How to Acquire New Skills
A large part of achieving both personal and professional success is learning new skills. All skills take time to learn, but if you set goals and break your skill up into steps, you’ll get there faster than you know. Practice every day, and hold yourself accountable, and you’ll be able to add that new skill to your repertoire in no time.
Selecting Your Skill
Think about skills that would benefit you.You may feel more motivated to learn a new skill if you pick something you think will benefit you in your work or daily life. Ask yourself if there are any skills that would help you get ahead at work, help you at school, or give you an advantage in your everyday life.
- Skills that many people find useful for their education and career include learning a new language, programming, photography, writing, public speaking, data analysis, and cooking.
List skills you would enjoy learning.Make a list of 5-10 skills that you think you’d enjoy learning. These don’t have to benefit your job or schoolwork directly, although they can. Just think about things you’ve found interesting or that you’ve always wanted to learn how to do.
- For example, have you always wanted to make your own scarf? If you have, then knitting or crocheting may be an enjoyable activity. Or, if you already enjoy cooking, maybe you could try baking.
Calculate how much time you can devote to learning.Think about how much time you can devote on a daily or weekly basis to learning your new skill. If you don’t have a lot of extra time, a lower-commitment skill like learning to drive a manual car might be a good skill. If you have more time, a skill like learning a new instrument might be right for you.
- Pick a skill that you actually have time for right now. Picking a difficult skill and hoping you can learn it when you don’t have much time to practice is more likely to lead to you abandoning the skill.
Focus on a single skill at a time.Pay attention to learning one skill at a time rather than trying to master multiple skills at once. If you divide your attention, it will take longer for you to master your desired skill.
- This doesn’t mean you can’t learn new skills. Just take the time to thoroughly learn the basics of one new skill before you move onto the next one.
Set a goal.Your goal doesn’t need to represent your endpoint with the skill. It should, however, encourage you to grow and push yourself as you learn your new skill. If, for example, you want to learn web design, your goal may be to build yourself an online portfolio that you design from scratch.
- Don’t make your goal too lofty to start. If you want to learn to cook, don’t start with the initial goal of a 3-course meal. Instead, focus on learning how to make 1 dish really well. After you learn basic skills, you can learn more recipes and build up toward that meal.
Break your goal down into steps.Even reasonable goals can feel overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. Start by breaking your goal down into small steps. The exact number of steps you’ll need will depend on your goal.
- Think about your steps like lessons. Each step should be small enough that you can achieve it in 1-2 lessons, but not so small that it’s not enough for a lesson unto itself.
- For example, if you’re learning photography, a good step would be learning how to adjust the settings on your camera. This can usually be learned easily, but it’s a bigger task than just learning to turn off the flash, which can usually be done in just a few seconds.
- Remember, each step builds toward your goal. They may feel small now, but they’ll accumulate.
Choose a platform that fits your learning style.There are online tutorials, in-person classes, books, articles, and videos that can teach you all kinds of skills. Think about what learning platforms best enable you to absorb and apply new information.
- If you’re a visual learner, for example, try video tutorials instead of reading a text-only book or listening to a podcast on the subject.
- Think about what is most conducive to your new skill, too. Learning a new language using only books, for example, may not be the best choice because the text alone doesn’t give you a good idea of word pronunciation and accents in everyday speech.
Find a mentor who is an expert in your skill.The best tool in your journey to build a new skill is to find an expert to tutor you and help guide your progress. Reach out to an expert in your skill and set up a face-to-face meeting to talk to them about possible mentor opportunities.
- In some fields, mentoring is a formal process, while in other fields, it’s more organic. Do some research online to see how others learning your desired skill found a mentor.
Building Your Skill
Prioritize the most important aspects of your skill.After you’ve learned the fundamentals of your skill, think about what parts of it are most important to you. Prioritize learning these aspects, and save less important aspects for later on in your progress.
- It is important to learn the basics of your skill first. If you don’t have these down, learning your priorities will be difficult.
- If, for example, you’re learning metal restoration, it’s important to first understand basic chemistry first. Once you have that down, though, you can choose if you want to prioritize working on iron, copper, steel, or other metals.
Practice a little every day.Building any new skill takes time. After you’ve learned a portion of your new skill, take time every day to practice what you’ve learned. This should be separate from the time you take to learn a new portion of your skill.
- For example, if you’re learning to play the piano, set aside an hour a day to practice: 30 minutes to review chords you’ve already learned and an additional 30 minutes to learn new chords.
- The exact amount of time you’ll need to practice each day will depend on the skill your learning, as well as your personal learning style.
Take courses and tutorials in your skill.Classes, workshops, and tutorials are great ways to help you build your skill and network with others learning the same skill. If you want consistent formal instruction, look for classes at your local community college, community center, or professional organization.
- You can also check with professional organizations, hobby groups, local businesses, and other organizations to see if they offer workshops or tutorials in your skill. These are usually 1-2 day events that help you focus on building a single aspect of your skill.
- For example, if you are learning to cook, a local specialty food store may have a workshop on learning to cook make-ahead meals or cooking for college freshmen.
Set deadlines for yourself.You can do this purely for you or you can make a commitment to motivate you. No matter what, deadlines can help keep you on track as you learn your skill. If you set a deadline without an external commitment, make sure you invest something in your deadline to keep you moving forward.
- If, for example, you say you’re going to be able to conjugate 10 verbs in Spanish by next week, add a treat onto that. If you meet your deadline, take yourself out for lunch at a restaurant you’ve been wanting to try.
- If you want to make an external commitment for your deadline, you could try something like signing up for an open mic night to hold you to your goal of learning to play a song on the guitar.
The fastest way to acquire new skills is to break them up into smaller segments that you learn one at a time. For example, if you're trying to learn car repair, you can start by learning to change the oil, and move on to fixing brakes later. This step-by-step process is more manageable, and will help you retain the information once you've learned it. To make learning faster and easier, try to find an expert, like a mechanic, who will teach you the skill.
Video: The first 20 hours -- how to learn anything | Josh Kaufman | TEDxCSU
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