How to Learn Anything
My process for learning that can be deployed to just about anything
You could say I have no business doing some of the things I’ve been able to do. I qualified and competed in the Junior Olympics when I was twelve while being an admittedly average athlete. I played guitar in bands in high school with no formal training. I started a business after high school with no experience. I got a scholarship to Art school as an average artist. And I’ve spent the last 15+ years working in technology with a Marketing degree.
I don’t mean any of this to come across as bragging - I am an average guy and indeed was an average student. However, I have found a process for learning that can be deployed to just about anything. A method to get you in the door and getting some early wins under your belt while you work towards your 10,000 hours. While this may not work for everyone, here is the process that has worked (and continues to work) for me.
Define the Outcomes #
Before attempting to learn anything new, I try to be very specific about what I want the outcome of this effort to be. Maybe the outcome is I want to build a simple note-taking mobile application with React Native. Or I want to learn how to play my favorite song on the piano in the next 30 days. Or, I want to run my first 5k before my next birthday.
Having a specific goal in mind gives us a North Star to aim for and filter to judge our activities through. More specifically - continuing to ask yourself, “Is this activity helping me get closer to my goal” has helped me stay on track and ensure I'm putting energy into the most practical tasks.
Plot the Course #
Once you have the outcome defined, it’s time to identify how you will accomplish this goal. Are you going to take a group class with others that have the same plan? Maybe there’s a course online that will walk you through the specifics? If you’re a big reader, maybe starting with a book could be the next best step?
I try to identify the best way to approach achieving this outcome based on my learning style. For example, I learn by doing. Lectures with no hands-on implementation are a sure-fire way for me not to reach a goal. Knowing this means I can quickly weed out solutions that won’t help me achieve the objective and lean into the best process that fits my personality.
Create Realistic Milestones #
With the process defined, it’s time to create realistic checkpoints. I'll use this as a way to break down the big goal into bite-sized tasks and add timing to those activities. I'll also be looking at this exercise through the reality filter. If my first task to run a 5k is “Run six-minute mile by this weekend,” there is no universe where that will happen. Missed tasks can be discouraging, which is counterproductive to reaching our objective. Break down the objective into steps, add timing to keep you focused, and make the tasks realistic so they’re achievable.
Identify an Expert #
You've probably heard the expression, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” I've found the learning process to be much more effective when I can identify one or two people I can call on to ask questions when I'm stuck, double-check my milestones, and have in my back pocket along the way.
Sure, I can do this solo, but it's hard to replace working with someone who has walked where you're going. I'll caveat that if someone agrees to help, I’ll always try to be respectful of their time. If I'm stuck on something, I'll do everything I can to get unstuck and compile all my questions into one message or phone call versus reaching out multiple times a day without genuinely trying to fix the problem first.
Put in the Work #
I’m naturally stubborn. While that wasn’t a quality my parents appreciated while growing up, it has been a helpful tool for gaining new skills. If I’ve taken all the above steps, I will put in the time to reach that objective. For me, that could mean working a full day, spending time with my family, then working on those milestones from 11 pm - 3 am while everyone is sleeping. I'll do this every day and through the weekend because that's how I'm wired. My stubbornness at times manifests as an extreme focus and dedication until that objective is reached.
I know this sounds ridiculous. And for others like my wife that require a regular 8-hour sleep schedule to work efficiently, getting 4 hours of sleep a night for weeks on end is not feasible. The point isn't to throw out an unachievable objective but rather to encourage you to identify what “putting in the work” means for you.
Keep Going #
When you've identified a process that works for you, it's liberating. We now live in an era where all the knowledge and some of the best teachers in the world are just a Google search away. This is the best time to be alive for those that want to learn, feel stuck in their current position, or want to level up. If you can read this post, you have the tools and you can do this. Here's to average people doing extraordinary things.