The Real Path to Thriving in 2019

A brutally honest look at why you’re failing to learn skills you need to succeed

Danny Forest
Aug 20 · 10 min read

Learning the right skill set can get you the job of your dreams, the promotion you’ve always wanted or even make you discover new passions. It also makes you more adaptable, and in today’s ever-changing world, it’s arguably the greatest asset you can have to thrive going forward.

While some companies still hire based on diplomas, most have started to be more interested in your soft and hard skills. Freelancing websites like Upwork or Fiverr don’t even care if you have a diploma, as long as you can prove you can do the work.

The problem is, learning new skills is hard. Or is it really?

I used to think that I couldn’t draw, dance, play the ukulele, do marketing or sales, and so on and so forth. My list of things I couldn’t ever dream of learning was just so big!

Why did I think I couldn’t learn them?

Because I’m not a particularly intelligent guy. Plus, I have a terrible memory. I’m also a very logical person, so there’s no way I can be creative. As for physically demanding skills, well, I’m a short and skinny dude, there’s no point even trying!

Did reading the paragraph above make you cringe? I’m willing to bet you have similar thoughts, no? That should make you cringe also!

Now, even though I don’t have the highest IQ or the best memory, and I lean a lot more towards being logical than creative, and have a “weak” body frame, I still managed to learn all of the above skills, and many more. All that within less than 2 years.

How did I do it? How does someone far from being superhuman like I managed to do it all, even while working 70 hours a week?

I’ll tell you soon enough but let me start with this: if I can do it, so can you! I don’t even know you yet but I’m 100% confident you can do it.

How can I be so confident?

Simple. Learning new skills really doesn’t have much to do with intelligence, memory, physical prowess and any other thing you’ve been led to believe.

In this article, I’ll walk you through what skill learning is, from my experience but also by analyzing other amazing learners like Jonathan Levi and Scott Young.

Remember, the more skilled you become, the higher your chances of finding work you enjoy, get a promotion you deserve, discover new passions, and more.

For the most part, you’re struggling to learn new skills because you’re not framing it properly. Here’s what learning new skills is all about:

1. Passion

If you don’t have a passion for the skill you set out to learn, and no one is forcing you to learn it, you won’t have the motivation to do it. As much as you try to force yourself to do it, it won’t work.

I tried plenty of skills that I thought would be nice to learn. I never followed through on them. For most of these skills, I couldn’t even practice for more than 5 hours in the month without being unmotivated.

If you don’t jump out of bed with excitement about your practice time for a skill, chances are you picked the wrong skill.

That being said, passion may not be immediate. For drawing using photoshop, it took me about 5 hours of practice before I really started digging it. For Salsa dancing, it took me about 4 hours, then I was hooked.

In general, if you can’t ignite a passion within 5–8 hours of practice, it might be a good sign that the skill is not for you yet.

What skill(s) are you passionate about?

2. Mindset

Remember all the negative self-talk from the introduction? You have it too, don’t you? The sad truth is that as long as you stay in the mindset that you can’t accomplish something, you’ll never accomplish it.

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” — Henry Ford

I had that limiting mindset too until October 2017. Around that time, I decided to try to learn three new skills in one month. I wanted to start with drawing using Photoshop because I always thought that as a logical person, I couldn’t do anything creative. It took me about 10 sessions of 30 minutes to realize that by being consistent in my practice, I actually managed to draw things I never thought I could.

That shattered my limiting beliefs once and for all. And this is what allowed me to learn most other skills I’ve learned since.

What skill(s) can you learn that would shatter your limiting mindset?

3. Consistency

I used to have a very bad chronicle problem: I never finished anything. It would infuriate my wife. I would start a new project every week, abandon it, and start something else the next week. For most things in life, I have the Barney Stinson syndrome:

“New is always better.” — Barney Stinson

If you’re like that, well, know that it’s hurting your ability to learn new skills. Potentially the best way to learn anything in life is to make the process of doing it a habit.

How do you become a great writer? You write consistently every day.

It’s true of every single skill. What I learned over the past two years is that it’s always better to practice for 10 minutes every day than practice 30 minutes every three days. I can’t stress that enough. I know most people are not consistent in their practice.

This is so important, that even with passion and the right mindset, you won’t succeed unless you are consistent. Take this seriously!

Have you been consistent in your practice?

4. Seeing progress

Record your progress! My mind is blown away when I hear people complain that they’re not learning, yet they don’t record any of their progress! How do you know you’re not learning? How can you stay motivated?

Recording your progress is crucial to learning anything. It’s one of the first questions I ask my coaching clients: “How do you measure your progress?”. Most of the time, they tell me the skill they’re practicing doesn’t have a good way to measure progress.


You’re not creative enough. This morning, when I asked my friend Erik Hamre, of The 100-Hour Challenge, how he’d be measuring his progress in his Traveling skills, he told me:

“number of memorable experiences.”

Smart. How would you track progress on such a vague skill? Always brainstorm the “metric” that would keep you the most motivated.

How do you measure progress on the skill(s) you want to learn?

5. Using the right resources

Only 7 percent of people who start online courses finish them. If that statistic doesn’t startled you, there’s something wrong with you…

I’m going to say it plainly: for the most part, online courses suck. I’ve learned 60 new skills within less than 2 years. You know how many online courses I’ve started and completed? Three. Here they are:

  1. Learning How to Learn, by Barbara Oakley
  2. 38 Expert Tips for Writers on Medium, by Dave Schools
  3. Procrastinate Zero 2, by Darius Foroux

Even if a course is taught by a top expert in the field, it doesn’t mean it’s the right resource for you. The best way to learn something is never the best way for everyone!

