How to Learn a New Skill

Whether you’ve landed a new job or promotion or you’re just looking to better yourself and further your career, there comes a time for all of us when we’re asked to learn a new skill.

Don’t stress yourself out! It’s easier than you think to master a skill and succeed in your new endeavor. Here are seven easy ways to get the hang of just about anything.

1. Prepare Yourself to Learn a New Skill

It sounds crazy, but a bit of mental preparedness can go a long way when you want to learn a new skill.

For one thing, you should build yourself up with the most self-confidence you can muster. With confidence, you’ll be more likely to push through new or otherwise uncomfortable situations that may arise as you perfect your new skill.

You should also be sure that you’re being realistic. Your goals should align with your natural abilities. There are always limits to what you can achieve. It’s important to make sure you have the inherent skills needed to succeed in your goals.

2. Avoid Brain Overload

When you’re ready to work hard on mastering a skill, you’ll want to block out as many distractions as possible. And yes, that includes the internet.

It turns out that relying on the internet to answer the questions lingering in your brain — even if they’re questions related to the skill or topic you’re trying to master — interrupts you when you’re deep in thought. These interruptions are especially bad when coming from the internet, because there’s so much to look at and click on.

The instantaneousness of the information can ruin your focus and impede your ability to learn a new skill. In his book, Deep Work, Georgetown professor Cal Newport advises that you not look up information, even if you need it, when you’re in a work cycle. After all, why would you bother remembering something if the information is available right at your fingertips?

Psychologists call this transactive memory. Simply put, our motivation and capability to retain knowledge decreases when we have an external source of information that is easily accessible. When we limit those sources, we’re able to retain and master the subject.

3. Know Your Learning Style

You might be far removed from a classroom experience, but you can probably remember the classes where you excelled, and the ones where your teacher’s style held you back.

Did you need to sit close so that you could see and hear everything? Did you have to tackle problems yourself so that you could see first-hand how it was done? Or did you have to repeat facts over and over to make them stick?

Of course, you still might need a little bit of help discerning the type of learner you are, and there are plenty of educational quizzes designed to make it clear. Once you know the answer, tailor your training methods to match your preference, whether you need illustrations, instructions or hands-on experience.

4. Block Out Your Schedule

No one becomes a master of anything overnight. In fact, Malcolm Gladwell once published research indicating that, in order to become one of the “outliers” in terms of your mastery of a high-level skill, you would have to spend 10,000 hours practicing. That’s roughly 90 minutes a day for 20 years.

Take a deep sigh of relief, because it’s been proven that this is not entirely true. In fact, some experts responded to the 10,000-hour claim by saying that you can actually master something in months or years, depending on a variety of factors, including your natural ability. Obviously, you can’t control that — but you can control your dedication to the task.

Set aside a bit of time each day to practice the skill you hope to master. Or, if it’s something you can’t practice at home — imagine you want to improve your public-speaking skills in the office —  strive to improve your efforts each day. Someone trying to be more vocal, for example, might make a point to pipe up at least once during the first five minutes of every workplace meeting.

5. Break Down the Task

Climbing a mountain in a day is a daunting task, which is why so many hikers carry along tents, food and blankets so that they can tackle it over a more reasonable stretch.

Similarly, when you want to learn a new skill, you should boil down the sub-skills that your desired main skill requires and knock them off of your list one by one. That way, you’ll have benchmarks along the way to chart your progress without overwhelming yourself by feeling so far from your goal.

6. Ask an Expert

There’s only so much you can learn about a skill by reading books and watching videos about it. Even when you start digging in with your own two hands, you might hit a roadblock that only an expert can help you with.

There’s your answer, then: track someone down who has the skill you’re looking to master. It might be someone working in your company who’s higher up, or someone you met at a networking event or even a person you connect with on a business networking site like LinkedIn.

You’ll find that most people are happy to share the informational wealth. And, in order to keep that trend going, you can pay it forward by…

7. Show Someone Else What You’ve Accomplished

Once you’ve reached a certain level of mastery in your new skill, it’s time for you share it with someone else. And, while this is certainly a noble pursuit, it’ll benefit you along the way.

As you explain a task or skill to someone else, you’ll hone your own understanding and therefore make yourself better at whatever it is you’ve set out to do. You can make it even more effective by setting up a training session, so that you can show multiple people at the office how to do what you’ve done.

Want an even bigger challenge? Schedule your training session a few months down the road so you can have a timeline for reaching milestones yourself.

Once You’ve Finished…

Congratulations! You’ve dedicated yourself to learning something new, and you made it happen. Did you use our steps or add in some of your own? Let us know how you did it in the comments section below.

And, once you’ve done that, subscribe to the career advice newsletter to get more posts and tips to honing your skills and advancing your career.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

2 Comments on How to Learn a New Skill in 7 Steps

  1. Johnny
    December 13, 2016 at 5:46 pm (5 years ago)

    I just wanted to leave a note and let you know that I enjoy reading your posts. They’ve helped me in improving my performance at work and career goals. I work as a career advisor at a college so I’ve recently started adding your postwar social media pages. I’m the social media manager. The students seem to like reading your posts and always ask me where I get them and I refer them to your site. I would just like to say thank you

    • Sarah Landrum
      December 13, 2016 at 5:59 pm (5 years ago)

      Wow, that means so much! Thank you so much, Johnny, for the kind words and for helping by sharing the posts with your students! Are there any particular topics your students are interested in learning more about?


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