How This Powerful Approach Made me a High Performing Polymath
“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.” ― Robert Greene, Mastery
Nine months ago, I was a software engineer, specializing in backend and video games. If you ask me today, I don’t have a clear answer for you.
I remember the day everything changed. I was in Cambodia, working from the AngkorHUB co-working space, slowly chipping away at my video game, working 14 hour days, 6–7 days a week.
Needless to say, it was exhausting.
Have you been in a similar situation?
Then one day I woke up at 5:30am as usual, thinking to myself: “How can I learn more — faster?”. I started reading and watching videos on learning new skills and came across a video debunking the myth that learning a skill takes 10,000 hours of practice. Mastering a skill may take that much, but simply learning to be proficient at something can take much less time. As low as 15 hours from my experience.
In the video, the speaker went in front of an audience with a guitar. The short version is that he claimed to have never played guitar until 45 days ago. I was baffled when he started playing. To me, it sounded professional. He was playing existing songs, but also improvising on the spot. He claimed it only took 15 hours of consistent practice over a period of 45 days.
I had to try for myself.
That same day I brainstormed skills I thought I’d never be able to learn. The list was too large, so doing one every 45 days would take me years to learn them all.
What skills do you think you simply cannot learn? Why not?
So here’s the approach I have used for nine months in a row, learning 27 new skills along the way:
Learn 3 New Skills Every Month
Granted, going from learning one skill in 45 days to learning three in 30 days is borderline insanity, but it’s not as hard as it seems.
Why 3 Skills
The first step for me was to cut down on the number of hours I was doing. 14 hours of the same type of work on the same day is not healthy. So I did some simple math: “how much time must I do in a day to reach 15 hours in 30 days?”.
The answer is 30 minutes.
Everyone can find 30 minutes in their day. I knew I could easily find 90 minutes in my day, so that’s how I went for three skills instead of one.
From my experience so far, I found that doing too much of the same type of activity during the day drains your brain power, but if you vary your activities and work different areas of your brain, you can stay energized longer. I’m no brain expert, but it’s as if the different sections of our brains had different energy levels.
How to Choose the Skills
Given the information above, and if you do want to become a polymath, you have to choose skills that work different areas of your brain. You don’t have to be an expert to figure this out.
Start with this well-known fact: the left side of the brain is more logical and the right side is more creative. Knowing that, you can choose a creative skill and a logical skill. On the creative side, think about music, art, writing, etc. In the logical side, think about math, science, programming, business planning, etc.
Once you’ve decided on a “branch”, be specific. If you’re thinking about music, are you thinking about an instrument or singing? If it’s an instrument, which one? If it’s the violin, what cords do you want to learn? If you’re thinking about singing, what type of songs? What techniques?
For my first month, I chose these three skills:
- Logical: Classification using Machine Learning techniques;
- Creative: Learning line-drawing + coloring using Photoshop; and
- Language: Learn the past and future tenses of the most common Spanish verbs.
How to Practice Them
Now that you know which skills you want to learn, you have to plan the “what” and the “when”. For each skill, start by asking:
What steps do I have to take to learn that skill? What is the 20% effort required to learn 80% of the results (Pareto Principle)?
For the “when”, start by figuring out how much time you can afford to spend on skill learning, in blocks of 30 minutes. I’d suggest at least two. I do three on average.
The next step is figuring out when you can, on a daily basis, get blocks of 30 minutes of uninterrupted time. For most of us, that’s either early morning or late at night. I personally do it in the morning when I still have all my energy.
Now that you know the “what” and “when”, take your calendar out and put exactly what you need to do for each day. You may have to adjust along the way.
For example: learn how to read music 1/3 on Monday, 2/3 on Tuesday, and 3/3 on Wednesday. Also, write the intended quantifiable results. Wednesday I take this specific test and score 90%.
Every day, give yourself a score on how well you achieved your desired result, on a scale of your choice, with 0–10 recommended. At the end of the week, sum up your performance and ask yourself these questions:
- What went right?
- What went wrong?
- How can I do better next week?
Then re-adjust accordingly. I’m usually pretty satisfied with 50+ out of 70. I never want to go lower than that. And it’s extremely motivating.
This approach turned me into a high performing polymath in a very short timeframe. What’s important to know is that the more skills you have, the easier it is to learn new ones, as proven by science. And I’ve certainly witnessed that.
Being a polymath also makes you a more interesting and relatable person. When you meet new people, you have more chance of having something in common with them.
Want to know if you’re high performing? Try this out (from Brendon Burchard).
Try this 3 new skills a month approach. Choose new skills at the end of every month and take a few hours to plan it out, then execute on each of them daily, reflecting on your performance along the way.
In no time, you’ll be a more skilled individual who can take on many more challenges.
You can do this!
Thanks for reading, sharing and following! :)
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