Learning a New Skill

What's the best way to learn a new skill? You may say something like 'read a book on the topic', or 'ask an expert in the field'. Or something to that effect. Say, if you wanted to start a business, you could start by spending a year reading books on the topic before you start, along with biographies of successful businesspeople. You're scared of making mistakes and having things end in failure, so you try and learn as much as you can before you start. This is an excellent way to learn, but probably not the best way.

Imagine two people wanting to learn public speaking. One person spends a month reading about it, and the other spends a month practising giving speeches to their family, groups of friends, and other small groups of people. Who do you think will have learned the most about public speaking? Who would, at the end of the month, be able to deliver a better speech to a given audience? My money would be on the one who practised by trial and error, making mistakes and learning from them by diving right into it and immersing themselves, rather than the one who studied it from afar.

Of course, reading books and learning lessons from more experienced people in the field you're trying to improve in is a fantastic way to gain new insights — but it only really helps when you've got a little bit of experience and identified your weaknesses. Reading about a topic after you've actually got experience in it is more effective than reading about a topic you have no experience in. You understand the points made and ideas put forward in any text much better if you can relate to what they're talking about.

Think about a skill you have that you think you're genuinely good at, or at least you're better than average. There are probably many unconscious things you've learned that you wouldn't think about consciously when having to describe how another should get better in that area. This is an issue with books, a lot of the abilities of the people writing books are rooted unconsciously in them, it's difficult to explain precisely why they make the decisions they do.

Learning a skill has two parts: learning things consciously, and learning things unconsciously. By reading about something, you gain conscious knowledge of the skill you're trying to improve. It's very useful because if you consciously remember something and apply it, it can end up becoming part of your intuition, and happens automatically. You learn things unconsciously when you practice something and gain experience in the field. Most of the time, these are the subtle things that aren't vital to the topic at hand and can be challenging to notice and bring in to the conscious mind. These small parts make up your intuition on a given topic, like public speaking, starting a business, or writing a blog.

I couldn't easily explain precisely how I solve a maths problem to someone who isn't as experienced in maths as me. There are many things that I do unconsciously when solving a maths problem that I wouldn't even bring up, or know how to bring them up in words either. It's only through experience do you gain this intuition on the topic you're trying to improve.

I started this blog with virtually no experience in this area; I rarely ever write essays on things as I study maths. I could have spent a week or a month reading about how I should start a blog and how I should write, but I didn't. I dived straight in, and I'm 100% sure I've learned more lessons just by writing the last four articles I've written than if I'd have spent a week beforehand reading about writing. Plus, I've got something to show for it, which I wouldn't have if I'd just been reading.

This blog has been a hell of a challenge for me. Writing these posts on difficult topics takes me many hours. In the last four articles, I probably spent between 40–150 minutes just reading about the topic I was going to write about, and then spent 2–3 hours writing each. It's a considerable time investment, taking about 2–5 hours out of each day — though to me it's a deep dive into learning the skill of writing and blogging, and I'm forcing myself to improve in this area. Other areas of my life may have to slide for a bit to allow space for all this extra time, but I'd say it's worth it for the initial adjustment period.

I've learned so much about blogging, both consciously and unconsciously about how to write better articles, by just spending the last four days immersing myself in it. I realise where I need to improve my writing, like adding more humour to my articles, writing things in more words to add depth to the topic, and writing things that people may disagree with. You can probably tell from this article that it's much wordier than the previous articles I've written. I think that writing longer posts with more thought, and diving deeper into those thoughts, will make my blog more thoughtful and memorable. I don't think I'd have noticed this issue, nor learn how to overcome it had I not just started to write articles.

I understand that I'm just starting, and my first articles will be way worse than the articles I'll be writing in a month, I know I'll improve with each article I write. I've thrown myself into the pool of writing with the hopes that I'll learn how to swim. Just reading about swimming won't make you a better swimmer, nor will it for countless other things.

Something I've realised from starting this blog is about 'newbie fear'. Where you're scared of other's judgement of you because you're not very good at the thing you're starting on. You're afraid of looking like a fool because you're inexperienced. You can get this from anything public, like public speaking, blogging, or dating. What I've learned is that you shouldn't try to act as if you are an expert at what you're doing immediately. Own the fact that you're just starting, and people won't judge your mistakes much.

I've been feeling a lot of this 'newbie fear', and I feel like it's an irrational fear. I've felt scared that people will look at me weirdly for doing this, like who on earth cares that much about defining and writing down your values? Yes, this blog isn't for the people who are satisfied with where they are, or who think that personal development is a waste of time, they'd rather watch a movie on their own than improve themselves as a human being. I've learned to accept that potential judgement and accept that people may not like me as much. For the people who do enjoy what I write, learn from it, and encourage me to keep on with it — I know that I want to spend more time with them because I'll probably like them more.

If you're considering starting something new, just try and start it. It's one thing to say that you'd like to start a business one day, and another to actually dive in and commit to it. Being afraid of looking foolish will keep you down, you need to acknowledge it and push through. Most mistakes can be rectified once you've noticed them, or at least you can set a course to try and improve the things that aren't going so well.

Looking back at this article, I want to say it's probably the best one I've written so far, in my opinion. This is my longest article so far, and I've only spent around two hours on it. If I keep up my commitment to this project, I know that I'll be writing way better articles in a few months and even better articles in a year. Had I not started last week, I would never have started to learn this skill; I would have just procrastinated over it, thinking that I should prepare for it more, while actually learning next to nothing.