20 Hours to Learn Anything: It's a System, Not a Goal

For all the goals I had in 2013, losing weight was not one of them. However, of my eleven monthly 1 small thing goals, 5 of them were health related. I did those monthly goals with the intention of trying to form new, habits, and slowly but surely, I have become a regular exerciser.

So, while I did not intend to lose weight, I did want to be healthier, and I took specific action steps to achieve better health. Since the summer, I started doing two things:
  1. Exercising regularly, which usually means jogging 2 or 3 days each week.
  2. Tracking my caloric intake, using an app on my phone.
The results:  I lost almost 10 pounds in the last six months of 2013.

What I Learned About Goals

Here's what I learned about making goals: Don't make the end result the focus. Yes, you need to have a specific objective. But more important are the action steps toward your goal.

You see, I realized that I can't always control results, but I can control what I do.

What if I made "Lose 20 pounds my goal," which is sort of true for me, because I do want to lose another 10 pounds or so? What if I made 20 pounds my goal, and only lost 10? I would probably feel like a failure.

But I focused on two action steps (involving exercise and diet) and I let the results take care of itself. James Clear wrote about this, as he explained why it's more important to have systems than goals. He writes that goals . . .
  1. reduce your current happiness (because we equate goals with happiness)
  2. are at odds with long-term progress (because we slack off after accomplishing them)
  3. suggest that you are more in control than you think (sorry, Type A people, we can't control everything in life)

This Year's Goals Systems

2013 Goals: Each month, do something regularly to form a habit.

2014 System: Spend 20 hours over 2 months to learn a new skill.

I was inspired in part by Josh Kaufman's TEDx talk, in which he makes the case that it takes about 20 hours to learn the basics of a new skill. For me, this will translate to roughly 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 8 weeks.

Here are some of the skills I hope to learn:
  • Basic Spanish language
  • Playing an instrument (probably the ukelele, which is what Kaufman did, too)
  • Solving a Rubik's cube
  • Computer programming
I need two more skills (since I'll need six for the year). You can let me know of any suggestions in the comments.

Again, I will focus on the system (i.e., practicing for 30 minutes a day), not the goal (mastering the ukelele, becoming fluent in Spanish, setting a world record for solving a Rubik's cube).

Yes, I do want to become competent in speaking and translating Spanish, and I'll keep that objective in mind. But the part that I will focus on is what I will do to make it happen. I will focus on what I will do and how long I will do it. If I do that, the results will take care of themselves.


Skill #1: Learning Spanish

The first objective for the year is learning Spanish. Of course, I do not expect to acquire even a basic mastery in just two months. Instead, I will focus on establishing a system to learn Spanish in January and February, and then plan to continue my study through the rest of the year (and beyond?).

We've already bought the Rosetta Stone software. We got a good deal on the homeschool version (for up to 5 users, plus it tracks grades), so all five of us will be working on this, though at different paces and with varying focuses. For example, our youngest child will only do speaking and listening.

I haven't taken Spanish in almost 20 years, but I am excited to do this. The main reason is to be able to help others who speak Spanish but not (or only a little bit of) English.

And there are personal benefits to learning new skills (such as foreign languages). It has been shown to positively modify the brain's structure, keep aging minds sharp, and delay dementia. For children and youth, learning a foreign language has been shown to increase a broad range of cognitive development. In addition, the "flow" state of acquiring new abilities has been shown to increase happiness. That is, our whole body likes it when we learn new things.

Our six-year-old on lesson 1.

¡Vamanos! (Let's Go!)

Since all five of us will be learning Spanish, perhaps we can produce something like this (from what I understand, it was produced as a final project in a Spanish class):

What about you? Are you up for learning any new skills in 2014?

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**top image courtesy of imageafter via everystockphoto