How to Learn just about Anything? – Part II – Acquiring Skills

We have all wanted to learn new skills like painting, singing, playing an instrument as an adult when we do not have the luxury of attending series of classes or the 10,000 hours as claimed by several. It is not so hard and even some life skills like swimming, driving can be learnt in as low as 20 hours. In this post we discuss the method for acquiring a skill at an amateur level at the shortest possible time.

Planning Stage:

Step 1: Define Success

A clearly defined goal is the starting point of the journey. Don’t start with more than one skill or goal.

Eg: 1) To be able to type 60 wpm using a qwerty keyboard with not more than 3 mistakes.
2) To be able to do a portrait sketch in pencil with reasonable semblance.
3) To be able to play ‘chinna chinna asai‘ song in my keyboard with correct tempo and tune.
4) To be able to swim across the 50m pool in freestyle without stopping
5) To be able to park the car in any parking lot properly

Defining Success
Defining Success

You can always build upon your knowledge sequentially, but it is important to do it only one at a time. Once you have reached your goal, you can give yourself a tougher goal in the same skill, or move on to a different one, as you choose.

Let us also address, motivation issues here. Learning a skill is hard, a goal with a purpose often works better than learning for leaning sake. For Eg: I want to learn conversational Gujarati so that I can talk to my fiance’s parents when I meet them in 5 weeks works better than I want to learn Gujarati.

So let your goal be,
“I want to learn ___________ in ___ time, so that I may ________”

Step 2: Deconstruct the Process

You may have noticed swimming, driving classes for absolute beginners are for about 20 hours in general. In 20 hours they are able to take you from someone who has never been inside water to be able to swim reach from one end of the pool to another, or in case driving as someone who has never been on driver seat to be able to handle from the highways to the chaotic Indian roads.

Josh Kauffman in his research as found similarly that learning any skill can be done in 20 hours.

You are by no means going to come out the other side as the next Michael Phelps or Michael Schumacher but would have learnt just enough to survive the roads or the water.

Any skill involves a series of steps. so first we need to deconstruct the steps. For example, the goal of swimming across the pool would involve mastering steps like:

  1.  Hand Movement
  2.  Leg Movement
  3.  Breathe in
  4.  Breathe Out
  5.  Take Off
  6.  Landing
  7.  Turn
  8.  Landing a Jump
  9.  Body Posture
  10.  Float

Step 3: Select: Identify Key Components

Pareto’s rule of 80/20 fits well into this context i.e 80% of your learning is going to come from 20% of your components. The most important components for the considered Goal according to me would be

  1. Floating
  2. Breathing
  3. Hand Movement
  4. Leg Movement

 

Learning to swim

So from about 10 + components we have identified  key components that we will focus on for our 20 hours of learning. For critical skills like swimming, driving etc which can endanger your or other lives when not practiced properly, it is preferable to have a trainer or atleast an experienced person around you while practicing. But for all skills, it is beneficial to have a trainer, who can provide good feedback and prevent you from practicing incorrectly. But professionals can at times impart incorrect/non-beneficial industry practices that does not suit your lifestyle or goal. You may notice that your driving methods resemble a lot to the person you have learnt from. So choose your trainer well.

Step 4: Sequence the Learning

In pencil sketching, the learning would start with choosing the right HB Pencils, holding the pencil,  lines and then shades.

Similarly in swimming, one has to learn to float to be able to get over the fear of drowning, then combine it with learning of hand, leg movements and breathing to be able to swim. Each of this can be identified as a sub skill and learnt and until it is reasonably mastered.

Step 5: Plan for failures

Visualizing that you have failed and to find out reasons for failure is one of the easiest ways to find out where we may fall before we even start. Pre-mortem your result and identify the weak links that may have caused you to fail and account for them in your practice. You may be too lazy to pull the guitar out to practice, put a stand near your favorite chair. Your partner may get too busy to practice salsa, find an alternative.  You’d be too lazy to follow through and finish lessons on your Gujarati, schedule the sessions with your tutor and pay for them ahead of time. You think you might put off learning cooking again – Invite your friends over a home cooked dinner at a scheduled date. Websites like StickK can really help you in sticking to your commitments.

