How to Learn Anything in 20 Hours

How to Learn Anything in 20 Hours


Ida had always wanted to work in New York City. She was already a known face in Austin. She had earned quite a reputation designing heaps of dresses and accessories for her own folks, but when New York called, she was having second thoughts.

Everybody loves being a big fish in the small pond. But when  it comes to the ocean, being the small fish intimidates us so much so that we tend to curb our desires for the sake of being loyal to our comfort zone. And this is the dilemma that holds us back, just the way Ida's did. Think, when was the last time you took up a new sport, or decided to learn a new language? Now the question is, why do we not want to travel the extra mile to do something new? This is because, when we get comfortable in what we do, we do not want to take the risk and end up looking stupid by trying something different. This is why we end up abandoning the skateboard tryouts and cozy up in the couch with our favourite TV show on.

It was on one of these lazy weekends that I came across an enlightening pep talk by this amicable looking man by the name of Josh Kaufman. This jolly good man was talking about how anyone can learn anything in 20 hours. Let's break that down for you, with a little history.

The 10,000 hour rule

About 14 years back, a professor at  Florida State University by the name of K. Anders Ericsson put forward a theory which states that, it takes at least 10,000 hours to learn something new. This 10,000 hour rule was later dusted and polished into a book by Malcolm Galdwell in his 2008 book, called “Outliers”. But a 10,000 hour duration amounts to a 5-year full time job! Who has that much time? This is where we come to the 20 hour rule

Focus on one skill at a time

We all know that we cannot be at a two places at the same time. Similarly, fumbling our way through a hundred skills would be a bad idea. This is what you need to do:

  • Focus on one skill at a time.
  • Set realistic goals.

You need to understand here that a 20 hour drill of learning the cello would not land you any award, but you would be able to be pleasant to the ears and you just might have a shot at landing in Julliard. So you need to decide what you want and make sure that the goal is realistic enough to be realized.

Deconstructing the skill

Every skill can be considered to be a bundle of small sub-skills. Like we say, Rome wasn't built in a day. Let's take golf, for example. Driving off the tee, hitting with an iron, chipping out of a bunker and putting on the green are completely different skills. Now you cannot be expected to master the whole piece all together. So it's best to practice each separately. If you have watched a golf game, you must have noticed that driving the iron and putting are most frequent occurrences. So practicing them first would the best thing to do.

If it is a new language you have been at for some time, then you would be overwhelmed at how much time you could have saved if you had resorted to the 20-hour rule in the beginning. According to Josh Kaufman's interesting theory, learning the most common 2,000 words of a new language would give you an 80% text coverage.

Do your homework

You need to get hold of a book and do some research. You obviously do not need to go through each book in detail, try speed reading. This way you would have a basic idea of the skill you are aiming to acquire. This is where the 80/20 principle comes in, which states that “80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes”. This is also known as Pareto's Law. Let me simplify that for you: 80% of the input produces 20% of the output, and vice versa. So this step should not take up a lot of time. This step is crucial since it will provide you with enough knowledge to identify and rectify your mistakes.

Remove all barriers to learning

Let's face it. We are all cognitive misers. We all believe the spilled water on the kitchen floor would dry itself out in no time, until someone slips and cracks open the wall containing their fury. So instead of burying your guitar at the back of the closet on the other side of the house, try keeping it near you with the case wide open. This will make sure that the effort you are about to put in for retrieving your guitar is reduced considerably.

Josh points out that instead of relying on willpower to force yourself to practice, it is always more effective to change your environment to ensure zero procrastination. You should consider removing any source of distraction that might pull you away from your goal, like unplugging your TV, putting away your cellphone, disconnecting your internet.
Make a commitment, practice

The final step is to practice. You need a consistent 20 hour practice to develop the skill. Now this, right here, is the moment of truth. Are you ready for this commitment? Would you bend your everyday schedule to squeeze in this practice time? If you are planning on quitting now, let me tell you that it is easier than it looks. A 20 hour is roughly 45 minutes of practice a day for the next 30 days. Anyone can do that. Even though pre-commitments are critical, try making a credible promise to yourself or to others. That is the least you can do to attain a new skill, what do you think?

So there you go. It wasn't that hard, was it? Once you are done, you can move on to the next skill you wish to acquire. You can watch this video of Josh Kaufman, the man himself, for some more inspiration.

Now you might not find yourself becoming an instant elite ninja this way, but you would definitely emerge quite knowledgeable. In case you are still unsure, then think this: if you are going to mess it up, it will be just 20 hours, not years of your life. You can revert back to your old technique if you aren't satisfied. Happy learning! 


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