The Art of Mastering New Skills
I was sitting in a restaurant with some work colleagues, when one young woman started talking about her passion for kiteboarding. I had seen kites on the beach before, and was vaguely aware of the sport, but ever being able to do it myself seemed entirely beyond the realm of possibility. I could never do that! But as the chit chat continued over drinks and nibbles, I started to hear a tiny voice asking me –actually why not? If she could do it, what was preventing me from doing it too?
That small voice persisted until a few months later, I fearfully signed up for my first SUP lesson. I had never felt at ease in the sea, so it was a big departure from my comfort zone. That first lesson triggered something in me which prompted me to make 2018 my year of adventure – and to sign up for my first kiteboarding session.
In hindsight, even though I was seeking adventure, 2018 was actually much more about exposing myself to new challenges and learning new skills.
The skills I’ve tried:
- SUP and SUP yoga
- Aerial arts (aerial silks, aerial hoop)
- Calisthenics and acro – handstands, tumbling, rings
- Hula hooping
- Indoor rock climbing
- High ropes
And here is what my year of trying new skills has taught me:
- Most skills look more daunting than they really are. Often you are seeing the skill being performed by someone with a lot of experience, at the top of their game, and it may look quite unattainable. But the truth is that most skills can be broken down into manageable pieces with a clear roadmap for mastering it. Which leads to:
- A great teacher is the way to go. Excellent teachers know how to break down their craft and how to overcome the major hurdles that most people face. I definitely recommend seeking a teacher or a school for the skill you want to learn and investing the money, especially when safety is involved. Case in point – from the list above, the only two that I tried to attempt on my own were skateboarding and indoor rock-climbing, and these were the ones that I didn’t persist with.
- Get some quick wins under your belt! This is again something that a great teacher will be sure to incorporate into the learning process. Getting some quick successes that you can feel good about (and take a cheeky picture of) is a great way to keep your motivation high and your engagement strong, as you enter the more complicated or difficult parts of the process.
- Document your progress! Those cheeky pics from before? They will be very useful, and not just for earning you bragging rights. They will show you how far you’ve progressed. Sometimes skill-learning may feel frustrating, but looking back at how you performed a few weeks or months earlier helps to put things into perspective. Don’t be embarrassed to ask someone to snap some pics or even a video, or invest in a tripod as I did, which I take with me to most of my activities.
Hint – videos are a great learning tool, as they give you quick feedback to understand if you are doing something wrong, or how to improve. I have often been able to improve a trick just by looking at my video and trying it again (point those toes! Move your weight back! Etc.)
- Leave it and revisit it another time. Sometimes I feel like skill learning is pure magic. As we’re grappling with the challenge, our mind is constantly absorbing information from all our senses and re-calibrating itself to perform the new task. It’s quite astounding, and it’s very apparent when you visit that skill a second time. Suddenly, something you were really struggling with is just…. happening. You’re doing it. That’s why I’ve learned not to get frustrated when things don’t work out right away. Every attempt is part of the learning process, even if it feels like you’re stuck. Just trust the process and try it again another time.
- The 80/20 rule applies. 20% of the effort goes into acquiring 80% of the skill. But to get the extra 20% of true mastery, you need to put in an additional 80% of effort. This is what differentiates the amateurs, those that are doing something just for fun, from the pros. This step comes well after the quick wins and is much less glamorous. It’s a long and gritty process of perfecting your craft. BUT – we don’t all have to be pros at everything, so nothing wrong with staying with the fun 80%!
- There will be pain and there may be accidents. It’s part of the process. Make sure to observe all the safety rules for your skill, and don’t be tempted to skimp on safety measures, for example – life vest and helmet in water sports, crash mat underneath for aerial arts (and if your school or teacher does not observe that pedantically, I would find another place to learn). Also most of these activities benefit from being in good physical condition, so it’s a good idea to strengthen your core and cardiovascular fitness to support your adventures!
- Skill learning is just like a muscle – the more you challenge yourself at acquiring new skills, the better it gets. Even skills that are seemingly unrelated, are feeding into one another. Some parts of skill mastery– visual learning, interpreting what you are seeing into your body, understanding how to learn from a teacher and observing cues to name few – are all transferable. And most of all – the thrill of success whets the appetite for learning new skills, and fuels the confidence that you are capable of doing it.
So – what is stopping you from trying a new skill?