Practice Stage:

This is the most important stage of the learning, where the initial enthusiasm of learning a new skill can quickly get replaced by the frustration of not making a progress fast enough. This is why the purpose of the goal that we mentioned in planning stage is very important. While our tactics will help you get through it in record time, it is still going to be frustrating and will need the purpose powered willpower to drag you through.

Pomodoro Technique

Short spurts of learning (say 20 mins) before and after your bed is the most efficient time for you to learn. While this can be definitely used for learning a musical instrument, language, typing etc it can understandably be difficult to learn swimming or windsurfing if your practice area is not in your vicinity or if the industry only provides standard slots like flight log or scuba. Go for the next best alternative.

Set up low stakes Environment

This might sound contradictory to the high stake target we set for ourselves. But it is not. For practicing set up a low stakes environment where you can fail without hurting yourself much. Start swimming in shallow waters, practice uni – cycling or bare foot running in soft grass, practice the new language with non-critical native speakers, try rope walking at a lower height or trapeze with the nets underneath.

Practice – Repeat – Commit to 20 hours

20 hours is not a lot of time. Most of us might watch more TV than that in a week. But this 20 hours may seem excruciatingly long, while practicing and miserably failing along the way. But do it anyway.

Monitor progress – Get Feedback – Get better

Have sub goals and timeline for the sub-skills that you have to develop and allot a time to integrate them. This will be no different than assembling a car, while each part that goes into making the car is quality checked on production or purchase, assembling it together will also take time and due steps need to be followed.

Keep realistic timelines for your sub- goals and measure your progress against them. Seek feedback and help as required to adjust your process and routine to help you get to the finishing line.

Taking care of Basics

I was tempted to leave this part, but it surprised me how many people mentioned this as one key part of learning that I couldn’t help but putting this in a separate section.

Hydrate Yourself:

Over 70% of the body is comprised of water and water play a huge role in helping to regulate nervous system and brain function. All the learning experts swear by the need to hydrate oneself well while attempting any learning exercise.

Exercise:

Regular exercises benefits your brain as much as it benefits your body. A fit mind in a fit body. So lace up and get going.

Recommended Read:
The First 20 Hours – Josh KauffmanAmazon.in / Amazon.com

The Master Deconstructor Tim Ferris on Accelerated Learning

How to Learn just about Anything? – Part I – Acquiring Knowledge

Schools, the hub of education has taught us what to learn. But has surprisingly never taught us ‘how to learn’. So often kids with different learning requirements are labelled ‘slow’ than find compatible teaching methods. No wonder Einstein, Edison, Graham Bell were all labelled ‘learning challenged’.

Process of Learning - JK Quote
Process of Learning

So how do we go about learning.  I’d like to broadly divide into acquiring knowledge i.e on subjects of chemistry, philosophy, investing etc and acquiring a skill. In Part 1. let us focus on acquiring knowledge. Continue reading How to Learn just about Anything? – Part I – Acquiring Knowledge

How to get Lucky?

Lucky People

We have all known people for whom things always fall into place at the right time and right place. These lucky people meet their future spouses by accident, they get a brilliant business idea from a random conversation, strangers seem to help them everywhere they go and they get introductions and guidance from the most unexpected places and people. We have all heard stories like the FEDEX founder who gambled with the last $5000 in the business and won enough to save the business and thrive. Life is full of fortunate coincidences for these lucky people.

The Everyone Else: Unlucky

They are also the other kind of people for whom bad luck and misfortune follow everywhere. After a long wait and much trying they scheduled an appointment with a big prospect who had to cancel  due to an emergency, the stocks that they invest in fall, the parking fills up just before they come, the traffic lights turn red on seeing them, they loose their valuables routinely, they don’t get the big breaks they think deserve despite their talent and hard work. The many like the talented Vinod Kambli who despite his superior batting talent had a short career unlike his friend who went on to become the little maser.

So does luck exist?

Continue reading How to get Lucky?

What to do when choices overwhelm you… everyday!

