Learn any skill

[I’ve written a lot in French on this topic on this page. I’ll translate most of it when I’ll manage to find the time and energy. Until then, here’s a copy-paste of some of that I originally wrote on the canadianmindsports.com website.]

Did you notice that “Because anyone can learn to do what we do” slogan that we prominently featured everywhere on this website? We mean it. We’re not geniuses. We weren’t born with a great memory or with the ability to solve a Rubik’s cube or do lightning-fast calculations. Although not everyone will reach the same levels at the same speed, anyone can spectacularly increase his or her skills in almost any domain, including of course in the three “mind sports” that we’re promoting. We think the world would be a better place if people realized how they can train their brain like they can train their body. Please stop saying or thinking that you have “a bad memory”, you’re “not good at math”, you could “never solve one of those”, you’re “not a musical person”, you’re “not good at languages” and so on. The reality is that those skills are (almost) all about efforts, persistence and learning how to learn.

Becoming one of the best in the world usually takes years of effort. But if you proceed intelligently, becoming decent or “good enough” only takes about 20 hours of dedicated efforts, or about 45 minutes a day for about a month. 20 hours might seem like a lot, but that’s much less than the average amount of time the average person spends in front of the TV every single week (and that’s without counting all the time we spend with our cell phone or randomly surfing the Web). When it comes to learning memory sports, mental math and cubing, very significant progress can be made in much less than 20 hours. For example the beginner’s method for solving the cube can be learned in maybe one to six hours. In the right conditions, the art of memory can lead to seemingly spectacular results almost overnight, although you’ll probably need more practice to learn to use it autonomously with ease. And for mental math, there are many very cool tricks that you can learn in a few minutes.

Although not everyone can become an astronaut or an NBA player, everyone can learn to become very good at (almost) any skill. If you want to you can learn to memorize, you can learn to solve a Rubik’s cube, you can learn to do complex mathematical calculations in your head, you can also learn to play music, learn a new language, learn to be a better public speaker, learn to cook, learn to juggle, learn to dance, anything you want. But you need to believe that you can do it, you need to seek out proper instructions (in person or from good websites, books or videos) and you need to proceed intelligently (step by step while carefully analyzing your mistakes), intensely (about 4% above your comfort level) and persistently (your training sessions don’t have to be long, but they should be as frequent as possible).

The links below are there to give you some general principles that you can use with all forms of learning. To be clear, you don’t need to watch them all!

First here’s something everyone should know: if you aim for the “good enough” instead of the “expert” level, 20 hours of practice or less might be all you need to become good at a difficult new skill. If you’re curious, here’s a relevant interview with the same author. If you find some half-decent instructional material, you pre-commit to invest the necessary time and effort and you power-through those first few difficult and uncomfortable practice sessions, you’ll be amazed at what you can manage to accomplish after a little while. To be clear: cramming 20 hours of practice in 2 or 3 or 5 days won’t work nearly as well as 45 minutes a day, 5 or 6 days a week for 4 weeks. You need to full nights of sleep in between your practice to maintain your focus and you also need it to consolidate what you’ve learned.

About the very important concept that is deliberate practice:

Here’s an excellent free online class about learning. And here’s a short video overview of the excellent book that served as a basis for the class.

Do you have what’s called a “Growth Mindset”? Most people don’t, but they really should learn to develop one:

About how passion and perseverance over the long term are much more important than IQ or “talent”:

By the way you can often speed up Youtube videos by 25 or 50% (sometimes more) without negatively affecting comprehension. You can use this great free software to convert them to mp3 files and listen to them while doing something else.