Learning is a Series of Steps: 7 Tips to Master a New Skill

by Zoë B

A few weeks ago, at the age of thirty-something, I started the process of learning to drive.

To be completely honest, it has been a daunting experience, especially for an overachiever like me.

Most of the tasks I undertake I find relatively easy, but not driving.

Seeing as I’m an introspective kind of person, I‘ve been curious to identify what it is that I’ve been struggling with these past few weeks. The answer is an obvious one: fear.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of losing control. Fear of being responsible for my conduct on unknown roads in an unchartered territory.

In theory, I know that I have nothing to fear. I know that everything we have ever learned is learned through a series of steps—and driving is no different.

If you’re an experienced driver, you may be reading this wondering what all the fuss is about, but there is a lot to learn when you set out.

“The excitement of learning separates youth from old age. As long as you’re learning, you’re not old.” ~Rosalyn S. Yalow

What I’ve learned is that these things take time.

There have been lessons where I’ve come out swearing I’ll never get in a car again, and then lessons where I’ve felt surprisingly in control and at ease with everything.

Regardless, I know that if I follow the steps, I will eventually get there.

If you’re learning a new skill, breaking a new habit, or simply trying to change yourself for the better, it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen if you commit.

Upon reflection of my driving experience, I thought I’d share a few things that I’ve learned with you today:

1. Embrace the fear.

Fear is a natural emotion—one we cannot avoid. We naturally fear the unknown, so when we start to learn a new skill or hobby, it’s likely there will be a certain amount of fear involved.

What counts is how we react to the fear. With driving, I chose to throw myself into it head-on, and so I forced myself to get in the car and drive into the CBD of Sydney, even though this felt incredibly scary for me.

In my experience, the only way to overcome fear is to face it. The good news is, once you face it, it usually disappears and leaves you feeling empowered knowing that you conquered it.

2. Be patient.

Think back to when you were a toddler. Did you learn to walk overnight? Or did your mom or dad patiently pick you up each time you fell until you eventually got the hang of it?

It takes time to learn a new skill. We must be patient and not expect too much, too quickly. Unrealistic expectations are the quickest route to giving up.

In my experience, it’s great to check in with someone who has already learned the skill. How long did it take them? Did they encounter frustrations like you? This is a great way to form a realistic viewpoint that will encourage you to keep going.

3. Take baby steps.

Don’t try and run before you can walk. While it’s good to throw yourself in, it’s important to take incremental steps to gradually inch closer to the goal of learning the new skill.

Know that it’s the small, consistent steps that will lead to a greater change in the long run, and that there are dangers associated with jumping in too quickly.

4. Persist.

When you have a day where you feel like throwing in the towel, this is the most important day not to quit. If you can just keep pushing through the tough, challenging days, you will eventually get there.

I had a day like this after a particularly tough driving lesson. All I wanted to do was quit. But it’s the moments when we persevere that really give us strength.

5. Practice self-awareness.

If something is really challenging for you, think about why you’re having an issue and try to come up with a way to fix it.

During my driving lessons I identified that one of my issues was that I was afraid of losing control, and so I created a mantra for myself to repeat inside my head during lessons. It was simply:

“You are in control.”

This helped to relax me and overcome the negative thoughts that were sabotaging my efforts.

6.  Don’t take things too seriously.

In my opinion, life shouldn’t be too serious. If you find yourself blowing things out of proportion, try and make light of the situation.

When driving, I used to get intimidated by big buses, as they tend to dominate the roads and have little sympathy for learner drivers. To try and change the way I viewed buses, I would call them “pink elephants” instead.

This helped me to not get too stressed out when they would fly past me. Plus my driving instructor would constantly be laughing at me yelling out, “Oh look out, another pink elephant!” This would, of course, lighten the mood.

7. Believe in yourself.

This really does make all the difference. Believe that you can do it. Try visualising yourself having learned the new skill in a few months’ time.

Imagine a real-life situation where you are using the skill and the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel. This is a great way to motivate yourself when you feel like giving up.

I can’t wait to be driving myself to new and exciting yoga schools, something that I can’t currently do without a license. This is what motivates me to keep going.

And I know I will get there, just like you will get where you’re going—one step at a time.

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