How to Learn Anything During COVID-19
By Emily Touch
If you’re reading this, you’re most likely stuck at home, or may have just been released for a limited time out into the world. The COVID-19 crisis is not over for the time being, even as the number of those infected with the virus decreases; there is too much uncertainty as we are still learning about this novel coronavirus. We are all aware of the perils of economic doom as our politicians and news channels like to remind us 24/7. This is of general concern, especially for those whose entire livelihoods depend on working for others.
Whether or not you want to be an entrepreneur, you may not have a choice in the coming months, as there are several trades where jobs may not be returning. Examples are the restaurant and travel industries, at least as far as we know them, according to Chris Bryant, Bloomberg Opinion Columnist. However, there is no need to panic; while we are careful about being generally overly optimistic the idea that “life happens for you, not to you” is a powerful statement and puts control of our destiny back in our hands. Entrepreneurship is a combination of skills as much as a mindset so we’ll cover below how to learn any skill so that you can control your destiny. While most things are out of our control, we can take active steps every single day to acquire the skills to thrive in this brave new world.
Break it down to the smallest parts
There is an abundance of fables about this, and whole civilizations have been built on this concept (ex. “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.) Most famous is the quote from Lao Tzu that states “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” The reason most people don’t learn a new skill is two-fold: firstly, the idea of learning (and excelling) at a new skill such as public speaking seems so overwhelming, they don’t even start. The second reason is that it sounds boring, as though you’re not making progress when you're consistently taking small steps. Take public speaking; even if you’re practicing 5 minutes every day in front of a mirror, you’re doing something, moving the ball forward. Better 5 minutes than nothing, because eventually those 5 minutes a day add up!
When legendary investor Warren Buffet was asked by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos why most people don’t utilize his simple 2% growth rule for every day, his answer was “because nobody wants to get rich slow.” The reality is that the time will pass either way, and you’ll wonder where it went. Best to take small measures every single day, even if they’re baby steps on days you feel uninspired, as they will compound. The author James Clear blogs and writes about this concept prolifically, so if you want to learn more about one of the fundamentals of learning anything, you should check out his work as an addition to this article.
Create a plan
What doesn’t get scheduled doesn’t happen. It’s nice to think about learning a new skill, and even visualizing the act. But if you want to do it consistently, it needs to be scheduled in your calendar. The hardest part of learning any new skill or doing anything challenging in general is getting yourself in a chair. Once you master that and get started the task tends to happen on its own as you enter a state of flow.
We are big believers in getting up early and tackling said task first thing in the AM, especially if it's something that is generally hard for most of us to do, like writing. A way to make your psychology work for you is to gamify this idea or create a system. Jerry Seinfeld, one of the most successful comedians of our time has a system in which he marks an X on a calendar for every day he writes. As he notes on the ‘Seinfeld Strategy’ “after a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."
Jump into the pool - but not too deep
Learn by doing. The best way to do something, and part of the entrepreneur’s ethos, is that you learn by diving right in. This is literally the story of every first-time young startup founder who was flush with venture capital money and had to build and scale their enterprise rapidly. We suggest you set expectations with this concept so you don’t take on a task at which you may initially fail, discouraging you from trying again. While failure is part of success, we’re focused on skill acquisition here with a slow and meaningful process.
An example would be if you want to learn a skill like copywriting as a part of the suite of services you offer as a content writer. You could go online to a site like Fiverr or Upwork and bid on smaller and lower compensating offers to start building your skill set with lower expectations. True, you could jump off a cliff and learn to fly on the way down, but you could crash as well. It’s important to understand yourself and know how you deal with failure. Failure is part of life, and a topic we will cover in the future, and it’s important you understand how to deal with it if you want to be very successful. But when you’re just getting started and building your confidence with any skill, winning small victories consistently builds confidence.
Work with a mentor or a coach
A mentor and a coach both play different roles, but each could be helpful and effective in helping you cut the learning time when it comes to acquiring new skills. No matter what, you’re going to make mistakes at the beginning, and even feel stupid at times when you first start out. That’s a normal part of the process, so don’t get discouraged.
What a mentor can do is to help guide you down a path they’ve already been on. For argument's sake, let's use writing sales copy as the skill you want to develop. This is a highly sought-after skill that compensates well. A mentor could be a seasoned copywriter, and built a successful career doing this. Finding a mentor can be difficult and is a topic we’ll explore in a future post, but for now if you’re a student we would suggest you start researching and reaching out to alumni for a short phone call.
Coaches are legendary in places like Silicon Valley, as stated by Business Insider, “this is the power of coaching in general: The ability to offer a different perspective, one unaffected by being "in the game." A good coach can be a game changer, and while many times you will have to pay one, working with a coach seriously cuts months off your learning curve. Coaches are easy to find, but the challenge is finding the right match. There are operation coaches, and ones who focus on mindset. There are also new categories such as entrepreneurship coaches and mindfulness coaches. A coach can have a powerful influence as they have access to your mind, but we have found them to be a net positive. But like all things, it’s just about speaking with several of them on the phone or in person and getting a sense of who you gel with and is in line with helping you reach your goals.
Start an accountability group
Not enough people do this, and for some people this simple act can be life changing when it comes to learning a new skill. All you need to do is find some like-minded friends who are focused on bettering themselves and set up a group, whether it’s a weekly call or chat group, and just hold each other accountable to your goals. It’s important to find people who are encouraging as part of this group and will do the work. As Thomas Oppong, founder @AllTopStartups, states, “on the power of peer accountability if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95%.” You may feel this tactic won’t work, but once you try it, you’ll realize how much the opinions of your accountability group matter, to your benefit!
The hardest part of doing anything is getting started, but as we’ve outlined above, it's all achievable. We never said it was easy, but if you want to be successful it takes time to put in the work. However, if you practice and refine your skill day in, day out, you’ll get there much quicker than you would have believed. The most important thing is just to focus on the target in front of you and not concern yourself with anything else but completing that task.