When you are excited to learn a new skill, progress seems to come naturally. The first few weeks of practice fly by with tremendous growth and a feeling of satisfaction. Yet, all of us are familiar with what happens next. You grow bored, your progress slows, and you feel like you’ve hit a wall. At that point, you may be tempted to quit, but here is a better alternative.
Take Breaks when Your Progress Slows
Instead of giving up on your new skill when you hit a wall, give yourself permission to take a break. Remind yourself that any new ability takes time to develop. You would not expect a young child to become an expert reader overnight, but we often set ourselves up for disappointment by demanding that we achieve mastery in a similarly unreasonable timeframe. Free yourself from this kind of unnecessary disappointment by planning to take a break when you need to.
When to Take a Break
For many people, progress slows after 4-6 weeks of consistent practice. While you can take a break to practice a completely separate skill or work on a different goal, you will benefit most from turning your attention to a similar or complementary skillset. For instance, if your goal is to learn French, you can take a break to cultivate your poetry skills. Even though you will be writing poetry in English, you will still be focused on improving your confidence with language in general. When you return to practicing French, you will approach your lessons with a fresh energy and greatly reduce the chance of burnout.
Research Says: Add Variety
For years, musicians and athletes were taught to practice the same skill over and over again in the same way. The idea was to create unconscious competence or “muscle memory” in a certain area. Results from a recent study at John Hopkins University, however, show that adding variety to practice sessions increases learning and retention.
What the Research Showed
The study followed 86 volunteers as they learned to use a squeezing device to move a cursor on a computer screen. Volunteers were placed into one of three groups, with each group given a different way to practice the skill. All three groups completed the same first training exercise. Six hours later, one group completed the same exercise, another group completed a variation of the original exercise, and the third group did not get a second practice session. The researchers wanted to see which group would perform best on a subsequent test of their skill mastery. Defying previous wisdom about the importance of repetition, the researchers found that the group who completed the second, slightly varied practice session performed the best.
If you are just starting the journey toward learning a new skill, congratulate yourself! Most people don’t even get that far. They either get distracted, lose interest, or tell themselves they will begin tomorrow. If you have already overcome these challenges, you are well on your to mastery. As you practice, remember not to let your enthusiasm push you past your limits and lead you to burn out. Make sure you take breaks when you sense your progress waning and that you add variety to make the most out of each practice session. With no burnout and lots of variety to keep you engaged, you will be able to tackle each new challenge that comes your way.
|||^||Better Humans: How to Learn Many Things at Once (And Stay Sane Doing It|
|||^||John Hopkins Medicine: Want to Learn a New Skill? Faster? Change Up Your Practice Sessions|
|||^||Science Alert: Scientists have found a way to help you learn new skills twice as fast|