You know the feeling when you stand at popular ice-cream outlets such as Gelato, Baskin Robbins or Natural’s. There are more than a hundred choices. If you’ve had a difficult day at work, you are tempted to walk out as your brain feels the fatigue of taking one more decision from a staggering number of choices. “Let’s just go eat the falooda from the road side vendor”, you say as you walk out. What should you do when you are overwhelmed with choices? Continue reading What to do when choices overwhelm you… everyday!

How to change a habit?

Getting Ready for New Year Resolutions?

New year is less than three months away. We will soon be drawing up our list of goals, aspirations, resolutions and hope this year would be different. But like Einstein said,

“Its Insanity to expect a different result when you do the the same thing over and over”

Changing an habit is hard. 21 days of will power is not going to magically get you over the hump. So what will?

good vs bad habits
good vs bad habits

Continue reading How to change a habit?

How Rajinikanth teaches you productivity, discipline and humility

Though raised in Mumbai, I am Tamil. People from Tamil Nadu have a huge affinity for their top actor of all time, Rajinikanth. Internet memes have been created in his honour. At every movie theatre in Tamil Nadu, be in Chennai or Kanyakumari, when a Rajini movie is aired, fanatic Tamils stand up and cheer his every punch dialogue. It can be comical, entertaining, bewildering or exasperating, depending on whether you like him or not. I am not a big Rajini fan, nor do I call him a superstar, nor think he is a particularly good actor. But even I cannot deny that his so-called ‘punch dialogues‘ are packed with lessons for life, especially in the virtues of productivity, discipline and humility. Add to that the music scores that accompany his every punch line and the words seem profound and immortal!

In an acting career spanning more than 40 years, the total count of Rajini punch dialogues goes well into three figures, perhaps even four. But I have picked my favourite 8, especially those that I think have the most valuable lessons. All the dialogues are in Tamil. For the benefit of my non-Tamil friends, who are in fact the majority, I am translating the movie names and the meaning of each dialogue into English. So, get ready for the best lessons in life…. Rajini style….. Mind it, I say!!!

Movie: Padhinaru Vayadhinile (At the age of sixteen)
Dialogue: Idhu eppidi irukku?! (How about that?!)

Scene after scene, villain Rajinikanth picks on a hapless and lame Kamal Hassan, teasing him, insulting him or playing pranks that lead to injury. More insinuating is the fact that Rajnikanth turns to his other bully buddies and asks them the titled question. To which, they guffaw and whistle, leaving a hurt Kamal Hassan very humiliated.

Although used antagonistically and sarcastically in the movie, it shows the idea of constant feedback. Feedback is necessary to improve yourself and make changes. It makes you grow as a person. When you build something you care about, when you want to be better for someone you care about, it may be worthwhile to pause a while and ask, “idhu eppidi irukku?”.

Movie: Padayappa (name of the lead character in the movie)
Dialogue: En vazhi… thani vazhi! (My way …. is a different way!)

FMCG in India is a potpourri of copy cat products. Stride into the familiar aisles of a shopping mall and you see those familiar names…. Surf, Ariel, Tide and so on. I have now forgotten which one is made by Unilever, which one by P&G and so on. Because they all look and feel the same. Ditto for cold drinks from Pepsi and Coca Cola. Drink either and you don’t see the difference. Biscuits from Britannia aren’t different from those of Parle. You can pick any product from the shelf and you’ll probably forget the brand five seconds later as the product goes deep into your shopping cart.

Not with Patanjali. The company makes closer to nature products, using less preservatives and less processing. A really strong point has been their ultra-cheap pricing and their distribution network. Sometimes they book their own shelves at malls. And they even have their exclusive retail Patanjali outlets.

Leonardo da Vinci was different for his time. So was Pablo Picasso. Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos. All of them challenged the status quo and found their unique way that seperated them from the crowd. Maybe they seem eccentric to the contemporaries. Maybe they are geniuses. But surely they can say, “En vazhi…. thani vazhi”!

