Kick(start) A Habit For Better Learning

How to learn anything and become successful

You’ve probably read that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert on anything. I recently read a book that proposes learning anything fast (you can watch the author talk about it at TED here) – in only 20 hours! What’s really interesting is the idea that it takes only a certain (small) amount of time to reach a basic level of any activity as opposed to being an expert. Ten thousand or 20 hours, it doesn’t really matter in my opinion. It’s not about time; it’s more than that. It’s about quality, effort, and more importantly, habit. Unfortunately, most of us fall victim to one of the first two criteria, and even though we’re creatures of habit, we have trouble creating new habits so the rest of us quit at the third stage.

A habit is defined by its frequency. Repetition and regularity is key to learning anything or mastering skills. No one starts weightlifting with 100kg; they start small and gradually build up. No CEO was born ready for leading a company either; rather, they worked their way up. Athletes become top professionals at their game by training day in and day out; it took them time to get to where they are today (except for Usain Bolt – he was born sprinting). I used to play tennis when I was younger and haven’t practiced regularly in a long time, but whenever I play for an extended period of time I feel my rhythm (slowly) coming back. Even old tricks can get rusty if left unpracticed! So remember: constantly and consistently is what counts.

Determination helps you get into gear and push forward, so when choosing what skill to learn, pick something you’re really interested in, something that motivates you, something you can be proud to say you’ve learned. Alternatively, it can also be something you absolutely need to know. I grew up in various countries and had to learn a couple of languages along the way. It didn’t come easy, but I was determined to speak them well. Today, I’m proud to say I can speak four languages fluently and I continue to learn new ones.

Whatever it is, you can learn it and you can be successful at it. You have to consciously choose your investment because spending your energy wisely is important – otherwise it’s just wasted. It’s up to you to decide how much time you devote to learning what you want. When I wanted to learn freestyle football, I knew I needed a handful of popular tricks and I had time to practice just about every day. My goal was to get better than my friends who were doing it and it wasn’t hard to get there, it just took me choosing to spend some time almost daily for a few months.

The real secret is that you need to transform your target activity into a habit and you can do that with frequency, determination and investment. These factors are all you need to start learning now, to learn better, to be successful. Remember, there is no try, there is only learn (no Yoda reference intended).

How much time are you willing to dedicate to learn something you’ve always wanted?

Recommended reading: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Mastery by James Altucher


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