Day #824:How to Learn anything in 20 hours

Keep Learning

Keep Learning

The human brain is one of the most complex systems in the world. For years, scientist have been trying to figure out how the brain works exactly. Recent progress in the field of Neuro science is helping us better understand how the brain works and how we can improve human performance based on what we know.

We have all heard the myth that we only utilize about 10% of our brain. That is not true and scientist continue to debunk this myth.

Learning a new skill is one of the easiest way of increasing our brain’s capacity and getting the most out of it. The brain works like muscles, the more we use it, the stronger it becomes, when we don’t use it, we lose it.
Every time you learn something new, your brain changes in a pretty substantial way. In turn, this makes other parts of your life easier because the benefits of learning stretch further than just being good at something. The Scientific America explains how we create more synapses and neural pathways in our brains this way:
In addition to making existing synapses more robust, learning causes the brain to grow larger. Optical imaging allows researchers to visualize this growth in animals. For instance, when a rat learns a difficult skill, such as reaching through a hole for a pellet of food, within minutes new protrusions, called dendritic spines, grow on the synapses in its motor cortex, the region that allows animals to plan and execute movements.
Learning something new can be daunting, you feel awkward, you make mistake, you almost feel like a child. We all hate this process.Because we don’t want to look like idiots trying to speak a new language and making mistakes. Which is why most of us will rather stick with what we already know, we take the same route to work for years , cook the same food we know how to cook, never try to learn another language even when we know the benefits will vastly improve the quality of our lives and make us more competitive.
So why don’t we all commit to learning something new all the time knowing how much this will significantly improve our lives?I can think of a lot of reasons. Chief among them:
1. Fear: The Amygdala which is linked to our Limbic system is the part of the brain that controls fight or flight when we face a dangerous or embarrassing situation. The amygdala is responsible for the perception of emotions (anger, fear, sadness, etc.) as well as the controlling aggression. The amygdala helps to store memories of events and emotions so that an individual may be able to recognize similar events in the future. For example, if you have ever tried to learn to ride a bike and you fall and hurt your leg, then the amygdalae may help in processing that event and, therefore, increase your fear or alertness around riding bycyles. This is what happened the first time you tried public speaking and you screwed up. Your brain  tells you from then on to avoid these type of situations for your own good.
2.The Myth of the 10,000 hour rule: Most people have read or heard it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become  good at anything. In fact, I wrote about this last week. The 10,000 hour rule applies to grand masters, elite athletes, people who become the best in the world at what they do. When you decide to learn how to play the guitar, you don’t necessarily want to be the next Jimi Hendrix, you probably just want tot be good enough to play couple of songs. Don’t let the myth of the 10,000 hour rule discourage you.
3,I don’t have time: Closely tied to the 10,000 hour rule is the excuse of ‘I don’t have enough time’. Of course you do. In between the amount of time you spend watching TV or scrolling through your Instagram or Facebook feeds, you have 1 hour everyday to dedicate to learning something new if you think it’s important. Most of us say we don’t have time because we haven’t decided on what are priorities are. Catching up on an episode of Game of Thrones or Keeping Up with The Kardashians may be a higher priority to you than taking your Excel knowledge to the next level which might help you get promoted at work.
4. It’s too hard, It’s not my thing, I don’t have the talent for that: Here is one of the biggest excuses I have heard for not willing to learn something new. I have had someone tell me, I don’t have the mental capacity to learn how to write code. Of course if you think you can’t, you can’t. If you think it’s important, and you think you can, you will definitely find a way. Our brains respond to cues and our decisions. If you tell your brain to find a way of doing something, it will find a way. There’s nothing you are currently doing today that you were sure you can do. But you did them because you believe they were important to you and your brain recognized that.
So how do you learn something new in approximately 20 hours? Josh Kaufman has written a book that answers this quest. It is called: The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast!
He highlights 5 key steps you need to learn anything.Let me show you here:

1.Set a concrete, Specific Target Performance Level: One of the reasons we never learn anything is because we are really not sure what we want to learn. Once your goal is not clear, it becomes difficult to execute. Goals get your brain focused on the task at hand, making it easy for you to execute. Pick one skill you are interested in, set a clear target you would like to reach and start practicing. Instead of saying, I want to learn to write code: pick one specific skill like learning to write strings of HTML codes. Or Learn to set up a Word Press site.
2.Deconstrust the Skill to Avoid Overwhelm: How do you eat a whale? Huh? you say right? If you try to eat a whole whale, you won’t succeed. The best way to tackle it is to break it down into small pieces. A process called chucking. Most skills you want to learn is a combination of smaller skills. To make learning fun and effective, break down the skill into smaller parts and focus on getting good at the small part. Practice the most important subskill first and you will accelerate your overall rate of skill acquisition.
3.Learn enough to Self Correct: Once you figure out what you want to learn and you have broken it down into smaller chucks, look for materials, books, DVDs, audio, courses or any other resources on the skill.Apply the 80/20 rule. In every task, there’s is always the 20% crucial element you need to focus on that takes care of 80% of that skill. Don’t spend too much time studying on researching. It’s a trap for procrastination. Focus on learning the basic minimum and start practicing.
4.Remove barriers to Learning: Anything that gets in the way of focused deliberate practice is an enemy that needs to be destroyed. Turn off the TV, Internet and anything in your environment that would stop you from practicing. Schedule your practice into your day so you know it must happen. People ask how I manage to write a blog post everyday on my, simple, it’s scheduled. If it’s important, schedule it. If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice for 20 hours: 20 hours of practice breaks down to 45 minutes of practice for 30 days. Books won’t change your life. This article  and several others you are reading won’t change your life, what changes lives is to act, to do the work, to practice, put in the time.
One last thing: I recommend removing the phrase “I don’t have time” from your vocabulary. You have all the time you’re ever going to have, and you’re in full control of how you choose to use that time.
If a skill is a big enough priority to learn, you have to MAKE TIME to practice it. If it’s not important enough to rearrange your schedule, be honest with yourself, drop it, and move on.
Whatever you decide, stop whining. Whining is not an effective strategy for skill acquisition.
LOSERS SAY: “I don’t know how to do that… so I can’t do it. OMG, learning is so hard: I heard it takes at least 10,000 hours to be any good. I don’t have that much time anyway, so I’ll wait until someone finally invents The Matrix so I can upload new skills directly into my brain while I sit on the couch watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians.”
TOP PERFORMERS SAY: “I don’t know how to do that… but it’s important, so I’m going to figure out how. I’m going to practice in a way that helps me improve as quickly as possible, and stop doing things that get in the way. I don’t have an unlimited amount of time and energy to do this, so I’m going to MAKE time for practice, and use it as efficiently as possible.”
The result? Top performers get better and better at skills that help them make more money, get more done, and have more fun… while losers sit on the couch complaining about how the world is so unfair.

Rapid skill acquisition isn’t easy. It requires a huge burst of very intense effort. Skills require practice, full stop. It’s supposed to be hard… but the results are well worth the investment.

So what are you finally going to learn how to do? Decide what you want, break it down, focus on the most important subskills first, make it easy to practice, and pre-commit to at least 20 hours of practice before you begin.

Then get started, and practice well.

Final note:
This article is publish in my weekly newsletter to a group of friends. If you would like to be added to this list, please send me an email to with subject ‘Add me to @DesignYourLife newsletter’

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