How to Learn and Improve Any Skill

Photo by Eddy Klaus on Unsplash

“The amount of time spent on an activity doesn’t matter. Some people spend 10,000 hours on something and don’t really get any better at it. They’re in routine. They aren’t being pushed. They aren’t digging into the pain. They aren’t curious enough to uproot their current assumptions and replace them with more expansive ones.” -Benjamin P. Hardy

There’s a lot of confusion about what it really means to “learn” something these days. Many people will tell you it’s about repetition and “putting in the hours.”

But is it really? Because I know a lot of people who have sat college papers 3–4 times. Sure, they were putting in a lot of time and effort, there was certainly a lot of repetition on their part, but they were never actually learning.

And how do I know? Because they never produced a different result.

To quote Dan Sullivan,

“You didn’t learn something if you can’t produce a new outcome. That’s all learning is — the ability to produce an outcome.”

If you’re not producing a new outcome for yourself in the world, then you’re not actually learning; you’re stuck. Sure, you might have a lot of head knowledge. You may look and sound smart.

But without knowledge and then aligned action, you didn’t learn, and nor do you know. Said Dr. Stephen Covey, “To learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know.”

Thus, true learning means you see, feel, and act differently in the world. You don’t continue to operate how you were. You don’t produce the same outcomes over and over again. Rather, you change.

You become who you should be, rather than stay as who you are. Your worldview is continually expanding rather than just spinning in circles. You begin to see the same thing with new eyes. Wrote Benjamin P. Hardy,

“True learning occurs when you can see the same thing with new eyes.”

With that quick primer on what it actually means to “learn” something, the remainder of this article will break down how to learn and improve any skill.

Here we go.

Practice with Intention

In his book,Peak Anders Ericsson explains that doctors with just a few years of experience are often better than those with several decades of experience.


Because the younger doctors have attended medical school more recently and are more likely to remember their training. While the older doctors’ abilities have begun to decline in the absence of any intention to improve.

They’ve got stuck in the day-to-day. They’re in routine. They’re acting out of knowledge rather than curiosity. And to quote Benjamin P. Hardy,

“Nothing great has ever come out of someone trying to maintain their current position or status.”

What I’m getting at here, is that just showing up to your job, sitting to down to write, or going out to the golf course, will not necessarily lead to improvement.

Getting to a “comfortable” level and then just repeatably going through the motions is how you unknowingly find yourself trapped beneath a glass ceiling.

In order to improve in any area, you need to have a clear focus on developing certain aspects of the task rather than simply approaching it with a general goal of getting better.

What this might look like, is that if you’re a guitarist wanting to “get better,” you’d actually break that goal down further and make it far more specific and defined.

For example, what is it that you actually want to get better at? Playing faster? Learning more songs? Actually strumming the right notes?

Say it is you want to play faster, you couldn’t just play and hope you get faster. Rather, you’d have practice deliberately. You’d have to make a plan and reverse engineer the result you want.

You might start by focusing on what both your hands are doing, you may try some different picking techniques, you could use a metronome and gradually increase your speed along to the beat.

You get the idea… The key in any skill is to take your general goal of getting better and turn it into a specific process for improvement. The next point will help.

Get a Teacher

Billionaire and author Gary Keller has said, “Any time in your life you are hitting up against the ceiling of achievement, you’re missing a person”

Similarly, Michael Fishman has said,

“Self-made is an illusion. There are many people who played divine roles in you having the life that you have today.”

Don’t think you can or need to do it alone because you can’t. There have been many people who have shaped the life that you have today, and if you wish to improve, there will need to be many people who shape you going forward.

A teacher might be in the form of a mentor or a coach, an online course or a book. However, as we’ll get to, it will be far more beneficial to have a real person that you meet with either in person or via the interwebs for the sake of feedback and accountability.

Of course, Lao Tzu has famously said,

“When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready, the teacher will disappear.”

And while true, why wait until you’re “ready”? Waiting is passive. Instead, you could be proactive and find one for yourself right now.

In order to do so, however, you’d have to give something on your part. You’d have to actually make it worth the other persons time. The simplest way? Invest in their goals.

This may literally mean reaching out to your dream mentors and offering free labor. Or more simply, it may mean paying them. The questions is, are you worth it?

Are you invested enough in your own life to justify spending $60 for an hour of a personal trainer’s time?

Do you see spending hundreds of dollars on coaching as potentially the best investment of your life? Or do you see it as just a waste of money?

More than just learning from a teacher, investing in your goals is also how you change your very psychology in relation to those goals; you commit to wanting more than you currently have.

So, are you worth it?

Measure and Report Performance

“When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.” -Thomas S. Monson

What are you actually working towards right now? Are you heading in the right direction? Have you taken a wrong turn? Or are you just spinning in circles?

How would you know?

I can guarantee that if you’re not measuring your progress, you’re probably more off-track than you think. Life has a way of throwing up obstacles and taking you in all sorts of places without you even knowing it.

Thus, you need a way of staying on track. You need a way to know if you’re failing or succeeding. In short, you need to measure the key metrics of what you’re doing. You need to note what you did and what outcome you produced.

And more than just writing it down in private, report it to someone. Become accountable. Tell someone you’re going to do something and then follow through.

In Conclusion

Do you practice with intention?

Have you got a teacher?

Is your performance measured and then reported?

Will you continually produce better and different outcomes in the world, or will you stay stuck in routine?

The choice is yours.

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