AIF Blog

How to Learn Anything Fast

Mar 31, 2016
CATEGORY: Society, Education

Josh Kaufman is a quick learner. He picked up how to wind surf, strum songs on the ukulele, play an ancient Chinese board game, and program a computer. Each skill was acquired in a month, with daily dedicated practice. So how did he do it? Kaufman revealed his recipe for rapid skill acquisition for adults at the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival and in his book The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything...Fast!

Kaufman researches business, entrepreneurship, productivity, and behavioral psychology, According to his findings, adults put off learning something new due to busyness and perceived level of difficulty. Factors such as family, social commitments, and frustration can stand in the way of these pursuits. And, unlike children, feeling self-conscious can prevent adults from undertaking something new.

“We’re scared that we’re going to be terrible, that it’s not going to work, that it’s going to take forever, and that someone will look at our current level of ability and think less of us,” Kaufman said.

The first step in learning something new in a short period of time is to acknowledge that you don’t have to master it. Author Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which examines the factors that lead to individuals' high levels of success, includes several references a so-called “10,000-hour rule,” the amount of time it takes to master a skill. However, the rule, measures expert level performers such as professional musicians and athletes.

Kaufman believes the 10,000-hour rule isn’t applicable to most people. “The vast majority of us aren’t training to be elite performers in an ultra competitive field,” he said. “We’re learning things because we want to use them or enjoy them.”

Instead of spending 10,000 hours practicing a new skill, Kaufman suggests taking the following approach:

  • Commit to practice your new skill for at least 20 hours per month; that works out to about 40 minutes per day.
  • Get specific about what you want to learn. For example, Kaufman didn’t give himself a more broad assignment of learning the ukulele, rather he narrowed his goal to learn to play a song and sing at the same time.
  • Research the new skill efficiently. Don’t read how-to books cover to cover, Kaufman said. Instead, skim the books to find messages that are repeated in all of them.
  • Get rid of all distractions when you practice. Make sure you’re giving your new skill full attention.

Listen to Kaufman’s entire Festival session, which includes a ukulele performance, below.



By Marci Krivonen, Associate Editor and Producer, Public Programs


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