How to Learn a New Skill, and How to Master it?
We all know that learning is important in life. We spend nearly 20 years of our lives learning. Initially, we learn how to walk, then talk, then read and then we start learning complex things like chemistry and mathematics.
When we were born, we did not learn how to walk by listening to our mother or seeing our parents walk.
We learned how to walk by trying and failing. Then we learned how to talk by trying and failing. Learning a new skill is not easy when we are young, and we naturally know that the only way to get good at it is to keep trying it, even if we keep failing.
Can you imagine that we spent almost a year to start walking and then almost another one year until we could completely balance ourselves and run?
Somehow, it did not seem like a difficult task or something that we “worked hard” to achieve. We just did it out of curiosity and the growth was effortless.
The our in-built capability to learn new things was taken away by our schooling system. We became the book people. We were asked to obey authority and develop discipline and routine. We were not encouraged to do new things and fail.
(There is even a conspiracy theory that the present day schooling system was designed to make the masses more obedient and hardworking, so that they can work in the factories without complaining, but that’s a topic for an another day.)
The way we learned in school was through fear and punishment. Could we have learned how to walk and how to talk if our mother punished us whenever we made a mistake?
The schooling system failed us. It punished us when we tried new things.
Over a period of 10-15 years, we are taught to obey rules, stop questioning authority and out creativity was taken out of us. Our urge to do new things is still within us, but so buried deep within the layers of social rules and conditioning.
Yes, we were unfortunate to go through a terrible schooling system, but we can still learn. Our capacity to learn new things has not gone away.
We are far better off compared to the previous generations because we have the internet.
So how do we revive our capability to learn new things?
How to Learn New Skills by Doing
If we have to learn how to learn new skills, we first have to look at the process of learning itself.
Let me take you back to your childhood. Close your eyes and imagine that you are a one year old toddler. You have never walked before. You have always lied down on the bed, either facing the top or the bottom.
You have managed to learn how to crawl and move around in the house, but you have never walked on two legs.
You see bigger people (your parents or siblings) walk around in two legs and it is exciting to even think about the possibility that you can also do that.
You are still not sure if you will be able to do it. And that’s what makes the process very exciting. It consumes all of what you’ve got. All your brain power, all your muscle power, all your will power to put yourself through it. Because if you fail, the pain is not just physical, its also a lot of mental pain.
Imagine, you were finally able to stand up in two legs, and balance yourself. It would have been an exhilarating experience. Now your heart is beating at its maximum capacity.
Your mind is generating enough will power to give you strength to take the first foot forward. Now you might balance yourself, or you might fall. That causes a lot of anxiety. You take the bold first step.
You’ve balanced yourself.
Congratulations! Your first ever step as a human being on planet earth. Now walking is what makes you human because most other animals crawl or use all their limbs to move.
And now comes the next step. You are pretty confident that you can also balance the next step… because hey, you took the first step and you balanced yourself. You have passed your test. You have arrived, as a human on planet earth.
It’s not that easy, isn’t it? You take the second step, and you fall.
Your mom comes running over. You have hurt yourself and you cry. For a moment, you probably thought that you will never try this again. You blame yourself for having hurt yourself. Wasn’t it fine to just keep crawling around? You think.
It would have been ok if you had never tried. May be you would’ve never started walking and never known about it. But now that you tried and failed, there is a fuelled desire to win.
So you start trying more often.
After a day’s rest, you try again.
This time you take 5 steps, and then fall. But this time, you don’t really get hurt by the fall.
May be the physical pain is the same, but your mental pain is now gone.
You kinda know that falling is part of the process. And you start taking it further.
10 steps, no fall. 18 steps, no fall. 43 steps, no fall.
All the way to no fall ever.
Now walking is a complex skill for a 2 year old kid. But the kids, and we as kids never saw the learning of a new skill like this as a tough thing to do.
We were able to do it because there was constant supply of happiness with every new milestone. That’s the secret to happiness. Unlocking achievements.
Learning is a progressive thing. You did not learn how to walk in a single day. And you did not learn about walking for 3 months and became an expert in walking after 3 months.
It took probably months of walking and falling before you could start running.
The will power and motivation to take it further, try, fail and learn comes from seeing some micro-results and deriving happiness and satisfaction from it. If you did not take the first step and balance yourself, and if that did not give you a sense of happiness and achievement, you would never bother to go ahead and take further steps.
Now forget the schooling system. Forget your college. Jump from your childhood to the present moment.
And think about how would you learn a new skill?
If you want to learn guitar, you will first try. Fail. Then try again. And then some tones start coming together. And the results motivate you to put more energy into learning more – because you know that it will give even more results.
If you want to learn to speak Mandarin. It’s the same process again. If you want to learn swimming. It’s the same process again. Learn. Do. See results. Learn more. Do more. See more results. Teach. See even better results. Do even more.
If you are learning a new professional skill, it is going to be the same process.
You cannot learn digital marketing by reading books, blogs, watching course videos, and attending class room training by digital marketing institutes.
You have to learn digital marketing by doing.
When you DO, you will get results. Your action has to have a reaction. The result may be positive or negative, but you will learn something. And the results will motivate you to put efforts into learning more.
