Thoughts, stories and ideas

2020 Skill Blitz

January 1, 2020

In 2019 I had a lot more free time than I was use to. I graduated school at the end 2018 and landed a full time job pretty quick. I turned to reading to fill my time. One topic I deep dived into was personality theory. (My favorite read has been Recognizing People on that subject.) I learned that I live in my head a lot. Things sound nice and fun – but I struggle to do things with them.

I’ve wanted to pick up a few skills in that past few years. I’ve put them off for a variety of reasons. Most are just lame excuses if I’m honest with myself though. I chose to make one of my 2020 goals picking up a few new skills.

In preparation for 2020, I watched a TED talk about how to learn anything. Many people say learning a skill takes 10,000+ hours… that’s just shy of working a full-time job for 5 years. It certainly does not take that long to pick up something new. (Just think about your own life experience to debunk that.)

In reality, it only takes 20 hours of concentrated, deliberate practice to learn a skill. Investing 20 hours takes someone from gross incompetence to intermediate performance. Practicing intelligently – efficiently – is needed to see these results.

Efficient Practicing

To learn a skill, deliberate practice is needed. Following these four steps ensures the time invested into practicing is done effectively.

1. Deconstruct the skill

Decide on what you want to do when you’re done, then look into the skill and break it down into smaller and smaller pieces. Most skills are actually bundles of skills. Breaking it down reveals the sub-skills. Deciding which ones to learn first is done by knowing which ones are needed for your goal. These are the ones that you’ll practice first.

2. Learn enough to self-correct

Get a few resources to learn from (about 3-5 is ideal). Don’t use them to procrastinate. Instead, learn just enough to practice and then self-correct. Correct yourself while practicing. Learning is a way of getting better and noticing when you make a mistake.

3. Remove practice barriers

Using willpower to sit down and begin practicing is needed. Many distractions arise. Diligent effort is needed to eliminate them for concentrated practice. The more you practice willpower, the easier it becomes – but it’s still daily battle. (I’d recommend reading The War of Art if you’re interested in this topic.)

4. Practice at least 20 hours

Most skills have have a frustration barrier. We don’t like to feel incompetent or stupid. Committing to practice at least 20 hours ensures you get over the barrier and you stick to it long enough to see the rewards.

The biggest barrier to skill acquisition is not intellectual, but emotional. (I learned this life lesson a number of times from different sources. I’m hoping 2020 helps me cement it as a value.)

The Blitz Roundup

After watching the TED talk and learning it only takes 20 hours to pick up a new skill, I’ve decided I want to try learning six new skills:

  1. Playing the guitar
  2. Cooking
  3. Riding a dirt bike
  4. ??????
  5. ??????
  6. ??????

My idea is that dedicating 2 months to each skill is more than sufficient to get 20 hours of deliberate practice. I’ve yet to decide on three skills to learn – but I have a half the year to decide on what those will be.

I’m kicking off the year by learning to play the guitar. Here’s to hoping I can put more of my thoughts into action.