To know if a resource is the best for you, you have to be aware of other, connected skills/sub-skills you’ve previously acquired. Plus, we all have different learner profiles. Some learn best through text, other through audio or video.

No one can tell you what’s going to work great for you. You have to experiment. Learn to enjoy that process.

How do you learn best? Are you using the right resources for you?

6. Practicing more than you study

I recently had a coaching call with a learner who was doing almost everything right, but during our call, he kept referring to “study time”. That raised a flag for me. So I asked him: “how much of your time is dedicated to practice versus study?”

His answer was 70 percent study and 30 percent practice.

For the most part, that’s not the right answer. I told him to flip that around. Knowledge is worthless if not acted upon. For most skills, you should practice at least 70 percent of the time, and study the rest of the time.

If a skill is mostly intellectual, consider teaching it as part of your practice.

That client is part of the majority. Raise your hand if you’re guilty of studying more than you practice. I believe that this has to do with mindset. If you don’t believe you can do it, you keep studying without practice. Yet, the only way to succeed is to take action and learn from your mistake. Remember how you learned to ride a bicycle? That was the right approach.

What’s your ratio of practice time versus study time?

7. Teaching what you learn

If you’re not familiar with the Inverted Pyramid of Learning, now’s that time to get familiar with it. You retain about 10% of what you read. Lectures have it even worse — you only retain about 5% from them. Here are the top 3 ways to retain the most information possible:

  1. Teaching others: 90%
  2. Practice by doing (see above): 75%
  3. Group discussions: 50%

When’s the last time you did any of the above extensively? If you’re like most people, not since college for #3. Sometimes for #2. And never for #1.

Michael Simmons once wrote something that changed my learning abilities forever. Here it is, paraphrased:

“Always learn something as if you were to teach it to someone else.”

This is extremely powerful. You can read something and retain 10% of what you learn, or you can read something, spend an extra hour to teach it to someone else, and retain a whopping 90% of what you learned! How fantastic is that?

Are you teaching what you learn?

8. Learning from others

One-on-one mentorship is the most underrated learning tool of the century. I could not be more serious here. Thankfully, according to Tony Robbins and Dean Graziosi, the business is set to become a 129B business within the next 5 years or so.

Think about this: two of the greatest polymaths in history, Leonardo Da Vinci and Benjamin Frankly learned through apprenticeship. One of the greatest conquerors of all times, Alexander the Great, was mentored by Aristotle. Larry Page and Sergey Brin learned from Michael Bloomberg, Rajeev Motwani, Eric Schmidt, and more.

If you look at history, every ultra-successful person had mentors.

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” — Sir Isaac Newton

We all stand upon the shoulders of giants. Choose yourself a few “giants” and learn tremendously from them!

I learned all my Salsa dance moves from a personal teacher. I learned most of my Ukulele skills from Bernadette Plazola. I learned most of my writing skills from Dave Schools, Anthony Moore, and Jon Morrow.

Who are you learning your skill(s) from?

9. Not taking what you learned for granted

A lot of people practice sub-skills until they succeed once or twice at it. That is wrong. The first time you succeed, it’s a combination of luck and skills. But mostly luck. The first time I successfully played “Over the Rainbow” on ukulele felt great until I tried again the next day and couldn’t play it successfully anymore.

Has this ever happened to you?

The truth is, it should happen all the time, but most people don’t look back and take what they learned from granted on their first success.

The first time I wrote a viral article on Medium was luck. I worked hard for it and did my very best to make it a success, but ultimately, I couldn’t replicate it right away. That’s what I call luck.

Truly learning something is about not accepting it’s a success until it becomes instinctual. Musicians and singers are great examples of people who apply this right. When they perform at concert, you can bet they can play their songs without even thinking about it. That’s true learning.

What skill(s) do you truly know without thinking it/them about much?


The above 10 facts are what learning really is about. You don’t need incredible intelligence, perfect memory, great physical prowess, or any other excuse you’ve been telling yourself. I don’t have any of these things. Most people don’t.

If you want to learn new skills like I have, always ask yourself these questions:

  • What skill(s) am I passionate about?
  • What skill(s) can I learn so that I shatter my limiting beliefs?
  • Have I been consistent in my practice?
  • How do I measure progress on the skill(s) I want to learn?
  • How do I learn best? Am I using the right resources for me?
  • What’s my ratio of practice time versus study time?
  • Am I teaching what I learn?
  • Who am I learning my skill(s) from?
  • What skill(s) do I truly know without thinking it/them about much?

I know you can learn skills as I have. There’s nothing special about me. Ask yourself the questions above. Change your mindset.

Learning new skills is a surefire way to thrive, especially in the 21st century. By becoming more skilled, you will get the job of your dreams. You will get that promotion you’ve been waiting for. You will discover new passions. So apply all of the above and skill up like you never have.

You can do this!

Thanks for reading, sharing, and following! :)

If you want to be prepared for a better tomorrow, then SkillUp! Follow us here and check out SkillUp Academy!

SkillUp Ed

Helping you grow through better Education

Danny Forest

Written by

Viking Polymath writing for today’s knowledge economy, building a more skillful tomorrow.

SkillUp Ed

Helping you grow through better Education

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade