As humans, we all crave growth.  As founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, shares,

Life is growth. If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead. – Morihei Ueshiba

Learning how to master a new skill efficiently and incorporating it seamlessly into your life paradigm may just be the most important skill in modern society.

How can we learn to master, or at least be comfortable with, new skills in a short period of time?

I’d like to share three complementary strategies…

Initially, Choose Small & Visible Wins 

Shoot for small yet visible goals to reach.  Ideally, utilize the Pareto principle (80/20 rule) to select the small sub-skills to focus on first that will yield the greatest utility.  

For example, if I were learning Mandarin (Chinese), I’d focus on the few hundred words that come up most often in the language.  The HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi), developed by Beijing Language and Culture University, breaks this down into 6 levels.

HSK_short.png(From Wikipedia – access 1/14/18)

The first level contains 150 of the most basic, but most universal, words.  When reading a newspaper or conversing with others, these words will come up most often.  Think of it as creating a list from a word cloud:
Word Cloud

Taking a methodical approach towards learning can prove beneficial.  Josh Kaufman, the author of “The First 20 Hours – How to Learn Anything…Fast”, breaks this down. [2]

He expertly explains why choosing the activities that will yield the most overall benefit can be so powerful.

So we now know that we want to choose the few activities that will give us a large return.  Is there a method to practicing?


Get Good at Deliberate Practice

Be comfortable dancing right outside of your comfort zone.  Whether it’s lifting weights or practicing an instrument, straining yourself physically and mentally will yield much greater results than halfhearted action.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and So Good they Can’t Ignore You, “uses an analogy of playing music, where a great musician would play a song slowly, then speed it up until it’s just outside of the player’s comfort zone.  Eventually, what was once hard becomes easy.  However, becoming good at playing the piece required intense concentration, right outside of the player’s comfort zone.  Weight training, and incremental increases by adding 2.5 lbs on each side can be also be used as an analogy”. [3]

Imagine you pick up a sport.  Let’s say… tennis.  Initially, you learn how to hold a racket and how to hit the ball.  You learn the rules of the game.  You start getting good at the game.  Initially, you find success, and quickly.Learning_curve_initial

This is indicated by the first huge jump in skill in a relatively short amount of time.

Then you hit a plateau.  Whether it’s because of a change in the opponent (not a coach feeding balls anymore!) or whatever else, your skill seemingly decreases as you hit a wall.


Here is where deliberate practice and perseverance shines.  Most people will come to the conclusion, “tennis is not for me”.  However, by straining yourself mentally and physically, whether it’s taking a new approach to solve an old problem, or solidifying your muscle memory even further, you can push through the plateau towards the next level.

This repeats and repeats until you become a “world-class expert” in your field, commonly dubbed as the “10,000 hour rule” by Ericsson et al. [4]

Of course, you’ll be able to choose if you want to pursue a specific skill for that long.  Also, keep in mind that a lot of people are OK with dabbling in many things, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!


Teach and Share Information With Others

If you can effectively communicate it to others, then you understand the concepts [5].  However, keep in mind that an overview for laymen differs from technical elaboration for others in the field.

This is personally one of my favorite strategies.  Whether it’s creating a YouTube video, or writing a post, I force myself to organize then express my thoughts in a streamlined and easy to digest format to be consumed.  By doing so, I can take an honest look at if the information I’ve accrued is accurate and brings value to the table.  It brings accountability into the picture.

Dubbed the Protégé Effect, “student teachers score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own sake” and they “work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively”.

One of the most influential moments in my life was when I saw how much joy my best friend growing up experienced when he helped others understand complex topics in school or life, even at his own expense.  I didn’t understand why.  Determined to try it out myself, I realized that this was something that was missing in my life; it gave me an extreme sense of fulfillment.  I now understood.  This was one of the most pivotal moments in my life, and I cannot thank Shawn enough for exposing me to such a life-changing universal truth, especially at such a young age.  I definitely would not have started this website without him.

The best word to describe this is “nachas”, a Yiddish word for “pride and satisfaction that is derived from someone else’s accomplishment”. [6]



Approach an area of interest with a student’s mentality with the intention to master it.  Always keep an open mind, as no one can possibly know everything.  More often than not, collective intelligence will trump one expert’s opinions (unless it’s extremely technical).

Applying the Pareto principle, by learning the most important concepts first, then straining yourself physically and mentally just outside of your comfort zone, we can quickly gain traction within an area of interest.  Then, teaching or sharing this information with others forces us to organize and reiterate what we’ve learned, with an added benefit of potential feedback.

Lastly, make sure that skill is useful and beneficial to yourself and others!  Oh, and have fun while you do it ;).