Ultimate How-To Guide for Learning Any Skill

I tried to learn how to code and failed. Twice.

It’s a funny story actually.

Several years back, I decided to learn how to code with the idea that in order to become an entrepreneur, coding will come useful, especially in the beginning when you don’t have enough capital to hire developers.

So my journey of becoming a coder began. At first, I paid a subscription on a monthly basis. The first couple of months it went great, but then my motivation completely drained and I stopped.

For an entire year, I had this guilt trip that I just need to learn it, otherwise, my entrepreneurship career is dead. A silly belief I know.

Fast forward a year, I started again. This time, I was prepared.

I got a coach and an instructor. One would think you cannot fail like this.

Two weeks in, I bailed coding. And I bailed it for good.

I don’t hold a grudge towards coding, but I decided to divert my focus on other things.

As an educator by profession, I was both pissed off and stoked that this could happen.

How can I fail to learn a skill, when I need to educate other people and be extremely efficient at it? Usually, I was quite proficient at it, but this time, it just didn’t work.

So the quest began to create the best learning algorithm.

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My goal was to create the best learning algorithm and become so efficient in learning that you can learn anything in the least amount of time. It didn’t matter what skill that was — anything that can help you grow personally or professionally.

I defined a two-step process:

  1. Research top experts in the field of learning and extract universal principles that repeat.
  2. Use my knowledge and experience in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning to improve their process.

The first part was kind of weird.

I locked myself in a room for about a month and started reading, watching, and listening everything I could find on the topic, from best experts in the field, such as Tim Ferris, Brian Tracey, Josh Kaufman, Josh Waitzkin and many more.

After a month or so, I ended up with a list of steps one needs to take to learn whatever skill they want. Also, with a big beard.

But to me, it seemed that something was missing. It felt incomplete.

So the second part began.

I dedicated myself to improving these steps.

I have, to be honest here — it takes a lot of work to improve something people worked on for years, but since I was in the Education industry for years now and kind of obsessed with it, to me it was the perfect challenge.

The output of it was something I refer to as “Learning Algorithm.”

A seven-step process for learning any skill you want in the least amount of time.

So let’s start!

1. Preparation

This is something that a lot of people leave out of their learning process when they try to learn something.

The first thing to understand if you are trying to learn a skill that is not in line with your current skill set or your talents? It will be a big challenge. Because you are not used to the certain type of information and the way you should approach them.

Know that this is not a deal breaker, this article will show you how you should approach any type of knowledge for any skill you desire to learn.

The second thing to have in mind is the purpose of the skill you are trying to learn, whether is for personal enjoyment or professional advance.

Why is this important?

Because the approach to learning one or the other is different. The motivation for personal tends to be intrinsic and much stronger, whilst for a professional advance can be intrinsic, but in most cases is external so people can grow their career.

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If you remember my example with coding, you’ll notice this pattern.

Coding was definitely something not in line with any of the skills I currently know (I barely know math), and the second thing I didn’t start learning it for enjoyment, but rather from the pressure that this was the only thing limiting me from becoming an entrepreneur.

This created strong mental and emotional barriers and in the end, lead me to bail on trying to learn it.

Now I understand why that happened, and how my approach should be in the future.

Here are a couple of things you should have defined before you start learning anything:

  • Why do I want to learn this particular skill? What is my motivation for it, is it something I want to do as a hobby for personal enjoyment or it will help me grow professionally, so I can become an expert in the field and take my career to another level?

  • Does this skill work well with my current skill set? If not, is there anything I should have in mind before I start? How can I use existing set of skill to make learning new skill easier (Example: knowing negotiation skill makes it easier to learn about persuasion).What approach can make it easier for me to learn this skill?

  • What approach can make it easier for me to learn this skill?

Once you define these things, you should also prepare your environment. That means that you should define a place where you can commit to your learning in peace, without interruptions and also that people around you are aware the importance of your learning.

2. Research

This is a two-sided coin because technology makes it really easy for us to access various resources online for free, but it became overcrowded with a lot of information that are just distracting you.

This includes cat pictures, latest must-know news about the Kardashians, and the top five Donald Trumps (Drumpfs) racist outbursts.

So you have to put additional effort to find information that is relevant to you.

A couple of suggestions for this.

  • Find experts in a specific field:

You can literally search for: Top Experts In The Area Of_______.

Here, people have a tendency to make a mistake and limit themselves to books. So the next step is to expand it to different channels.

