How To Teach Yourself New Tricks When You're Not 20 Anymore

Photo via Livescience

Photo via Livescience

The Ageist gang stay relevant by constantly learning. Here are some tips form the experts at Harvard Business Review:

"We all want to be better at something. After all, self-improvement is necessary to getting ahead at work. But once you know what you want to be better at — be it public speaking, using social media, or analyzing data — how do you start? Of course, learning techniques will vary depending on the skill and the person, but there are some general rules you can follow.

What the Experts Say
Mastering new skills is not optional in today’s business environment. 'In a fast-moving, competitive world, being able to learn new skills is one of the keys to success. It’s not enough to be smart — you need to always be getting smarter,' says Heidi Grant Halvorson, a motivational psychologist and author of the HBR Single Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. Joseph Weintraub, a professor of management and organizational behavior at Babson College and coauthor of the book, The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business, agrees: 'We need to constantly look for opportunities to stretch ourselves in ways that may not always feel comfortable at first. Continual improvement is necessary to get ahead.' Here are some principles to follow in your quest for self-improvement:

Check your readiness
When working on a new skill or competency, you need to ask yourself two things. First, is your goal attainable? 'There are certain limits to what you can learn,' explains Weintraub. 'For example, you may want to be a brain surgeon, but not have the eye-hand coordination required.' Second, how much time and energy can you give to the project? 'It’s not like going to the pharmacy and getting a prescription filled,' says Weintraub. Self-improvement is hard work. Halvorson agrees: 'Many people implicitly believe that if you have to work hard at something, it means you lack ability. This is rubbish.' Instead, recognize that learning a new skill takes extreme commitment. Unless your goal is attainable and you’re prepared to work hard, you won’t get very far.

Know how you learn best
Some learn best by looking at graphics or reading. Others would rather watch demonstrations or listen to things being explained. Still others need a 'hands-on' experience. Halvorson says you can figure out your ideal learning style by looking back. 'Reflect on some of your past learning experiences, and make a list of good ones and another list of bad ones,' she says. 'What did the good, effective experiences have in common? How about the bad ones? Identifying common strands can help you determine the learning environment that works best for you.'

Start small
Self-improvement can feel overwhelming. 'You can’t take on everything. If you do, you’ll never do it,' says Weintraub. Instead, choose one or two skills to focus on at a time, and break that skill down into manageable goals. For example, if you’re trying to become more assertive, you might focus on speaking up more often in meetings by pushing yourself to talk within the first five minutes.

Reflect along the way
To move from experimentation to mastery, you need to reflect on what you are learning. Otherwise the new skill won’t stick. Halvorson and Weintraub both suggest talking to others. 'Always share your goals with those individuals who can provide informational or emotional support along the way,' says Halvorson. 'Even if that person doesn’t have the answer, he can help you and keep you honest about how much you’re improving,' says Weintraub. Talking about your progress helps you get valuable feedback, keeps you accountable, and cements the change.

Be patient
'Too often, we approach a new skill with the attitude that we should nail it right out of the gate,' says Halvorson. The reality is that it takes much longer. 'It’s not going to happen overnight. It usually takes six months or more to develop a new skill,' says Weintraub. And it may take longer for others to see and appreciate it. 'People around you will only notice 10% of every 100% change you make,' he says.

-Amy Gallo via Harvard Business Review