The art of learning: 5 essential tips to retain new skills

According to neurological research, we usually learn just enough of a new skill to become competent. Before we can master it, our brains switch to autopilot to conserve energy. Here are five ways to challenge yourself to master new skills.

Effective leadership begins with continual, lifelong learning. The more new knowledge you retain, the less likely you are to be caught off guard. But how do you stay one step ahead of the market if everyone has access to the same information? More importantly, how can you learn new skills and retain information for later?

According to neurological research, when we learn any new skill, we usually learn just enough to become competent. Before we can master it, our brains switch to autopilot.

Researchers say this is the brain’s way of conserving energy. The only way around our inherently lazy brains is to deliberately practice skills we want to master.

The old-fashioned way

Mastering any skill requires dedication and habit-forming. In other words, learning a skill is easy, but being a pro at it requires old-fashioned consist practice. It sounds like common sense, but it’s easier said than done.

Once we reach a base level of competence, most of us practice what we’ve already learned over and over, sacrificing new skills we could learn in that time that might make us better.

Doing the bare minimum won’t work when you’re a leader.  The only way to get better at a task is through deliberate work, which means diving in head first into the hard stuff.

1. See yourself through the eyes of others

Leaders tend to hold themselves to a higher standard than they do others, and while that can be a great motivator, it also means that they judge themselves more harshly than they would others. It helps to switch perspectives and see yourself through the eyes of others during the learning process. This will allow you to recognize the areas that you need to improve. Are you really as good or bad as you think in some areas? Be honest with yourself and think how you’d respond if you were assessing a colleague instead.

2. Focus on areas you want to improve

Planning is half the battle won. Set aside time to work on the specific area you want to improve. Again, it may seem obvious but when you pencil in time to focus on just one thing, you’re signaling your intention to master that particular skill. This cuts out distractions and helps you learn faster. This is one of the reasons why people who learn languages by traveling and immersing themselves in the culture pick up the language faster and at a more proficient level.

3. Look for constructive feedback

Some tasks automatically give you feedback as you practice. For example, if you’re trying to master the piano, you can hear how good you are or where you need more work. Business and leadership skills, like empathy, or public speaking, are harder to gauge. Having honest and objective feedback is crucial for these tasks, so consider looking for expert advice through a coach or consultant.

4. Push yourself

You won’t know how much you’ve learned unless you test yourself. Push your own boundaries and try out your new skills in real life to retain what you’ve learned. This also helps you to hone your skills at improvising if things don’t go as planned. In the language example, you won’t know just how fluent you’ve become unless you have a conversation with a native speaker. Similarly, if you’re working to improve your communication skills, you won’t know if it’s made a difference unless you try it out on your time.

5. Do it all over again

The final and most important part of this process is making sure you keep at it every day. Consistency is key when retaining new skills, so keep practicing and keep testing yourself and raising the bar every time.

Did any of these strategies work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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