  • Different channels for acquiring information:

Books/audio books, podcasts, online courses/in-person courses (in your city), talks (on TED or Youtube), conferences and seminars, coaches & instructors, online communities, etc.

But the idea is that you have a variety of different resources you can use. All you need to do is a start, search and find whatever you can on the topic, and adapt it to your type of learning.

Useful tip #1: Create a place (folder) from the start, and make sure you store all of the information you find in one place and that is clear and structured. Later on, it will help you a lot when you need find which ones you will use.

Useful tip #2: Try to find someone who has managed to learn that skill in the least amount of time, and sees how you can model what they did. The suggestion here doesn’t adapt literally everything, always adapt it to yourself and your personality.

Useful tip #3: Be careful of paralysis by analysis. This means that we have a tendency to search, read, scroll and store, but we procrastinate actual learning.

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3. Deconstruction

This might be the make it or break it step. Basically, trying to learn an entire skill is possible, but extremely difficult.

Because of that, you need to break it down into smaller pieces.

Every skill consists of a specific number of components. When you go through data you just gathered, see how many pieces can you break it down. Let’s use this example:

If you want to learn how to speak in public, the skill can be broken down into following components:

  • What is public speaking and what are the main components?
  • Speech structure
  • Preparation
  • Eliminating fear of public speaking
  • Audience management and handling objections

And so on… you get the idea.

Each skill usually has several main components and once you define them — there is no need to learn everything in each one of them, but just enough to get you going.

Let’s go onto finding that “just enough” amount of information.

4. Selection

At this point, you have your skill broken down into smaller components and you have resources for each one. The next thing you need to do is find a minimum effective dose which you can learn, that will make acquiring a new skill much easier.

The idea is to apply 80/20 Rule (or Pareto Principle).

The Rule states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. But what does this mean for you?

It means that your should focus on specific 20% of the data you’ve gathered, and you will get roughly 80% results.

For an example: By learning 1000 words of Spanish, you would be able to make up to 70% – 80%  of any Spanish conversation.

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5. Sequencing

Okay, so you’ve done what I asked you to do. You prepared yourself, did the research, deconstructed your skill and selected what needs to be learned. What’s next?

The next thing is to take what you have selected and put it into a logical flow.

I will take the example with public speaking again.

Learning how to handle objections, before you know what public speaking is, makes no sense. You need to set up a foundation for yourself and build on top of it.

Your job here is to take the deconstructed components and the minimum effective dose within them and create a sequence so you can start learning one at the time. You can even ask someone who is already proficient in the area for help.

6. Investment

This section is called investment because of a very specific reason.

Because investing in knowledge has the highest return rate, both in the personal and professional area of your life.

From the very beginning, you have to be clear what are the stakes of learning: What you are about to gain in the form of a reward, or lose in the form of a punishment if you don’t commit yourself to acquiring this particular skill.

Remember that inner motivation has the highest drive and have in mind that relying on the external motivators (rewards or punishments), can suffocate your inner drive… which will eventually lead to doing something for the sake of doing it, without any enjoyment whatsoever.

It becomes a task, rather than a process that makes you grow (personally or professionally).

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7. Practice

Okay, you are ready. You designed a learning path for yourself, and it’s time to stop procrastinating and start experimenting with your (soon to be acquired) skill.

Forget perfection. Learn just enough so you can correct yourself along the way.

Immerse yourself and remember to adapt what you are learning to your personality. Some things might suit you, some won’t.

But you won’t know until you start. So, start and start small.

Create a healthy ritual out of learning, something you can’t wait to get back to when you have enough free time.

You will notice these things when enthusiasm kicks in because you can see results whether is to speak with a beautiful girl or a handsome guy on your newly learned Spanish, or get a raise because you learned something that helped you achieve more results at work.

We as humans tend to complicate everything. I know that at least I do, so this is why this algorithm is so simple and can help you reach desired results fast.

Find something you would like to learn and go through these steps. Prepare yourself, see why is it that you want to learn this. Go through research and gather relevant data.

Once you research, deconstruct that skill into several components.

The next step is to find minimum effective dose in the each component. At this point you have almost everything done, you need to define the sequence in which you will learn this skill and what are you willing to invest in order to make that happen.

The final step? Practice. Try and improve. You will get better and better.

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Author: Zdravko Cvijetic

Zdravko Cvijetic, the founder of Zero To Skill, creates practical content, ranging from articles, e-guides, and courses, that will help you become a top performer, by gaining clarity on your life path, mastering your habits and becoming 3x more productive. With a degree in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning, he was able to create content that has influenced more than 100.000 people.  

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