Here are the 4 steps to master learning according to master learners like Tim Ferriss, research on expertise and skill acquisition, and a bit of my own personal experience.
To be successful, you need to be selective in the skill you’re trying to master. Picking the wrong skill can sabotage your success from the start. The perfect skill either solves a problem you’re facing or scratches an itch you have. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself lacking the motivation and perseverance necessary to be successful.
Be very specific.
Specific goals are easier to visualize and lend themselves to a clearer path to success than their vague counterparts. To set yourself up for success, narrow your skill down as much as possible.
Make sure you’re in love with the process, not just the outcome
Learning is a frustrating process. You’re guaranteed to experience obstacles along the way that make it seem as though giving up is the best solution. There are two ways to fight this inevitability before you even get started.
The first is to pick a skill where the road to mastery is as exciting to you as the finish line. While a focus on long-term goals can motivate us to get started, it actually leads to less enjoyment of the process itself. In contrast, focusing on the immediate enjoyment of learning a new skill actually makes us more likely to stick with it.
The second is to plan out celebration points along the way to take pride in your progress. Taking time to recognize small achievements is key to maintaining long-term motivation.
Here are 3 strategies you can use to make sure you’re learning the right things in the most effective way possible:
Deconstruct and select.
Deconstructing a skill and selecting the most meaningful pieces to the puzzle make the impossible seem manageable. Every skill can be broken down into a series of segments. Your goal is to identify those segments and determine which ones are absolutely necessary for success. Focus on those first.
Find a mentor
When you’re unfamiliar with a skill, it can be exceptionally hard to determine which parts of a particular skill are worth learning right off the bat. To circumvent this issue, find a mentor to help you along. However, have specific questions in mind to save you both the time.
Stop learning and start doing
Learning is only valuable if, at some point, you actually need to apply what you learn and start doing, the earlier the better. Once you have the basics down, start putting them into practice in whatever way you can. When you’re new to a particular skill this can be difficult. It’s hard to know what’s possible.
Practice makes perfect
That might be true, but all practice is not created equal. Ultimately, it’s not how much you practice, but how smart you practice that determines how well you perform.
Experts use deliberate practice, focusing on specific elements of their trade and working on them specifically until they improve. Practice is an imperative part of building any skill, but the practice needs to be specific. Identify the fundamental components of the skill you’re learning that you struggle with the most. Find ways to address those areas in a focused way.
Tighten feedback loops
Feedback is vitally important to the learning process. It helps you evaluate how well you’re doing and identify areas for improvement. Faster feedback is always better. For example, if you had to wait two hours to find out whether you made a free throw, you would have already forgotten any technique adjustments you made on that particular shot.
Obtaining feedback isn’t always easy. When you’re just starting to play piano, you know immediately when you’ve made a mistake. However, if you’re trying to go from mediocre to great, self-assessment can be difficult.
Be specific. When asking for feedback, be very specific. Ask for negative feedback. We often ask questions in a way that either yields no helpful feedback or only positive remarks.
Spread out your training
When you first start learning a new skill, the temptation is to go all out dedicating every waking moment to your new passion. It’s not surprising that this type of approach quickly leads to burnout. Dedicating all of your energy towards one activity isn’t sustainable for the long-term. Avoiding burnout is just one of the many benefits to spreading out your learning.
Allow yourself to indulge in your new found curiosity, but make sure your practice/training schedule is realistic and sustainable.You could have the perfect skill in mind, narrowed down to a specific segment that is directly applicable to your life. However, if you give it up after two days, you won’t make any progress.
Make a Plan
If you’re going to take on learning a new skill, something else is going to have to give. Failing to plan ahead can cause trouble down the road when your schedule is packed, and you have to pick between a handful of priorities. Plans help you to solve problems before they arise.
One way to empower yourself is to verbally commit and publicize your goals. This will make you more accountable and keep you on course. Remember: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Join a group
Groups offer several benefits when you’re picking up something new like access to a collective knowledge-base and a place to vent your frustrations. They’re also incredibly motivating. People working in groups felt higher intrinsic motivation and, as a result, were more likely to persevere at difficult tasks.
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