Movie: Baba (as in a spiritual leader, this word means the same in several Indian languages)
Dialogue: Naan yosikkaama pesamaatten. Pesina piragu yosikkamaaten
(I don’t talk without thinking. And I don’t think after having talked).

Whenever he takes a tough decision, a spiritually active Baba character played by Rajinikanth is asked several times by his peers whether he has thought it through. And every time, Baba unleashes this punch dialogue to the accompaniment of a rock music number (B to the A rap by Blaze) in the background.

This rhyme-laced dialogue is one of the two dialogues in this post that endorses the power of commitment. Before you commit to anything, you need to think it through. If you do not feel like committing, back out. If after much thinking, you realise that the commitment is for you, then go ahead. After committing, you are not encouraged to have second thoughts. You should have thought it through in the first place.

Movie: Annamalai (name of the lead character in the movie)
Dialogue: Naan sollarathayum seiven, sollaadhadhayum seiven (I do what I promise… and I do what I don’t promise)

A famous customer care mantra says, “Underpromise and overdeliver” or “Promise less and do more”. This lowers customer expectations and surprises them when you give them more.

Saying NO to your customer for something you can’t meet shows your honesty and understanding customers will adjust. On the other hand, if your promise them and then can’t keep it later, it reflects badly and the customer feels cheated. However, if you feel that a certain promise falls in the grey area and you are unsure about whether to commit it, then it is better not to do so. But in the end, if you are able to deliver it, then you should do so. The customer will be very happy.

We have seen car service companies, bakeries and electronics companies who throw in a few free goodies every time we go there. A crooked car door fixed for free, a set of free candles when the baker knows that you are buying a cake for a birthday or a complementary talk-time recharge from your mobile phone vendor make you want to do business with them again and again.

Movie: Baashha (the call-sign of the kingpin in the movie)
Dialogue: Naan oru tharava sonna, nooru dharava sonna maadhiri
(If I have said it once, it’s like I have said it a hundred times)

In this movie, while initially shown as an auto driver, the main character is revealed to be a dangerous kingpin with several connections to murder. However, like Robinhood, his bloodshed is limited to keeping other malicious kingpins in check.

This dialogue endorses commitment. The character says that he is ready to say the same thing hundred times without any change to his words. The commitment is long-standing.

Movie: Baba
Dialogue: Kadham, Kadham! Mudinjadhu mudinju pochchu
(It’s over, it’s over! Let bygones be bygones)

‘Kadham’ is a Tamil adjustment of the Hindi word, “Khatm”, due to inadequacy of letters and other grammatical rules. The word means over or finished. Several times in the movie, Baba cuts his ties with the past with a sweep of hand and this dialogue. The sweep of hand is accompanied by a blade-like sound in the background, signifying the character’s severance with his past.

Indeed, there are times in your life where your past shouldn’t be a baggage for today. If you wrecked your car in an accident in the past, it doesn’t mean that you cannot drive thousands of kilometres around your country today. At the same time, the glory of your ancestors shouldn’t get to you. Just because your ancestors were good artists doesn’t mean that you are genetically predisposed to be good with oil paint and canvas. You need to learn that yourself.

Movie: Muthu (name of the character in the movie)
Dialogue: Naan eppo varuven, eppidi varuven nu yarukkum theriyaadhu. Aana varavendiya nerathula correct-a varuven
(Doesn’t matter how I come, but I will show up on time where I need to be)

Punctuality is one of my favourite traits. I am reasonably good at it, though not 100%. No wonder then that this dialogue gets my soft corner. Muthu, the horse chariot rider, has a habit of being nowhere to be seen, but popping up at places right on time, whether it is for his master’s temple prayers or to rescue someone from an evil antagonist. This dialogue is repeated twice or thrice in the movie, everytime when Muthu unexpectedly crawls out of the woodwork to save the day.

Two things to learn from this dialogue are:
1. Be on time
2. Always show up. Don’t be absent when you are needed there.

Both actions exude reliability. It makes everyone trust you and depend safely on you. First, they’ll know that you won’t miss and that you will show up. And then, that you will show up on time.

