I learn 3 new skills a month, and so can you!
For the sake of this article, we’ll define the word “Skill” as such: “the ability to do something well”. “Well”, doesn’t necessarily mean professionally.
I’m a video game programmer by trade. That’s what I do for a living. Yet every time someone asks me “who are you?”, “what do you do?”, “where are you from?”, I never know how to answer. What defines who I am? What is it that I do? And being a nomad, where am I from really?
We pigeonhole ourselves to very specific traits that define us, limiting our ability to reason with our brain about our capacities. By saying I’m a game programmer, I’m letting my brain think that I can only do logical tasks like programming. For the longest time, I thought I could not do creative things like drawing, because I’m a logical person. Again pigeonholing myself to being “logical”. Teaching your brain that you can do more leads to awesome results.
What if I told you I’m rock climber, a body builder, an artist, a photographer, a translator, an English teacher, a traveler, a public speaker, an AI programmer, a video game developer, a game designer and a movie/trailer maker. In no particular order. Would you believe me? Most likely not, right? All the above skills require working completely different parts of the brain. Yet I can do the above to a level where I’m confident enough to call them a skill.
And I’m not saying that to brag. I’m saying that to motivate readers.
A few months ago, I was reading and watching videos on how to learn new skills. Like most people, I was sure I didn’t have the time to learn new skills outside of my realm of expertise. After all, I worked 10 hours per day, 6–7 days per week. Those videos inspired me to experiment. Out of those experiments, I’ve created a “framework” for myself and since then I’ve been able to consistently learn 3 new skills per month. I’ll show you some of my tips here.
In short, the key is: Consistency, Usefulness and Momentum… CUM. You’ll remember it!
“Will” comes for free if you’re consistently doing things you consider useful.
How to choose your new skills
First off, choose 3 skills that use completely different sections of the brain. I’m certainly no brain expert, but I here’s a few categories of skills that I’m almost 100% sure use different parts of the brain:
- Logic/Science (Programming, Math, Physics, etc.)
- Creative (Art, Music, Writing, Design, Movies, etc.)
- Health (Nutrition, Body-building, Sports)
- Speech (public speaking, speed, tone, etc.)
The first month I tried Logic, Creative and Languages, more specifically: Categorization using Machine Learning, Drawing using Photoshop and Past and Future tenses in Spanish.
Be Specific and Realistic
As you can see, these are very specific subsets of skills. You have to be realistic you know! What if I chose Programming, Drawing and Spanish? This is way too broad! Where do I start? What is it really? How the heck can I learn all that in one month! How do you track progress on that?
Being realistic and specific will help you focus and stay motivated, and ultimately help you stay consistent in your practice. More on that next!
When to practice them (consistency)
Practice each skill 30 minutes per day
Thirty minutes for each skill is achievable. If it’s unreasonable for you, just reduce to 1–2 skills instead. Sometimes I do 2 skills in a month. And is 30 minutes each day enough to learn a skill? I say yes. Remember our definition at the top: “the ability to do something well”. In 15 hours (30 minutes X 30 days), you can learn A LOT.
Have a schedule
No buts. It’s a life/death deal. Be extreme in telling your brain that you HAVE TO do it or something bad will happen. This is made easier if you do it consistently at the same time every day. I practice on weekends also. I don’t want to break the momentum. More on that later.
Learning new skills requires energy, much more than doing things you know. For that reason, I do them when I’ve got the highest amount of energy. For me, that’s 30 minutes each skill, starting at 6am every morning.
Most skills can be practiced passively. That is, without you actually “spending” time practicing them.
During your day, you spend a lot of time doing passive things: Commuting to work, basic cooking, doing the dishing, health hygiene, etc. I bet for most people, that’s at least one hour of their day.
Use this time to learn passively. Most skills have good theoretical knowledge required. It’s not hard to find good articles online, podcasts and videos to teach you the theory required to learn a skill. Just put your headphones on and learn while doing those passive activities. Learn the jargon, the techniques, etc.
Of course, don’t spend all your time on theory! I spend at least 75% of my time on practice over the course of a month.
How to measure improvements (build momentum)
The more you learn about a topic, the faster you’ll learn it.
You have to track your progress. Your brain needs a little dopamine rush to keep you going. When you start listing skills you’re interested in learning, give yourself milestones with hard deadlines. Break down the skill in manageable sub-skills required to reach the status of “acquired”. More on that here.
The simplest way to track progress is to have simple checkboxes. Once you feel like you’re good enough in the sub-skill, check that box! Whoohoo! Success!
By the end of the month, you should have plenty of momentum. Up to you to decide what to do with it. You can choose to continue learning the skill, find a complementary skill or do something else entirely.
Continue Learning; or
You can always be better at anything you do. Take advantage of the momentum and accelerate your learning even more. Try to become a “master” at it.
Find a complementary skill; or
Take advantage of the momentum to learn something complementary. Focus on a more specific subset of a particular skill, or a different branch. Learn a new language tense or vocabulary, learn new Photoshop techniques, learn new Machine Learning principles, etc.
Do something else entirely.
Some say that to find success, you must focus on a particular set of skills. I personally challenge this “rule”. I like diversity. I like to be adaptable. I like to relate to other people’s stories. I feel like I’m a better person for it.
Doing something else entirely breaks the momentum for that skill, but the success you had from learning previous skills should carry over and keep you motivated. Your brain will now accept that you can indeed learn things you never knew you could.
You can learn anything in life, provided you find Usefulness in it, are Consistent about practicing it and keep the Momentum going. Learning 3 new skills is not even a challenge with the right mindset.
Coming up in a different article
Detailed examples of some skills I learned and how I approached them:
- Drawing using Photoshop; and
- Body-building for an ectomorph