That’s why I recommend all my students, followers and readers to learn digital marketing by doing. And the easiest way to learn digital marketing is to start a blog. When you create your own website, you will be able to use it as a practice ground to learn and fail.
In my 100-day blogging course, my students…
- They take the first step in SEO when they get their website indexed in the search engines.
- They take the first step in digital advertising when they run a lead generation campaign for their blog.
- They take their first step in email marketing when they add a subscribed box in their blog and get their first 10 email subscribers.
- They take their first step in web-analytics when they install a Google Analytics code on their blog and start seeing traffic.
The results that you start seeing in the first few days will motivate you to learn further to start growing.
After you write an article, get it indexed on the search engines, share it on social media, you will start seeing a few comments on your blog, and some traffic in your Google Analytics. This will motivate you.
Previously you thought that you might not be able to setup your own blog, and create content that people want to read. But now you know that some people, at least a few people want to read, and if you write more, write better, probably even more people would want to read.
My blog has 100s of articles, and I was able to spend so much time on each and every article because I have seen the results. This is probably the 300th blog post I am writing, and with experience I know that if I put in enough efforts up front, the results would come. Because I have seen the results come so many times.
As a beginner, it is almost impossible to put in the time and energy required for a 2500 word blog post like this, for no immediate returns.
Bloggers have to work for long term returns and once you start seeing the returns, you will get hooked. You will build a valuable asset – a blog with consistent traffic and you could become a full time professional blogger.
Though I have given some examples from my field – Digital Marketing, this type of micro-results based methodology is the best way to learn any skill.
Learning by doing is the most natural way to learn any skill, and that’s the skill you were born with (which was stripped off by the education system). Trying and failing is how you learned complex skills like walking and talking. And it was one of the most complex things you learned as a kid.
Now that we know how to learn, let’s look at how we can become an expert…
How to Become an Expert by Teaching
Once you have learned something new by doing, the next step is to become an expert. Many people think that the word “expert” means that one has to be at the top of their field.
An expert has to be a speaker, an author, a professor, a renowned scientist, or an accomplished person in a field to be an “expert”. Yes, people in the top of their fields are definitely experts from which we should learn from. But at the same time, everyone is an expert on some level.
If you think that there are 10 levels to a skill… you are an expert if you are at level 2, for the person who is at level 1.
When I started teaching digital marketing, I was nowhere as good at it as I am now.
If I have to rate my own digital marketing skills right now, I would give a score of 7/10. There are better experts than me who might be 8/10 or 9/10.
When I started teaching digital marketing, I was mostly at best a 4/10. But I taught it to people who had no idea about the term digital marketing.
As I started teaching people and getting their skill level from 0/10 to 4/10, my skill went up to 5/10.
In most of the subjects, the hardest skill to master is the fundamentals on which the whole subject is built. To become a 10/10 expert and a thought leader in a specific field, you need to master the fundamentals.
Your fundamentals are the foundation where your tower of expertise will be built. And I do not know of a better way to master the fundamentals other than teaching.
When your skill level in a specific subject is 3/10, you have loose fundamentals about the subject. This loose foundation is not going to help you go to a 5/10. At best you might become 4/10 expert.
To create a stronger foundation to become an expert, you need to revisit your fundamentals. You need to re-learn what you have learned in Level 1 and 2.
It is very hard to create the time and be motivated enough to revisit the fundamentals. Usually we are lost on the surface because we are also professionals and do not have time to learn the basics all over again.
The best hack I’ve discovered to force yourself to learn the fundamentals is to teach it. When you teach Level 1 to a student, you learn new things about Level 1 and you will see things from a different perspective.
You will be able to see the fundamental truths of any subject from different perspectives when you teach. And since different students learn in different ways, you need to come up with different perspectives and examples to make sure that everyone understands.
Observing the fundamentals of a subject in different perspectives creates a very strong foundation in your mind. This foundation helps you grow on top of it.
Your journey and growth to becoming a 7/10 or 8/10 expert will be more organic and natural because you are building on top of a very strong foundation.
Many times, people who claim to be experts in their field, fail to understand the fundamentals, and keep building on top of it with more learning and work experience. If they have never done teaching, they wouldn’t have accurate details about the fundamentals.
Some people end up building their entire career on top a loose assumption and wrongly understood fundamentals of a subject. These are the people who believe in their own lies and think they are being truthful. Such pseudo experts are born because they never took the time to teach.
I do not know of any fields where an expert or a thought leader was born without teaching others.
Teaching is a wonderful thing. It not only helps you understand the fundamental better and become an expert, but it also adds value back to the world. You are teaching other people and it’s a noble thing to do. What you give will come back to you 10x.
What we have discussed today is a very simple truth. The simplest truths are the hardest to uncover because they hide in plain sight. In our day to day routine, we forget to learn new skills and teach others the skill.
The only way to accelerate learning for everyone in this world is to unearth the teacher in everyone of us. We are not just helping others learn, but we are learning better through teaching.
It is called the golden triangle, as described by Siddharth Rajsekar. Learn. Do. Teach.
So will you learn every day by doing, and become an expert by teaching?
Leave a comment below with your thoughts.