“We treat, in our culture now, learning as a very academic exercise—the objective is to suck in a ton of information about this thing whether or not you’re going to use it. And I think education in our culture now has been seen in the academic sense and less in the sense of practicing something with the eye of using it to do some particular cool thing.” – Josh Kaufman
In the video below, Josh Kaufman highlights the five step process to learning anything in twenty hours which he details in his book, The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast! These five principles of accelerated learning apply to all quality of skills you may be trying to acquire, whether motor of cognitive.
What will you learn?
1. SET A PERFORMANCE TARGET LEVEL
The first step in this process, and this is something that applies to every skill—could be a motor skill like learning how to fly an airplane, or skateboard, or something like that; could be a cognitive skill like language or programming— so the first step is deciding exactly what it is you want. If you’re able to really clearly define what it is you’re trying to get—it’s called setting a target performance level—the more clearly you can define that, the easier it is for you to look out into the world and find ways to get there in the most direct way possible. So for example, one of the things I wanted to be able to do was programming. And so, instead of just saying, “I want to be a programmer,” —right, doesn’t give you any information whatsoever—it’s: “here is this idea of a program that I would like to sit down and create from nothing; and it looks like A, B, C, D, E, F, G. When I make this thing, I’ll have developed the skills that are necessary in order to get the particular result. So instead of learning everything in the world about programming, I decided this is the sub-segment of that skill I’m interested in first so that’s what I’m going to focus on.
So what is it going to look like when you’re done? What are you going to be able to see or experience that will let you know you’ve reached the level that you were going for?
2. DECONSTRUCT THE SKILL INTO SMALLER SUB SKILLS
After you decide what you want, you do what’s called deconstructing the skill. And the idea behind that is a lot of the things that we think of as skills, like for example playing golf, or speaking French, or learning how to program, those aren’t exactly skills; they’re really kind of general topics that contain lots of smaller sub-skills. So it’s really hard to practice being a good golfer. It’s way easier to practice hitting off of the tee with the driver. So you take the global skill and you break it up into much smaller parts. And if you’re clear about what you want, it becomes very easy to find what are those sub skills, what are those smaller parts that are actually going to help you get to that target performance level as quickly as possible.
3. RESEARCH SMARTER & TRANSITION TO ACTION FASTER
Go out into the world and find sources of information that help you do this deconstruction. If you, for example, pick up five books on whatever it is you’re trying to learn how to do, don’t read them cover to cover, skim all of them one right after the other. And what you’ll see are the two or three sub-skills that you’re going to be using most of the time are the ones that come up over and over again. So you just practice those first. And if you spend your time practicing those things and avoid a lot of the distractions or things that aren’t going to help you, you save a lot of time and energy as you’re practicing.
You know the whole idea of researching the topic is something that I had to actively train myself out of. I love doing research. Programming was a good example of this for me. It’s like, “I want to learn how to program: I’m going to get ten books; I have these courses; I’m going to go through all of this stuff and then I’m going to sit down and write a program. It’s like no, you use the research to do just enough research to help you do the deconstruction and find the most important sub-skills first and then get out of research mode and into practice mode as quickly as you can. When you start practicing what it is you’re actually trying to do, that’s when you see the performance improvement.
4. HACK YOUR ENVIRONMENT FOR BETTER ENERGY MANAGEMENT & INCREASED MOTIVATION
This is where the behavioral psychology elements of this come in —it’s how can you make it easier to do the thing that you want to be doing instead of getting distracted by some shiny object and then going and doing something else. So instead of relying on exerting a lot of willpower to force yourself to do this thing that you’ve decided you want to do, you spend a little bit of willpower, a little bit of time and energy, altering the structure of the environment around you, just to make it easy as possible to do the thing that you want to do.
Removing barriers to practice, so things that are preventing you from doing work. Sometimes those things are environmental distractions, like turning off the TV or blocking the Internet, or closing the door—you know all the things you can do to make sure that in those early hours of practice, which are frustrating, you don’t get so frustrated that it’s easy to stop focusing on whatever it is you’re doing and start to pay attention to something else. Likewise, anything that you can do to make sure it takes as little energy as possible to start practicing is super helpful at that point. So, you know, instead of keeping your guitar in the case in the back of the closet on the other side of your house, take the guitar out of the case, get a stand and put it right next to your couch—anything that you can do to make it easier on yourself to get those early hours of practice, the better
5. PRE-COMMIT TO PRACTICING AT LEAST 20 HOURS
So all the things that we’ve talked about so far is getting set up to sit down and do the work of actually practicing. The pre-comittment and the idea of practicing at least 20 hours, there’s a lot of behavioral psychology behind that. The two big things is, first it’s a really important check on your reasons for learning this thing in the first place. Is it worthwhile for me to rearrange my schedule and stop doing other things? Is this something that I’m expecting to get enough benefit from to make the effort worth it? If it’s not, don’t do it. So if you’re willing to set aside at least 20 hours, what the pre-commitment does is make sure that you practice long enough to push through that early frustration to actually start seeing results.
So 20 hours is roughly forty minutes every day for a month–give or take–and I usually break my practice sessions into about 20 minutes a piece so two twenty minutes practice sessions every day for about a month can get you there. And so, if you’re able and willing to do that, pre-committing the time makes sure that you practice long enough to see that really good result but it’s also, psychologically, it doesn’t feel like that big of a hurdle to say, “ok, this is important to me, I can set aside at least that amount of time.” So it’s just enough that you’re going to see dramatic results but not so much that it prevents you from making the pre-comittment in the first place.