockdown or another due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you are looking at the lockdown or post lockdown conditions for those who look forward to their lifting one thing everyone is talking about is learning new skills. It’s not mandatory to come out of lockdown with a new skill but if you’ve chosen to do so then you will find this article useful. The same goes for those who work in industries that may never be the same again after if there is an after, who want to learn new skills.

Preparation

Amat Victoria Curam is a Latin phrase that translates to “success loves (careful) preparation”. It may not seem like it but many attempts to learn new things fail in the preparation phase alone. In the book which I highly recommend Self-discipline in ten days, Theodore Bryant notes how many attempts build discipline fall apart because while people are prepared to have a skill like playing the guitar they are not prepared for the process of acquiring the skills. The painful fingers, long practice sessions and discipline involved. Preparation goes beyond financial investment and also looks at your ability to emotionally deal with the consequences of your chosen skill and it’s learning process. So the first step in learning something is to seek the advice of someone who has learnt it already and consult with their experiences.

Motivation

Next thing you have to look at is motivation. Now before you go and sign up for motivational videos and cheesy music in the background here me out. If you cannot measure something you cannot improve, this Peter Drucker quote is important because it tells us another important thing people miss in the learning process. You see learning to bake is a good goal, learning to bake perfect sourdough bread is a great goal. The difference comes in that one is measurable though perfect is subjective. Perhaps you want to learn a digital skill, the best way to test your progress is to have a measurable goal for the skill that you can use to check how far along you are. The other part of motivation is what you consume. If you want to learn advanced excel, for example, do not underestimate the value of watching videos that talk about the subject matter even if you are not practising while watching them.

Iteration

If you walk away with only one lesson from this article let it be this one. Iteration is key. In case you haven’t caught on yet I took on learning to play the guitar and baking at different points in my life. I succeeded with baking and failed with the guitar and it comes down to one factor, Iteration. You see I played the guitar as and when I could and it proved not to be enough whereas with baking I practised recipes almost maniacally. Say it takes you 10 attempts to start making good puff pastry, my approach was to make puff pastry 10 times in 3 weeks. With many things it’s not how long you’ve been doing it but rather how often you do it or rather how frequently. So task yourself to get through the first 10 attempts or however many your chosen pursuit takes very quickly. Speed up the learning curve. This may be very uncomfortable but it is the key to learning fast. You make more mistakes sooner and get them out of the way.

Incremental learning

Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest footballer ever or at the very least the most talented. He is, of course, a product of Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy. In the 1990s the academy changed their approach to youth training with a very interesting idea. If a 9-year-old proved to be very talented among his age group they would move up to the 10-year-Olds.  If he still proved a cut above the rest they would move hi, up to a level that challenged his ability. The concept is not entirely novel as it is used in the gym to build muscle. You can use it too in your efforts to learn something fast. In your Iteration process do not hang around too long on the same level. If you learn to use excel pivot tables today move on to interactive dashboards as soon as you can do pivot tables comfortably. You do not learn much from something you already know how to do. Remember we are talking about learning fast and not mastery here.

Rest

You’re probably thinking “didn’t you just tell me to make puff pastry 10 times in 21 days” and yes he did. So how does rest come into it? Rest is an important part of skill acquisition because as we have already pointed out not all learning is active. I do not know of any empirical study on this matter but resting is a big part of learning. You do require your mind and body to be in the best possible condition to attempt something 10 times in 21 days. The process of resting allows you to consolidate what you have learnt on a physical and mental level as well. So while you may want to push yourself to iterate you also want to balance with rest. Again the point here is to learn fast.

These steps will help you greatly improve your ability to learn fast. If your goal is mastery you will have to look at different ways in some cases. Use these to improve yourself or learn that new skill. Incidentally, they work for improving skills as well.