There is just one thing about Muthu that I don’t agree with. For theatrical effect, he pops up at the last minute. I like to be where I need to be with plenty of time to spare. Reaching the airport 90 minutes before the flight when the rules call for 45. Waking up at 4:15 am and getting my laptop, phone and charger ready and plugged and booted up so that I start typing on my keyboard at 4:30 am. Last-gasp punctuality will eventually run out of luck. A wonderful article about ‘doing something’ and ‘managing to just do something’ was written by Priya, my wife, a few months ago.

Movie: Padayappa
Dialogue: Kashta padaama edhuvum kadaikathu. Kashta padaama kidaichchadhu ennikkume nelaikkadhu
(Nothing is attained without struggle. That which is attained without struggle doesn’t last)

Famous performers like Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson succumbed to the temptation of drugs to enhance their performance on stage. Later, the abuse got to them and they lost their lives. Taking drugs to enhance performance is a short-cut. The body is made to burn harder and extract more performance from the muscles. Such performance is not sustainable and the body eventually responds with a seizure or a heart attack. We have seen these during high-stakes sports events like Tour de France and the Olympics. The glory is often short-lived before the athletes are found out and shamed.

And then there are people like Usain Bolt, who worked their way to the top with sheer struggle and practice. It’s the same case for Michael Jordan.

We see these shortcuts in every field. Falsification of reports, fudging of account books and flouting taxes to show a higher profit to shareholders as against working on the sales pitch and the quality of products to sustainably and honestly find more customers to book real profits. Slipping towards the easy way. But the easy way is often an unethical, illegal and unhealthy way.

Rajinikanth’s Padayappa character reminds us not to fall into the trap of the easy way out. That which is attained through a lifetime of struggle stays with us. And that which is attained via shortcuts slips away.

Conclusion

Rajnikanth still acts in movies and continues to unleash punch dialogues. But with this article, I urge you to analyse those dialogues as lessons for life rather than as one-line entertainers. You will be surprised at what you learn.

Book summary: Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass SunsteinBook title: Nudge
Author: Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
ISBN-10: 0141040017
ISBN-13: 978-0141040011
Buy on Amazon.in | Amazon.com

Nudge is a book written by American behavioural economist and nobel prize (Economics) winner Richard Thaler and lawyer Cass Sunstein, who takes deep interest in behavioural economics and ethics in law-making and government policies.

The premise of the book is that one can highly influences choices and decisions that people make by subtly modifying the way that choices are presented. In doing so, they describe a role named ‘choice architect’, whose responsibility is to carefully design choices so that choice-makers can be protected from bad choices and led to good choices. Continue reading Book summary: Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein


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Wind-down routine: The perfect lullaby

I have talked about a morning route to rouse your day here. However, finishing your day with a routine is as important as starting your day with one. As with a morning routine, a wind-down routine is an excellent way to get you from wakefulness to deep sleep. Being an long time insomniac and a light sleeper, I can say that a wind-down routine has worked very well for me. Continue reading Wind-down routine: The perfect lullaby

Four steps to Focus better and Win your day

For a maker, the ability to Focus is one of the most important assets even over their technical skills. Cal Newport in his book ‘Deep Work‘ predicts that Focus will be a competitive advantage for the makers. In this post let us examine some Do’s and Don’ts to achieve better focus and thereby better success.

Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas, suggests things that we can do in our every day life to focus better.

Stop Multitasking

When we multi task, what we are actually doing is switching tasks. As in a production run, even in our head, there is a cost to switching from one task to another. There are certain tasks that are conducive to multitasking, and some that are not.

Continue reading Four steps to Focus better and Win your day

Live rich, feel rich, today, right now!

In his book Automatic Wealth, author Michael Masterson (aka Mark Ford) keeps re-iterating the difference between having a lot of money in your bank account and living rich. I was skeptical when I first read the title of the topic. How can someone live rich without having piles of money in his/her bank account? As I read the topic further and further, it became more and more convincing. After reading the last few words from this compelling section of this must-read book, I had a big smile on my face and an invigorating thought, “YES. I can live rich TODAY and RIGHT NOW.” Continue reading Live rich, feel rich, today, right now!