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How to Teach Yourself Anything
And why it's important
Welcome to the Thursday edition of Daily Self. Today’s topic is a personal favorite of mine: how to learn stuff.
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Now, onto the newsletter:
Afternoon Microdose: How to Teach Yourself Anything (and Why It’s Important)
Myth of the Day: To be successful at teaching yourself to do something, you really need to have innate talent or be a natural prodigy in order to become highly skilled at it.
Action Item: Start teaching yourself something you’ve always wanted to learn
(1) Afternoon Microdose
How to Teach Yourself Anything (and Why It’s Important)
I’m a naturally curious person and consider myself to be a lifelong learner. Anytime something piques my interest, I want to try it for myself. Some people find this charming, others (like my ex-wife) do not. The reason people struggle with my endless curiosity is that it often comes across as having a “ping-pong brain” (i.e. constantly bouncing around and context-switching).
It’s true—I do bounce around a lot, and there have been many topics where I’ve said “ok that’s enough learning” after only a few rounds of experimentation (e.g. golf and making kombucha).
But when something does stick, it always ends up opening new doors (often by me crashing through them), where I make new friends, acquire new life skills, and stumble upon new opportunities.
And the way I always start is through self-instruction aka “teaching myself.”
The difference between “learning” and “teaching yourself”
"Learning" is a broad term that refers to acquiring knowledge or skills through any means, whether it be through direct instruction from a teacher or mentor, personal experience, or by teaching yourself.
"Teaching yourself” refers to acquiring knowledge or skills without the assistance of a formal teacher. I typically find myself starting HERE. The fastest way to pick up a new skill and become knowledgeable on a subject is to DYOR—do your own research. With the internet being a tap away, 24/7, DYOR is the quickest entry point to educating yourself on many subjects.
With that being said, DYOR will not be ideal in all subjects and teacher-led instruction will be vital to your success (e.g. becoming proficient at heart surgery). Here are the steps to teach yourself anything*.
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Steps to teaching yourself anything*
*excluding things like medicine, operating machinery, piloting or jumping out of an airplane, big wave surfing, etc.
Check your attitude and be humble. You know nothing at this point.
Develop a hypothesis (otherwise you risk analysis paralysis). A hypothesis is “an assumption that is proposed for the sake of argument so that it can be tested to see if it might be true.” For example, DYOR on how to build muscle. Let’s say your hypothesis is: I need to lift weights and eat more protein to build muscle.
Perform a Google (or ChatGPT) search for “how to…” True story: I have a friend who is a very successful inventor and entrepreneur. She had no experience and started her journey by Googling “How to make stuff”. In our muscle-building example, we can Google or perform an AI search for “How to build muscle.”
Niche down. That initial “How to” will lead you to a generic answer, but it’s a good starting point. From there, narrow your research (find your niche) based on things that are unique to you or your situation. “How to build muscle” —> “How to build muscle for women in their 30s.” Keep niching down until you feel confident enough to test your research (perhaps she’s a vegan and doesn’t want to join a gym… add that criterion to the research).
Field test. Learning requires repetition, i.e. you can’t learn without practice. Perform a low-stakes field test based on your research. For our muscle-building example, the woman in her 30s who is looking to build muscle at home while sticking to her vegan diet buys resistance bands, follows a YouTube workout 3x per week, and adds 30g of protein to her daily meals. Does she notice a difference after a few weeks? Yes—great—keep doing the same thing or level up. No—time to revise or put in a few more weeks (maybe it takes longer than she thought it would).
Keep testing and refining; seek out teachers and mentors if you need them. Learning is a process. At every step, there are new considerations and challenges. It’s up to you to chart your own course and to decide if the “teach yourself” method is working. At any point, you may decide that it’s not and instead, seek out the advice of a teacher or mentor. That’s what I did with my hip-hop dancing lessons. I started by teaching myself at home with online videos but found myself frustrated by nuances in the choreography. So, I pivoted to an in-person class and I love it!
(2) Myth of the Day
To be successful at teaching yourself to do something, you really need to have innate talent or be a natural prodigy in order to become highly skilled at it.
In reality, while talent can certainly help, the most important factor in mastering a skill is consistent practice and dedication over time. Anyone can become an expert at something if they are willing to put in the effort and stay committed to their goals.
Another important aspect of mastering a skill is having the right mindset. It's easy to get discouraged early on or feel like you're not making progress quickly enough, but it's important to remember that learning something new takes time and effort. It's normal to make mistakes and experience setbacks along the way; the key is to stay patient and keep pushing yourself to improve.
(3) Action Item
What is something you’ve always wanted to learn but put off because “you’re not sure how to even start.” Don’t wait anymore. Start tonight by following steps 1-3.
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