How To Teach Yourself Anything
Some of you may or may not know that I was homeschooled all the way from cradle to graduation. If you have any quips about all-day pajamas or taking my sister to the prom, please regurgitate them now and get them out of your system. Thank you.
Homeschooling was a fantastic experience for me in many ways. One of the greatest things I learned was the fine art of teaching myself things.
I have my mom to thank for this. If I was interested in chemistry, she would hand me a book that showed me how to make tabletop volcanoes. If I found a weird bug and wanted to know what it was, she sent me to a bug encyclopedia. (Or later on, Google.) When I was writing a science-fiction book and needed to know more about astronomy, she gave me an astronomy course that I worked through for a semester.
One of the great things about the 21st century: It’s possible to learn almost anything on your own, if you have the inclination. Here are some of the discoveries I’ve made that make the self-teaching process a little easier.
Find Your Practice Routine
You may aspire to become the world’s best car egger, but you’ll never be any more than a mediocre vandal if you don’t invest a good amount of time in your garage, practicing the many and varied techniques used by all the greatest eggers.
Practice. There’s no going without it.
But while a good practice does tend to make (closer to) perfect, a lousy practice doth make only lousiness. It’s up to you to design your personal practice routine, supercharged to fit your own personality and schedule.
One size does not fit all. Experiment, figure out what works and what doesn’t. All that matters is that you end up with a structured practice routine to consistently move you toward betterment.
Practice In the Real World
Whether you’re writing a book, playing an instrument, learning a language, or baking cupcakes, you will never become truly great if the only place you practice your craft is your bedroom.
Your day-to-day, private practice is essential, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. To truly grow and mature in your craft, you have to experience it in the harsh and unpredictable schoolroom of the real world.
Give your book to people who will give you honest feedback. Play your guitar for open mic night. Send your cupcakes to your friends, family, and favorite politicians.
Make Friends Who Are Better Than You
We all like having friends who will be awed by our skill, who will shake their heads and make sounds of jealousy and admiration when we do our thing.
But you know what’s more important? Having friends who are so much better than you at whatever it is you’re trying to learn that it makes you want to curl into a fetal position under ten feet of quilts and cry bitter, despairing tears.
Because people like this will push you to become better. They are a picture of what you are capable of achieving. And if they really are your friends, they will be only too happy to help you along in your journey.
Try Different Mediums
It’s good to find the methods of learning that work best for you, but don’t let this keep you from trying new things. Maybe you consider yourself primarily a visual learner—try subscribing to some good audio podcasts that address your particular craft. Or maybe you get most of your information from books—try visiting a hands-on workshop for a change.
Keep your mind fresh. Don’t get stuck in a “learning rut”.
Be a Teacher
One of the best ways to learn anything is to teach it to someone. It’s one of the scariest things you’ll ever do, but the benefits are huge and long-lasting.
Learn While You Learn
When you learn something, remember that the concepts you’re learning might just apply to a completely different aspect of your life as well.
I’ve used acting techniques to improve my writing, and writing techniques to improve my acting. Various things I’ve learned about music have also helped me in how I relate to and interact with other people.
Most knowledge boils down to abstract concepts and ideas—and those can be used across the board to improve many different aspects of our lives, if you keep your mind open to them. It’s like MEGA-learning.
You will never know all there is to know. No matter how good you are at something, there will always be something more to learn. Always keep your mind open to learning new things. Never stop scanning the horizon for your next personal discovery, the next breakthrough that clicks in your brain and takes you to the next level of craft.
There are many secrets to being good at what you do, but that may be the biggest one.