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Points to remember when learning a new task

I was brushing my teeth and talking casually to my dad when he suddenly passed a comment - "Rahul, the phrase 'Master of all trades, Jack of none' aptly suits you". It sounded humorous but I couldn't help pondering over it. Indeed my past was full of activities which I tried stepping into - dance, music (keyboard), swimming, driving, cooking, tennis and yet I doubt if I am really good at any one of them. But of late, I have begun to analyze and understand what I was doing wrong when compared to those people who seem to be good at everything they do. Here are a few lessons I have learnt. These could perhaps be applied to other domains as well.

Kindly bear in mind that everything I write here and mention is for the common man who generally tends to fall off the track when learning something new. Knowing that I am not very disciplined, these are some lessons which I feel if adhered to will help me learn new things. If you think you are one of those extremely focussed talented people, then this article may not be worth reading because my assumption is that you have already have these lessons deeply embedded within you.

1. Complete Level 3 before quitting

Most of the things we learn can generally be categorized into four stages.
i. I don't know anything
ii. I am in an intermediate stage of learning
iii. I am equipped with the basics so that I can grow
iv. I am an expert

What I generally tend to do is quit before completing level iii. The problem with quitting when you have not yet completed level iii. is that very soon you tend to fall back to level i. On the other hand, when level iii. is completed, you can always grow later.

I'll take the "keyboard" and "swimming" example and explain it. I must have made some umpteen number of attempts to learn the keyboard and yet I commit the same mistake again n again. I just begin to learn how to play a song when I quit. Within a few weeks, I forget even the notes I have learnt. End result now is that I don't even remember how a note looks like. On the other hand if you take "swimming", I used to commit the same mistake. But on my fifth attempt, I decided that I am not gonna stop till I learn at least some basic stroke. And now though I don't swim like a professional, I definitely can swim and know I can always build on this whenever I get an opportunity.

2. Be consistent

Consistency is one of the most important things in order to learn a new task. This is necessary for two good reasons - 1. It helps you learn the task more quickly and 2. It is easier to remember what you have learnt newly. The tendency to forget something which you have learnt newly if given a break is generally high. Hence it is essential that consistency be maintained.

3. Learn from what's already proved (Don't reinvent the wheel)

I recently began playing tennis with one of my classmates. Being coached long back, I vaguely remembered a few strokes. After playing for almost a month with my partner, I realized that there was hardly any improvement in my game. I failed to understand why my learning curve was so low. Then a new coach joined and he offered to coach me. Surprisingly just within 3 days, I found a lot of improvement. Being a believer in nothing is impossible, probably given an year time I might have figured out the best way to hit the ball. But learning from the coach help me achieve the same task much much faster.
This does not mean conventional methods have to be followed always but we should not forget that a lot of research and brains have been put into designing those conventional methods and hence there is definitely something we can learn from them.

4. Changing strategies (trying alternatives)

I hate to admit that I find it very difficult to control certain aspects of my life, especially the small personal things like having junk food, sleeping overtime, watching TV as ad addiction. But being human, I realized that I have certain weaknesses which are not very easy to overcome. While I don't say I cannot overcome, I definitely say they are very difficult to overcome.

This is one of the best examples I have learnt from, reg. trying alternatives. Though I like going for a morning walk, getting up early in the morning is something which is very very difficult for me. Everyday before going to bed, I make up my mind not to stop the alarm next day morning. Yet next day morning when the alarm rings, sleep takes over me and I always end up switching off the alarm and going back to sleep. End result get up with a guilt feeling that I couldn't do what I wanted to do.

When I decided to join tennis, I knew that though not impossible, it would be very difficult for me to get up in the morning regularly. So I decided to change the strategy a bit. I looked for a partner to accompany me to tennis. Ever since then, I never found it that hard to get up in the morning. My partner would give me a wake up call and as I felt responsible to him, I got up regularly.

Another example I would like to quote is about working from home. This also helped me realize about the importance of separating professional from personal life. Initially I used to work from home. What I observed is that being focussed at home is really really difficult because there are a lot of distractions (TV, people, etc.). Eventually I found both professional and personal lives overlapping and me justifying none of them completely. So what solved this problem? Simple, a small change. Instead of working from home, I decided to go to office, complete my work over there and when I come back home, not to think about work. Now I certainly feel my time is much better managed and my activities are much more focussed.

5. Never say die

The last and most important lesson I have learnt - "In spite of many unsuccessful attempts in the past, never say die". Agreed, everything we do in out life is measured in terms of input and output or rather investment and returns. So when you find that the time or money you are investing is not worth the returns, it may not be worth pursuing it. But I am not talking about these cases. I am talking about those cases where people give up too easily or give up because they have already tried many times. I failed to learn how to swim four times (and it was because I did not adhere to the four lessons I have mentioned above in all these attempts). Yet when it came to the fifth time, I still had hope that I could learn it this time. And though I am not as good a swimmer as I want to be yet, I still proudly say that I at least know how to swim now. Had I given it up thinking about all my previous unsuccessful attempts, I would have probably never learnt how to swim.

This reminds me of a quote I read somewhere recently with which I completely agree - "Success is never ending. Failure is never final". Overtime, I realized that in life, there is always a possibility for the lesser likely to happen. It is this possibility which helps me be prepared for failures even in the most favourable circumstances. It is also this same possibility which helps me hope for success even in the most adverse situations.

I find a lot of pleasure and satisfaction when I achieve small tasks as the ones mentioned above. They make me think more positively about the bigger things in life. Surprisingly I have observed the same in many people. I strongly feel these basic lessons are the same ones which will help me achieve bigger targets in life.



Very well written! :)

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