5 Steps of Learning Any Skill in the World
[This post was originally published on my self-hosted blog on June 14, 2016 at 8:59 pm. Migrated to Medium on Jan 6, 2020.]
[Migrated & extended from a personal entry in my Evernote from 12/23/2015]
I believe that the average human has the ability to learn and do anything in the world. It’s uncommon for people to fully exercise this power and truly learn anything (skills, etc.) in the world because 0) they don’t realize this potential (REALIZATION), 1) they don’t find it necessary to exhaust the attention/time/money/effort in order to do so (MOTIVATION), and 2) because they lack the proper/efficient training to learning new skills (EDUCATION).
During the past year or so after first coming to this realization, I’ve experimented on myself by trying to learn new skills from scratch, and constructed somewhat of an overarching systematic process that I can follow when learning any new skill:
STAGE 1: IMMERSION
STAGE 2: PATTERN MATCHING / REVERSE ENGINEERING / DISSECTION
STAGE 3: REPLICATION
STAGE 4: MUTATION
STAGE 5: CREATION
For example, a few weeks ago I decided that I want to learn how to produce EDM music. I had zero previous background with music production (didn’t even know what BPM was) but it seemed fun to do and like why not. So first, I spent a good two weeks completely immersing myself with existing EDM tracks and mixes online. That’s all I listened to actively and passively (when designing things, coding, or commuting) for hours a day. Then I tried isolating specific tracks that I really liked, whether it was the drop or the intro or the bridge. Then, with the small sample pool of tracks that I liked, I tried dissecting and taking the average number/timing/length of the drops/intro/bridge, etc. In the end I had a relative “pattern” that all these tracks loosely followed, which I could totally use as a guide for my own tracks later on. Then, I downloaded FL Studio and just followed a crazy number of tutorials on YouTube on how to use the software. After learning the bare essentials, I dived straight into the “How to Replicate [insert famous EDM track] in FL Studio” tutorials like this or this and tried tinkering around, modifying the tracks a bit here and there.
In this specific example I never actually got to the CREATION step (think something urgent came up that distracted me and killed the momentum/buzz), but hopefully this is enough to prove the point. Beyond just this one example though, I’ve personally used this process countless times to pick up any new skill. It doesn’t have to be a huge new SKILL per se, either. I follow this process all the time to learn a new style/language of design or a new programming language or framework.
I guess the overarching theory that encompasses all of this is that our brains are incredibly node-driven / connection-driven, and it’s only as powerful/smart as what it’s previously seen. I’m no neuroscientist, but my guess is that our brain is like a giant web of individual nodes (represented by memories, sensory inputs, emotions, etc.) with connections forming between them (manifested in the form of recollection, realizations, epiphanies, thoughts, inspiration, etc.). So I guess a “talented” individual could have 1) a huge “library” of nodes or 2) a great ability to make connections between nodes, or 3) both. (There’s a separate essay on this topic that I’ll publish soon).
Given this theoretical context, the 5-step process works by flooding the brain with new nodes from the IMMERSION process (“seeding” it to form better / more frequent connections), parsing them to form the initial connections through PATTERN MATCHING, strengthening the connections via REPLICATION and MUTATION, then finally forming new nodes via CREATION.
So that’s my two cents. Agree with it or not, let me know. I’m always happy to discuss. firstname.lastname@example.org.