How to start something from scratch

Starting something new is not always easy. Making new experiences and learning new skills requires flexibility and receptiveness, at the same time exposing us to a series of shameful and dangerous “failures”. In this post I’d like to share some Strategies about the process of learning new skills and embarking on new activities, in order to make this process smooth and profitable for our self-improvement.

Build and cultivate an exploration mentality. If you want to learn something new quickly and effectively, you’ll need first of all to be “open”. Think as an explorer! By learning a new skill you’ll literally discover the world and experience it from a new perspective. As for any other explorer, at the beginning you won’t know your path. You’ll rely on someone else’s experiences and expertise, but your final goal must be the one of finding an original way to experience the new skill/activity. The impact of an open approach on learning is huge: by being open you’ll allow yourself to go through the beginning stages of the new activity with patience and determination. At a deeper level, you’ll learn to laugh at your initial attempts and mistakes (aka “failures”) and you won’t put any inner obstacles to your improvement. This first step is fundamental for any type of learning! Try to read it a couple of times and go back to this concept every time you feel frustrated or not capable of progressing any further in the new activity.

Have a strong practical purpose to learn. Regardless of the nature of the new skill or activity you want to learn, you must make sure you have a strong personal reason to learn it. This is very important, since learning something new will push you out of your usual comfort zone and will require effort and dedication in terms of time, concentration and resources. This personal reason must also be practical. You must “make room” for your new skill to fit in your life. As an example, learning a new language will give you new possibilities in terms of career or socialization. Becoming a musician or an artist will complete your personality and present you with new opportunities, learning to use a specific piece of software at a professional level will give you an edge on the competition, and so on. Make it very clear, make it personal, make it practical.

Define your min/max levels of accomplishment. Once you interiorized the concepts of openness and the reason for you to learn the new skill, it will be time for some preliminary evaluation. Here you’ll have to be realistic, although I encourage you to set ambitious goals. What do you really want to do with this new skill? What’s the real purpose? How will this new activity serve you in your life? Is it a complementary hobby or you’re on your way to a major career change? And ultimately, how much time and attention are you willing to dedicate to the new skill? Write down your minimum achievement as well as your maximum desired level, together with some intermediate steps, making sure you put specific deadlines next to each goal (i.e., basic fluency in Spanish, December 2014. Intermediate fluency: June 2015. Professional fluency: January 2016)

Calculate the amount of time and effort. Now it’s time to make room in your life and organize the learning sessions. Will you learn on your own or from someone else? Privately or in a school? When? How much will it cost in terms of money? How much will it cost in terms of time (transportation, practice, training, homework and so on)? When in your day are you willing to find time for practice? After work/school, before, only on weekends…? Answering all these questions will clarify the nature and the proportions of the commitment you’re making.

Beat your excuses through scheduling. In learning something new, the first step it’s usually the most difficult one. Your old habits are very likely to hold you back from making unrewarded efforts and investing your energies on something perceived as “not necessary” for your life. Hence, this is the part where you’ll have to rely on your self-discipline. Plan your first weeks of activities carefully and force yourself to stick to the deadlines. If you manage to stick to your deadlines for a couple of weeks, you’ll feel everything becoming more natural. What we perceive as “different” from ourselves and our lives is 100% depending on our habits. The complete familiarity with an activity or a situation is an achievable state: repetition of actions and a strong personal motivation are the elements that help us learn new things and become a better version of ourselves. Good luck!

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