All you need is 20 Hours

Do you often find yourself striving to learn more but oftentimes giving up when you slowly realize how much time and effort is needed to achieve the level of success you strive for? We all have those few things that we wish we could pick up as a side hobby, whether it be learning to play the guitar, becoming fluent in a new language, or picking up a new sport as an adult. Wanting to learn something comes from the curious part of ourselves, our inner child that gets excited by something new. But then what seems to halt us from reaching a point of success is the work that we have to put in to get there. Coupled with the responsibilities of school and work, the feat seems even more daunting. 

Josh Kaufman, author of The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything.. Fast and The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business has developed a framework for helping individuals develop a strategy to continue their learning even during those rough early stages where most of us give up. Through extensive research, he came up with four different steps that can guide you into achieving your learning objectives in as little as 20 hours total. He found that most skills can be acquired, at least at a basic level of proficiency within just 20 hours of focused and intentional practice. Broken up, it is about 45 minutes of practice every day for 1 month. 

Although there is a clear strategy to acquiring knowledge, the goal of the individual must be understood as learning to become proficient rather than learning just for the sake of it. For example, a few years ago I had taken a surfing lesson on the Oregon Coast. It was the second time I had taken a lesson and my instructor was a former professional surfing coach who approached teaching newbies with similar vigor to training seasoned professionals. At the beginning of the course, he told us that he could teach us how to surf only if we were interested in actually learning how to surf. What he meant was, the class was not going to be a ride in the park but he would give us the skills we’d need to be proficient enough to enjoy surfing on our own. As someone who takes surfing lessons once every few years, a class like this did not align with my mindset of enjoying myself on the beach while still being active in the ocean water. But what I learned was there is a difference between learning for the experience and learning for proficiency. The latter requires resilience, humility, and perseverance. 

Here are the Four Steps to Simplifying the Learning Process 

1. Simplify skills into fundamental components 

Before beginning the challenge of learning new skills, study the progression process and break it down into smaller steps that are more manageable to achieve. Create a multi step breakdown to allow yourself to slowly climb the imaginary mountain of learning a new skill. Figure out what skills are prerequisites or if there is any required former knowledge. 

2. Identify Mistakes 

Acquire enough knowledge to know when you are making a mistake to build self awareness and act as your own coach. Kauffman recommends getting 3 to 5 resources on the topic that you are trying to learn. It could be DVDs, books, podcasts, personal lessons, etc. Although try to set limits to the number of resources you’re consulting so that you avoid getting overwhelmed or potentially procrastinating. Consult supplemental resources only when needed. 

3. Remove Barriers to Practice

The time spent on learning needs to be as focused as possible which will require minimal to zero distractions. This may require you to remove your electronic devices from your working area while you practice your new hobby. A way to trick your brain into enjoying your task is to practice your new activity with one of your favorite passive hobbies. Katherine Milkman calls it “temptation bundling”, combining  something you love to do with something you are trying to get yourself to do. For example, listening to your favorite podcast or audiobook while you learn how to knit or paint. 

4. Practice for at Least 20 Hours 

A total of 20 hours is all you need to reach a point of feeling comfortable to tackle the next step. It is the time needed to overcome the “frustration barrier” which is that period in the beginning where you are the most incompetent at your new hobby or skill but you need the post perserverence to commit to it. By training your brain to understand that this period of time is only 20 hour of focused and deliberate practice, it becomes easier to push through. After achieving each step of the process, your motivation will increase and getting through each challenge will seem much less daunting. You will amaze yourself with what you’re able to accomplish!

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