“One skill you want to master in this day and age we live in, if you want to have an extraordinary life, is the ability to learn rapidly.” — Anthony Robbins
The first step to learning any skill faster requires deconstructing the skill we want to learn. Deconstruction means taking something that is very large or complex and breaking it down into smaller pieces. Most, if not all, of the skills we want to learn are just bundles of smaller sub-skills that occur in combinations simultaneously.
By breaking these sub-skills down to their minimal components, you can figure out exactly what you need to learn, which sub-skills are important, and therefore which you should learn first.
Tim Ferriss shares his learning framework, called DiSSS:
- Deconstruction: What are the minimal learnable units I should be starting with?
- Selection: Which 20% of the blocks should I focus on for 80% or more of the outcome I want?
- Sequencing: In what order should I learn the blocks?
- Stakes: How do I set up stakes to create real consequences and guarantee I follow the program?
We’re going to refer to DiSSS a few times throughout this sequence.
So, how do we deconstruct a skill that we want to learn faster?
1. Have a goal
Knowing your end-goal is the most critical part to learning anything. It’s what will keep you focused towards a direction, and accountable when things get hard (which they always will).
For language learning, this could be to reach conversational fluency, with the ability to have a 60-minute conversation with a native speaker.
For learning guitar, it could be to play 5 of your favorite songs for your partner in 90 days.
It’s important to have a bigger purpose to learning that you can refer to when you inevitably lose motivation, as learning for the sake of learning rarely lasts.
When Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team, he didn’t wake up every morning to shoot thousands of free throws so that he could make next year’s basketball team. His goal was to become the best player in the world.
2. Break it down to its LEGO blocks
The next step is to do some research online. Look at online forums or research the best language experts, business experts, or experts in whichever skill you want to master.
The goal here is to identify and list all the components involved when learning your skills, no matter how small. Don’t worry about being perfect, as you may not know all the components involved until you start, but list as many as you can before you start.
For example, if you want to become a powerful keynote speaker, it could be learning:
- Body language: hand gestures, eye contact, walking style and speed
- Presentation slides: design, flow of the slides, content
- Speaking: volume, speed, content
and so forth…
Laying out all the individual components will allow you to observe the individual sub-skills involved from the outside without feeling overwhelmed. More importantly, you can now see which parts you need to focus your efforts on to reach your goal.
3. Figure out why you may quit
The first few weeks, or even days, of learning a new skill is the hardest. It’s the vulnerable moments when we’re most likely to quit and lose motivation.
You should try avoiding these obstacle points completely, at least for the first five practice sessions. You can do this by breaking down all of the actions involved to acquire the skill. For language learning, it could be searching for the right teacher, having to take the bus to meet them everyday, and needing to do follow-up homework exercises after the lessons.
When we accumulate all of these actions that are required to acquire a skill, it can be pretty daunting. Initially, we should focus on just one of these actions. One easy way to get around this would be to work with a language teacher online, so you can avoid the pain points completely.
Tim Ferris did this when learning to swim. His pain points were difficulty breathing and exhaustion from kicking, so he discovered Total Immersion Swimming, which is shallow water swim training.
We all lose motivation eventually, and it’s better to know how you will deal with it ahead of time than face it straight on without any preparation.
4. Focus on the 20%
If you haven’t heard of Pareto’s Principle, you should read about it before continuing. The basis is that 20% of your efforts will lead to 80% of your desired outcome.
For language learning, 1200-2000 words is the range of the most common words you need to know in order to be conversationally fluent in any language in the world.
If your goal is to reach conversational fluency, it could be a simple as scheduling a weekly lesson with a language teacher who will provide you with immediate interaction and feedback.
If your goal is to play guitar fluently, it could be memorizing four chords that make up a majority of the popular songs.
If your goal is to become a better cook, you could choose 3 fancy dishes and become a master in learning those dishes.
Whichever sub-skill you decide to focus on, make sure they’re the most impactful ones, and focus all of your energy on them while removing any distractions along the way.
5. Focus on one sub-skill at a time
It may be tempting to jump in and learn multiple sub-skills at a time, especially if the end result is to master one skill. But, just as we get nothing done by multi-tasking when working, we’ll need to avoid multi-skill acquisition to maximize our progress.
As the founder of Rype, I personally hear from dozens of aspiring language students every week who are attempting to master their Spanish speaking skills and writing when they have yet to learn basic grammar rules.
It’s a common feat that all of us ambitious individuals have within us, but a weakness when it comes to mastering a skill faster.
Get good and master one sub-skill before moving on to the next. As long as you have Pareto’s Principle in mind, you’ll feel productive knowing that you’re focusing on the sub-skills that will result in 80% of your desired outcome.
That’s all it takes to become a learning master.
Remember: the first step is deconstructing your skill, and if you can manage to do this properly, you’re well on your way to becoming a learning expert.