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How To Learn Anything In 20 Hours



“I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the piano”. “I wish I could code”. “I’d love to learn how to speak Spanish.” We often make these kind of statements whenever we see experts in various fields that interest us so gracefully use their skills with ease and enthusiasm.

We want to learn how to do so many things but most of the time, we are scared and overwhelmed by all of the materials we need to study and all the time needed to practice before we become as good as those “experts”.

We often do not where to start and sooner than later, we give up on acquiring that skill we so badly want to learn and need to make our lives better.

To make matters worse, just take a moment to type in “how many hours does it take to learn a new skill” in any search engine and you’ll most likely see a huge and highly discouraging “10, ooo hours” pop up in response.

The moment we hear 10,000 hours, we simply say “Well, I don’t have that time”.

Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business and the new book, The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast! has disproved Malcolm Gladwell’s thesis that it takes 10,000 hours to learn a new skill, he explains why it’s so hard to learn new skills, how to decide which skills to focus on and more.

Here is an excerpt from a Forbes Interview, Josh Kaufman has with Dan Schawbel on Forbes:

Why is it so hard to learn new skills in the beginning?

Most of us are deeply disturbed at the prospect of being horrible at something, even temporarily. When you try something new, you’re usually very bad, and you know it. The easiest way to eliminate that feeling of angst is to quit practicing and go do something else, so that’s what most of us do.

The early hours of trying something new are always challenging, but a little persistance can result in huge increases in skill. The human brain is optimized to pick up new skills extremely quickly. If you persist and practice in an intelligent way, you’ll always experience dramatic improvements in a very short period of time.

Can you share a time in your life when you were trying to learn a new skill and what you did to not get frustrated?

I just learned how to program, since creating software to automate certain parts of my business would make my day-to-day life much easier.

At the beginning, learning how to code was a constant struggle: programming involves setting up your computer in a certain way, learning arcane commands, and trying not to throw your computer across the room when it didn’t do what I wanted it to do.

Pushing through the early frustration involved a few simple techniques. First, I precommitted to putting in at least 20 hours of practice, which made it much easier to persist when the going got rough instead of quitting at the first sign of difficulty. Second, I learned just enough about the core concepts to start writing real programs, instead of spending a ton of time completing canned tutorials. Third, I broke my program into smaller parts, then worked on one at a time until the software worked, testing and fixing bugs along the way.

As a result, I became a reasonably competent Ruby programmer after only 20 hours of practice. Today, my business runs completely on custom software I created. Programming is a now skill that I use every day, and the short and long-term rewards for developing the skill are huge.

Do you believe it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill? Are there any shortcuts?

I think the idea of “mastering” a skill when you’re just getting started is counterproductive: it can be a significant barrier to exploring a new skill in the first place.

The original research that resulted in the “10,000 hour rule” is valid, as far as it goes. Dr. K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University, as well as other researchers, have found that it takes around 10 years or 10,000 hours of practice to reach the top of ultracompetitive, easily ranked performance fields, like professional golf, music performance, or chess. In those fields, the more time you’ve spent in deliberate practice, the better you perform compared to people who have practiced fewer hours.

Most of the time, however, performance in ranked competition against world-class rivals isn’t the goal: it’s far more likely that you want to pick up a new skill to get a particular outcome. For career skills, the focus is on performing well enough to produce a result that’s meaningful to you. For personal skills and hobbies, the focus is on enjoying the process and having fun.

In these instances, the “10,000 hour rule” and the idea of “mastery” can actually serve as barriers to sitting down to practice  – if you believe it takes that long to see results, you’re less likely to start in the first place. The real priority is to practice enough to get the results you’re looking for, not to attain a certain level of status or competitive performance.

You don’t have to “master” every skill you ever learn. I believe that developing new skills in a way that allows you to perform *well enough for your own purposes* is – by far – the most common and valuable purpose of skill acquisition. Based on my research, reaching that level doesn’t take anywhere close to 10,000 hours – you can usually achieve the goals you set yourself in around 20 hours of deliberate practice. See the complete interview on Forbes.com

According to the renowned author, “the major barrier to skill acquisition is not intellectual. It’s emotional”. We don’t relish the idea of feeling stupid which is what we feel when we try out something for the first time, so it becomes difficult to start.

Below are four simple steps he shared on how to acquire a new skill in 20 hours in his popular TEDx talk on The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything.

  • Deconstruct the skill (into all the sub-skills involved in acquiring the skill e.g in learning to play the piano, you need to learn correct hand placements which is a sub-skill).
  • Learn just enough to self-correct and begin to practice.
  • Remove practice barriers and distractions.
  • Practice for at least 20 hours (and this doesn’t have to be at a stretch. It could be 45 minutes of disciplined practice per day for 30 days).

See the video below:


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