Photo credit:  Pexels

Photo credit: Pexels

Learning a new skill, whether for fun or career advancement, takes some discipline. Thankfully, there are tons of practical skills and talents that you can learn. You might start off with a jet pack of motivation, but it might dwindle as weeks go by and new challenges are encountered. Here’s a few tips and tricks on how to learn a new skill and make it stick.

1. Set SMART goals
You might have heard of a SMART goal: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. This is a great way to start off new skills: setting smaller goals that are easy to achieve. Learning a new skill isn't easy. It's OK to start with small, achievable goals, and in fact, that's what will help you build the confidence to keep going. As you set smaller goals using the SMART template, remember to make distinctions between tasks and projects.

2. Set yourself up for success
Make your goals super easy to achieve. Let’s say you’re learning the guitar. Sometimes, taking it out of the case can be more effort than it’s worth. To solve this problem, you would buy a guitar stand and have your guitar on display so you remember to practice. Or, if you have a goal to exercise after work more often, store some workout clothes at your job that make it more convenient for you to hit the gym when you’re done in the office.

3. Control distractions
Part of finding the dedication to learn a new skill requires you to identify things that derail your focus and dealing with them. According to Lifehacker, changing your environment can help you reduce distraction and prevent bad practice habits that adversely affect your accomplishment of your goal. This can mean avoiding specific areas, or maybe cleaning your house so you can focus more easily.

4. Vary the way you do a task
Research has shown that subtly changing the way that you practice or perform a new skill, especially motor skills like learning a new instrument, causes your brain to reorganize information and improve your ability to learn something new. If you’re repeating the same musical sequences or language phrases, vary slightly when you practice so your brain starts getting into a new habit.

5. Tell a friend to keep you accountable
A friend can either learn with you or follow up with you. If necessary, make some ludicrous promise to them that you must fulfill if you don’t achieve your goal. This might mean giving your friend $100, or donating to a cause instead.

6. Reward yourself
This one is part of most attempts to learn a new skill, but finding the right kind of incentive is what’s really important. There are some rewards you can receive when you achieve a goal or learn a new skill, and there are others that you can use to reinforce successful actions or behavior. Find out what works for you, and don’t reward yourself until you’ve checked off your task.

7. Take a break after a focused session
According to the New York Times, taking a short break after you perform a focused session of work helps switch your brain into a mode where the information can be processed and new neural connections can be made.

8. Find a mentor
For many of the skills or talents that you want to learn, it’s likely that you can find someone who has already accomplished what you want to do. Talk with someone about the steps they took to accomplish the same goal. This gives you a good blueprint for how you will succeed.

Accomplishing really small goals in the beginning can help you get a good idea for how you can succeed in learning a new skill. Focus on just learning a little bit each day instead of trying to learn everything. You’ll find confidence as you continue to accomplish more goals.

Big thanks to life and career coach Julie Morris for this great guest blog!