Balancing our professional and private lives can quickly get incredibly overwhelming. In particular, acquiring a new skill can seem like an impossible feat for many. But with the right approach, learning something new is not only easy but highly enjoyable as well.
Whether it is something intellectual like learning a new language, or rather a more physical skill like learning how to knit: Many of us have something that we have always wanted to be able to do. But when it comes to actually starting to learn it, we often do not even try at all.
Back in school, all we did was learn and very often it was arduous, boring, and ultimately – to really add insult to injury – quite ineffective. With this idea of the learning process in mind, it seems ridiculous to even attempt to learn anything new after the age of 25.
However, maybe we should remember that we are no longer part of a mass-education programme. If we are to move on from that mindset and become individual, autonomous learners, we should start by revising our idea of learning as an activity.
First of all, DO set realistic expectations before you start. Ask yourself why you want to learn a certain skill and if there is a good reason to aim at reaching a certain level. If you need to learn a certain skill for your work, the motivation is usually already quite high and depending on where you work you might even be supported in acquiring your new skill. However, this article mainly focusses on skills you may want to learn in your own time and on your own terms. DON'T pressure yourself with lofty goals, take it easy instead. Learning should be an enjoyable process!
Talking about enjoyment, DON'T force yourself to do or learn something that you don't like. This one may seem a bit obvious, but a surprising number of people are still stuck in this archaic school mentality that learning is meant to be something that you need to "push through". Especially if you are on a busy schedule, learning should not be another chore you add to your to-do list but rather something you look forward to – just like you look forward to winding down in front of the TV or making yourself a nice cup of tea. Your enjoyment is the key to your eventual success!
When setting up your learning schedule, DO prioritise frequency. If you manage to dedicate ten minutes to studying every day, you will be much more successful in the long-term than if you decided to study two hours every Saturday, for instance. Firstly, the short study time is easier on your brain if you are working on a busy schedule, and secondly you will be able to benefit from the power of habit. We all know how difficult it is to get rid of bad habits, but this also means that if we can manage to develop a good habit, it will be much easier for us to do it frequently.
DO make use of your "dead time" as well. Your commute to work, cleaning, cooking, even brushing your teeth: All this time can potentially be converted into studying time. Granted, this works best if the skill you are trying to learn is more intellectual in nature – trying to play "Stairway to Heaven" on the guitar while zooming down the highway to Kirchberg is probably not the best idea. However, if you are, for example, trying to learn a new language, you could use this time to listen to material in your target language. Making use of your dead time can easily add up to an extra 40 minutes or even an hour of learning every day. There is, however, no need to overdo it. If you like listening to music while you work out, or to your favourite podcast while cooking, by all means keep doing that! It is more than enough to convert just some of that dead time to studying time, and that way, you also avoid becoming overwhelmed by your study material.
While going through your material, DON'T get hung up on one specific point. Sometimes, a little bit of perfectionism is a good thing, but especially if you are learning something in your free time, it can lead to frustration. Our brains like variety, they like everything that is new, and they tend to get bored quite quickly if you're doing the same thing over and over again. So, get over your inner bean counter and accept the fact that we cannot be perfect at everything. In fact, you may even find that learning something new, then moving on to different topics to eventually come back to the previous point is a surprisingly effective way to remember the key aspects. This tip also works for physical skills: Instead of perfecting one particular grip or technique at a time, dip your toes in a variety of different material and regularly rotate through what you have learned so far.
To give your motivation that little extra boost, DO consider keeping a record of your progress. Vlogs are a great way of achieving that. There is no need to post them anywhere online, you can just keep them on your phone or in a folder on your computer. However, if you don't mind a potential audience, keeping an online record of your learning journey can also be a great experience. But the main point of this is to remind yourself of the progress you have made so far – over a period of weeks and months we can sometimes get the feeling that we have not made any progress so far, especially if we are prone to a more pessimistic view of life. Keeping a record can help us prove ourselves wrong if we need to. And let's not forget that it can potentially make for a cool montage of our journey at the end.