Should you learn _______?

Perhaps you’re asking the wrong question. What made you ask whether or not you should learn _______ in the first place? I mean, why did it cross your mind to even consider learning it?

If you’re drawing a blank, the answer is no.

If you have some vague reason or a specific one-time use case, the answer is also no. For example, if you just want to impress your friends by speaking 5 languages, don’t bother. Or if you want to have your own theme song for your YouTube channel, just hire some Fiverr musician to do it for you.

If you have a concrete reason or know why you want to learn _______, do you really need to ask?

In short, if you need to ask, the answer is usually no.

Learning _______ takes a lot of time, effort, and commitment. If you want to learn, do it seriously. Otherwise, you’re probably better off spending your precious time elsewhere.

The art of doing things really really slowly

A simple trick to learning how to do stuff faster. Instead of trying to speed up your movements, slow them down to an extreme.

Do it slowly, and I mean ridiculously slow, so slow that it annoys you, and do it at a consistent pace.

Take touch typing as an example. Once you are familiar with the keyboard and sorta know how to touch type, don’t try to type as fast as you can. Type slowly but at a consistent rhythm.

Start off by typing one letter per second and try not to make any mistakes. If you find yourself making the occasional mistake, slow it down even further to one letter every two or five seconds.

Then, slowly and very gradually speed up until you can type at a comfortable speed while still making zero mistakes. The moment you accidentally made a mistake and pressed the wrong key, go back to typing slowly and focus on not making any mistakes.

After a bit of practice, you’ll find yourself typing faster than ever. Why? Because by not making any mistakes, you don’t have to waste time correcting your mistakes. And by learning how to type slowly at a consistent pace, you can easily speed up your typing and still type at a consistent rhythm without getting tripped over by tricky passages.

This doesn’t just apply to typing, you can also do this when learning calligraphy, dancing, playing the piano, chopping vegetables, practicing martial arts techniques, and so on.

Focus on the throwing and the catching will take care of itself

Seth Godin on juggling:

If you’ve ever seen a juggler on television or on video or in person, what you notice is that they don’t drop the ball. Not dropping the ball is perhaps the driving force of what makes someone a juggler and, if you are enjoying the show, you are willing and wishing the balls not to drop.

So if someone says, “You want to learn how to juggle?” you might say “Yes.” This is what always happens when I teach people to juggle. They grab three balls. I say, “No, no.” They grab three balls and they throw the first one. This is easy. They throw the second one, and then they go to catch it because they know catching is the key to juggling. By the time they get to the second ball, they have to lunge for it. Once you lunge for the second ball, you’re out of position for the third one, and then you’re done. It’s all on the ground and you give up on juggling because, if juggling is about catching, you’re terrible at it. What’s the alternative?

Well, the way I’ve taught people how to juggle is simple. I give them one ball and we spend between 20 minutes and 30 minutes throwing the ball and letting it hit the ground, no catching. Then we add the second ball. Throw, throw, drop, drop. No catching. Throw, throw, drop, drop. If you do that for 40 minutes total, you’re going to be really good at throwing. If you get really good at throwing, the catching takes care of itself.

Sometimes, it’s worth trying things the other way around. Don’t learn how to catch better. Learn how to throw better, and the catching will take care of itself.

Do listen to the podcast interview or read the transcript, it’s filled with all sorts of amazing insights and wonderful stuff.

Doing the mundane stuff

Most of the time, the things you should most be doing are the mundane ones. Boring stuff no one wants to do, because everyone is busy trying to do the flashy stuff.

It turns out, practicing the fundamental principles and building up your foundations, that’s the shortcut all along. The trick isn’t to learn all those complicated hacks and obscure workarounds, the actual trick is to get a good grasp of the basics and go from there.

And when you do, you’ll find all the cool advanced stuff, the stuff everyone is busy trying to do, a lot more accessible and easier than expected.

If I didn’t quit back then, where would I be now?

I first started playing the ukulele sometime in early 2016. Back then, I only knew the basic chords and could only do some basic strumming. Sadly, I stopped learning after a while and it became somewhat of an on/off thing where I would pick up my ukulele, play it for a bit, and never touch it again for months.

Recently, I started learning how to play the ukulele again and I found myself asking this simple question. What if I never stopped learning in 2016, where would I be now in 2020? How good would I have become?

When the going gets tough and I feel like giving up, I ask myself. Suppose I give up and stop learning now, would I prefer to repeat this whole cycle later in 2024 or something? Imagine myself in 2024, looking back at 2020, wondering what would’ve happened if I didn’t quit the ukulele in 2020 and continued learning this whole time. How great an ukulele player would my 2024 self be right now?

Four years seem like a long time, but does it matter? I’m going to spend that four years anyway, might as well spend it doing something useful like learning a new skill. By the end of the four years, would I prefer to still be the same person who’s only a beginner? Or would I prefer to be someone who can play at a decent or semi-advanced level?

Is there anything you would like to start learning now that would come in handy or be really useful in a few years? Why haven’t you started learning it yet?

