How to Learn Anything

When I was ready to graduate high school, I watched many of my friends entering careers or going off to college to study things they were passionate about—things they were good at and had been interested in for years. I was a dabbler. I dipped my toes into soccer, horseback riding, gymnastics, cross country, clarinet, guitar, the fine arts, acting, and more. I earned straight A’s in every subject. But I didn’t feel like I was GOOD at anything. I certainly didn’t know what I should be doing next, much less with the rest of my life.

 What I didn’t know then was that I never learned how to actually acquire a skill. I learned how to start new projects and to drop them when I grew bored, or things got hard. Learning a skill is, well, a skill.

 I first got the formula when I picked up the violin, at the age of 20. At that age, most people pick it up as a hobby, and at best will become successful amateur players. From the very beginning, I felt a sense of urgency to learn as quickly as I could, and to play for as many hours as I could find. It soon became a passion, and I felt that I’d never be able to play as a hobby—I had to become a violinist.

 I was discouraged by nearly everyone I encountered. Every teacher at my college told me I was too old, it was too hard, I should choose something else. But I was determined, and I had one person that believed in me, and encouraged me: my violin teacher. She saw how hard I worked, and didn’t believe in relying on raw talent. She decided to help me grow it.

 I learned the most important lessons of my life from her. I learned how to develop a skill, playing the violin, and soon afterwards, I had two degrees in music, was managing a violin shop, and eventually teaching my own students.

 Several years later, I joined a fitness group with a coach who approached fitness differently than anyone else I’ve encountered—he approached it as a skill. I soon saw how many connections there were between learning an instrument, and becoming “good” at fitness, as I trained for my first bodybuilding competition.

 In about 9 months, I was on stage, and looked like I belonged there. More importantly, the experience had solidified in my mind what it takes to develop and change short- and long-term habits in order to achieve specific goals. I realized that these steps can be taken and applied to anything—budgeting, language, productivity—even finishing that book you’ve been meaning to read for a year that’s still sitting on your shelf.

 The skill you choose to acquire doesn’t need to be something you’re passionate about. Nor does it have to be something you were born with a talent for. Motivation and willpower are fleeting, so learning how to break through those walls will enable you to break farther in your subject than sheer determination. The process will encompass how to break down the steps necessary to manipulate the learning process, and how to ingrain the practice of anything into your life.