Discovering new hobbies and learning new skills is one of the greatest pleasures of life. Things get boring if you always stay in your comfort zone and never try anything new. There are gazillions of potential hobbies out there waiting to be taken up that are both fun and practical. Maybe you’re looking for a way to wind down on the weekends, or maybe there’s some type of job you need done, and you’d rather learn how to do it yourself than pay someone else to do it for you. You don’t need to wait for your day job to teach you new things- you can take the initiative to teach yourself fun or useful skills on your own.
Over the last year or so I’ve taught myself basic HTML/CSS, knife skills (as in chef’s knife, not ninja knife… sadly), index fund investing, ukulele, meditation and correct typing (until recently I was one of those people who used a few fingers to awkwardly punch keys while looking at the keyboard). I’m no expert at any of these things, but I’m good enough to enjoy the hobby and have the skill be useful to my life.
A lot of people want to learn new skills, but don’t know where to start or make the mistake of giving up too quickly when things get frustrating. You can learn how to do anything, as long as you set a goal and take the steps to get there. Here’s what I recommend if there’s something new you want to learn:
1. Know where to look for the information. There are four main sources I use when I want to learn something new:
- The internet
- People who are experts, or at least better than me.
The first thing I usually do is google, “how to xxx.” Depending on the skill, you’ll often find free tutorials online. When I realized I had the typing skill of a third grader, I googled “how to type correctly” and the first hit was a great free tutorial with lesson plans and typing practice. Sometimes you need to sift a little deeper to find the best resource, but there’s always something there. The internet is especially useful for finding information related to basic technical skills such as how to fix your car or refinish furniture, and anything related to computers and technology.
For a skill that requires visualization to learn, such as how to draw or play an instrument, youtube is your best bet. I youtubed “beginner ukulele lessons” and came up with a slew of videos going over the basics of chords, scales and strumming patterns- all for free. Anytime I want to learn a song with complicated picking or strumming, I youtube “how to play xxx on ukulele,” and a video will almost always pop up. Youtube is also great for inspiration- when I youtubed “best ukulele player ever” I came across some videos of a three year old rocking out while playing George Harrison’s “While my guitar gently weeps.” Awesome.
Books are also a great learning resource. While you can usually get the information faster and cheaper on the internet, sometimes you’d rather know you’re getting a reputable resource than sift through a bunch of misinformation on the internet. And sometimes it’s nice to have a book in paper form that you can reference. For example, I taught myself the basics of finance and investing from four books- first the fundamentals of budgeting, credit scores, APRs and mortgages from Suze Orman’s The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke, then entrepreneurship and passive income from Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad, then index fund investing and passive allocation from Larry E. Swedroe’s The Only Guide to a Winning Investment Strategy You’ll Ever Need, and finally individual stock picking from Jason Kelly’s The Neatest Little Guide to Stock Market Investing. Usually I’ll use amazon to search for books on a given topic and read the reviews to decide the best one before buying or reserving at the library.
Meanwhile, I’ll also be asking people I know who are better at the skill than me how they learned and what resources they recommend, saving me the trouble of having to do the research myself. If you really want to kick your skill level up a notch, sign up for a course or class and have an expert teach you. When my boyfriend wanted to learn hand woodworking, he signed up for an intensive, 10-hour-a-day course in Canada with one of the world’s leading experts. It was a big investment in time and money, but the amount he learned in such a short period dwarfed what he could have learned on his own. If flying to another country isn’t your thing, consider extension school classes at your local university or community college. The fastest way to learn a skill quickly and correctly is to have someone who knows show you.
2. Make a plan. First, decide what you want to learn. Then, decide how much time you realistically have to dedicate toward learning it. A lot of people make the mistake of wanting to be an expert in something but only having 15 a minutes a week to practice. There’d nothing wrong with wanting to be an expert, or with only having 15 minutes a week, but the two are not compatible. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something. Don’t feel that you need to be really good at something to enjoy it or have the skill be useful to your life.
You should also plan ahead of time what resources you’ll use and how you want to use them. Expect to stall out with certain resources as your skills improve and to need to move on to new resources (for example, finding a different book that goes over the material more in depth and at a higher level of skill). Continue to challenge yourself- once something gets easy, move on to something more difficult. Have an idea of the steps you’ll take to get to the level you want to get to, but don’t be too rigid- as long as you’re enjoying it and challenging yourself, you’ll get better and have fun. Now, get practicing!
3. Don’t give up prematurely. This is probably the biggest mistake people make. They start out enthusiastically, then get frustrated with their progress and give up. Expect that you’ll suck at the beginning, and expect to feel frustrated at times with not being better, but don’t let this feeling be a barometer for whether or not you’re on the right track. Instead, come up with an external measure of improvement and refuse to let yourself give up or change course if you continue to see improvement on that measure. When I first started to practice typing correctly it was extremely frustrating. Before I had been typing quickly, although inefficiently- around 50 to 60 words per minute. When I started typing the “right” way, I was suddenly down to below 10wpm. There were so many moments I was dying to go back to my old habits and spare myself the frustration. Instead, I put my laser beam focus on that wpm counter. One day it was 9, the next 13, the next 18, the next 25. The progress was slow, but when I kept with it I couldn’t help but improve. Now, a few weeks later, I’m finally above 50wpm consistently- and I don’t have to stare at the keyboard anymore! Choose an external measure of improvement and pinpoint your focus on that. Can you play a song you couldn’t play before? Sing a note you couldn’t sing before? Did you fall fewer times going down the mountain on your snowboard? Can you understand a few more words your French baker is saying? As long as you’re moving forward, keep going. The improvement may not be lightning fast, but it is inevitable.
4. If you plateau, change things up. If your skill level is staying the same even though you keep practicing, you’re likely not challenging yourself enough. This is fine if your goal is to enjoy something and practice it as a hobby, but if you’re stalling out and don’t want to, it’s time to kick it up a notch. Practice some new chords you never played before. Go down a steeper mountain. Converse with native speakers instead of your French teacher who slows things down for you. You’ll probably feel that you’re right back to square one. This is good, though, because it’s those moments of frustration when you’re really challenging yourself, and this is when the learning occurs. The more difficult it is, the more you must be improving.
5. Enjoy it! This is the point of learning new skills. The process is fun, the practice is fun and being good at something new is fun. Sometimes the skill itself isn’t the end goal, but the process of learning it is. If being amazing at something is your end goal, you’re going to spend 99% of your time getting there and 1% of your time being there- so don’t forget to enjoy the process.