3 Simple Tips to Learn Anything Today
On January 1, 2011 I actually set up my New Years’ Resolutions for the first time. My process was a combination of three completely different tactics and I found this enjoyable. I was staying at a friend’s parent’s home in Breckinridge, up in the back corner guest room.
I spent most of the morning writing down ideas, crossing things out, re-writing them, and re-reading my source material. I used ideas from Leo Babuta of Zenhabits, Tony Robbins goal setting program, and a blog I’d found about “finding your passion” (which I can’t remember specifically, but my thoughts on which I’ll discuss in detail in an upcoming post). It was really hard.
I ended up with a list of five goals for the year. Each was something I’d always wanted to dedicate myself to. These weren’t habit based like exercise more or drink less. They were tangible goals such as make an iPhone game, write a novella, and create a dance song on my computer.
This year ended up being the first time I actually stuck to my goals.
By December 31st I had accomplished all of the tasks and learning on my list, with the idea being that I’d find my “passion”. While I didn’t, I become even better at learning new skills, and have been tweaking my ideas since.
Here is the process I believe can teach you to begin learning anything today, effectively. My goal in revealing this is to prevent the typical self-prohibitive habits of reading without trying and creation stagnation which I will discuss below.
Always Read While Trying
Always. When first beginning the habit is to try to read everything, watch videos, and talk to experts, before beginning to create. This goes for speaking a foreign language, learning to program, learning to exercise, learning a musical instrument. Everything.
On day one of learning, go ahead and read, but then put into practice what you’ve read. Watch a tutorial video online, but while watching take breaks to actually try the software you’re attempting to learn or to write or draw. Don’t work through the entire course and then move onto the next without building anything for yourself. The brain needs constant repetition and muscle-memory through task orientation in order to get better.
Josh Waitzkin wrote in his book The Art of Learning about beginning chess mastery by starting with the very basics of the game. His example was to only use kings, and then pawn and king to master the end game before digging into the individual other phases of the game. This same principle applies to every type of learning.
If you want to begin weight lifting, start with one exercise, do it a few times a week and master it. If you are learning Photoshop, start with one specific set of tools and practice doing several images this way. If you want to write music, begin with rhythm or melody and completely master it before moving on to the next section.
This is applicable to any type of learning where complex forms are the ultimate goal. The common practice is to attempt making complete and skilled objects like those we are trying to emulate. We want to be fluent in a day or paint a work of art in a week. Start simple and master the foundations of your new craft and by the time you are creating full works they will seem an easy sum of individual parts you’ve already conquered.
Avoid Creation Stagnation
This is easier said than done, but is a habit that forms on the first day of attempting to learn something new. You want to learn basketball, but begin only dribbling with your right hand. You want to design websites, but always end up using the color blue or the font Avenir because they are your favorites. The key here is to intentionally mix it up, often.
Step outside your comfort zone, do anything to force yourself to experiment!
This can actually be really fun, I like trying brainstorming, or creativity exercises where you have lots of weird, set constraints. Want to make a song? Only use one synthesizer for all the sounds. Try using gradients of just one color for an entire website.
Practice with constraints and learn on the edge of your abilities. This pushes you to try new things and to move past any type of rut or stagnation. I firmly believe this is a core component of escaping writer’s/artist’s block.
Whatever you want to learn is today at your fingertips. There are more resources on the web than ever before, and people are being paid more for teaching a new skill than becoming a master. Take advantage of this time, I’ll talk in the future about dealing with information overload and how to find a good teacher. For now, pick a new skill, dive in, and try these tips.