How to live multiple lives

We only have a finite time in this world and there’s only so much we can do, learn, experience, experiment with, and try. But do you know we can live multiple lives?

Not literally though, but the simple act of reading a novel enables you to experience a different life, albeit an artificial one. But human history is already rich with the tales and adventures of millions of lives, why settle for an artificial one?

Ever curious about what it’s like to experience near death or a life-threatening disease, literally fighting for you life? Or what it feel like to be a drug addict? Or to grow up in a disadvantaged minority group? To be blind or deaf? Losing your spouse in your 30s? Going through extreme poverty? Experiencing PTSD? Fighting in a bloody war? Escaping North Korea?

Or on a more positive side, going to the moon? Creating a successful business selling shoes? Discovering electricity or the theory of relativity? Revolutionizing manufacturing? Inventing the iPhone? Creating a successful online store? Becoming a president? Revolutionizing space travel? Building a successful investment empire?

Through the power of books, biographies, interviews, and whatnot, you now have the power to experience what all these people went through, the power to take a peek at the lives of so many great people and learn from all of them. Do you know how amazing that is? With that, we have the power to live multiple lives!


On internalizing lessons

I consume a lot. Books, articles, blog posts, podcasts, food, audiobooks, TED talks, and so on. Which also means I must have learned quite a lot.

But having “learned” something doesn’t mean I’ve “learnt” it. Often, I find myself regressing, relapsing into old habits, (in)voluntarily destroying the changes I’ve worked so hard to build, and failing to sustain the lessons I’ve learned. Repeatedly, over and over again.

I already know the things I need to know, and yet, I coincidentally forgot about them when I need them most. I think I’ve written about something similar before, perhaps on knowledge consolidation or exploration vs exploitation. And yet, I still haven’t quite internalized it yet.

It’s like what Bruce Lee said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” I may have learned 10,000 lessons, but I’ve mostly only learned them once, or a few times at most.

How many times did I learn about health and fitness before I started taking exercise and diet seriously? How many times did I learn about the benefits of writing and journaling before I started my first blog post or journal entry? Even this lesson on regression and not internalizing lessons, how many times do I need to go through it before I can finally say I’ve “learnt” it?

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, but at the same time, repeated practice and exposure is how lessons get internalized so perhaps I just need to keep at it until I reached the metaphorical 10,000 times.

Timeless vs in-the-moment articles

I used to really like timeless articles, you can read them anytime and they would still be relevant and applicable. For example, articles about personal growth or articles that teach timeless concepts or case studies. But recently, I’m finding more value from in-the-moment articles.

Not in the sense of the latest news or recent happenings, but articles that talk about the current changes we are facing. For example, I think everyone can pretty much agree that slavery is immoral and everyone should have basic human rights.

But imagine yourself as someone in the early 19th century before slavery was abolished. Perhaps you or your friends and family own a couple dozen slaves. How would you feel about it if you were told it’s immoral and unethical? What would it be like to read those in-the-moment articles where people debate the ethics behind slavery and equal rights among black and white? 

The same is true for a lot of current topics. Oil and gas, the energy crisis, global warming, animal cruelty, artificial intelligence, acceptance of the LGBT community, banning nuclear weapons, going to Mars, and so on.

While you could stick with reading timeless articles, I find it quite beneficial to learn about all the changes we as a society are going through. Not in the sense of news though, I still have no interest in those, but rather, the ideas and debates on what the world should be like going forward and the changes that follows.

How not to hone your craft

How good are you at your craft?

The easiest way to get better at something is by putting in the time and effort, everybody knows that. You shouldn’t give up at the first sight of difficulty, you give up only after trying everything and exhausting all your options.

How long have you been practicing? Did you try watching a few tutorials or tips and tricks videos? Taking lessons or hiring a teacher? How about reading a few articles or books about your craft? Maybe join an online or offline practice group and make friends with others on the same journey as you?

Well, you know all that. We all do. It’s so stupidly simple, we hear it every time. Practice makes perfect, it takes 10,000 hours to get world-class at something. And yet, I still can’t believe how fast people give up, myself included.

Let me tell you a story of a time I tried to learn calligraphy back in my middle school days. It’s a very short and simple story, it goes like this:

One day in school, I picked up a brush pen and wrote a few words. They all look funny so I try writing some more and they turned out worse the second time. After a dozen or so attempts, I gave up and concluded that calligraphy just isn’t for me. The end.

Well, what did I expect? Perfect strokes after 5 minutes of practice? Absurd, and after concluding that calligraphy is not for me, I simply stopped trying and went on with the lessons, believing full well that I’ll never be able to write with a brush pen.

And of course, things turned out exactly the way I thought it would. Despite the many practice sessions and lessons, I never improved, not one bit. Same for my handwriting, but that’s another story.

Fast forward to today, I think I’m going to give calligraphy another try. Perhaps it is my newfound stationeries addiction but I’ve taken quite a liking to penmanship and calligraphy these days. And this time, I’ll do it properly.