What mastering a new skill every 30 days has taught me

I am a workaholic. I have also been fortunate enough to do jobs I have very much enjoyed (and still enjoy) and work with incredible people making getting out of the bed every morning a breeze.

Over the years, I have noticed a pattern with a every job I have — for the first 18 months I give it everything I have and some. Mostly because I always feel like I have a lot to prove and everything to lose (still working on that), but mostly because I love a challenge and I have a tendency to dive right into it. Although, I rarely admit it (because I am always terrified someone one day will give me a challenge that I will look at and deem impossible) I really do love the big goal, the blank slate, setting out the objectives and mapping what success looks like and creating the programme for getting there.

Then at around the two year mark, I take a step back and look at what I have achieved thus far and rethink the processes, the programmes and the goals to fit a more manageable work/life balance. Not sure yet why I do this, I just do. Mostly, I think, I do it because I feel that my body and brain are tired, but also because I notice that my weekends are spent working and this always worries me.

Generally, two things happen. Firstly, I realise that I have set a precedent for working at all times of the day and doing whatever it takes, making it very hard to now shift the expectations of the people I work with. In parallel, I attempt to raise my standards constantly (and those of the people I work with when/where I can) which doesn’t always fit in with creating a more balanced life. For example, if for the first 18 months of a new job, for me it’s about long the hours, the commitment and availability maybe later it’s about striving for better processes, better quality of services/delivery, more scalability etc. Secondly, I have a tendency to have a strong sense of guilt that I am not giving it 150% any longer which is stupid because I am merely raising the bar elsewhere but mostly because no one will ever tell me not to try and achieve said balance.

At the start of 2017, I decided that in order to be truly happy with my life I needed to ensure that I was happy outside of my job as well. I needed to feel fulfilled at work (check), at home (check), in my relationship (check) and anywhere in between (missing).

This came after I realised that my mood and overaly happiness was in direct correlation with my successes and failures at work. All in all not a bad thing but as my role changed (now more than ever tied in with the profits and losses of the company), I noticed that if I wasn’t hitting my numbers (i.e. my quota), for example, my mood was drastically different than when the team and I personally are on target. This in turn was not beneficial to me, the team or the company.

My plan — learn a new skill every 30 days and master it as much as possible.

I have been learning a new skill every month for the last three months and as the end of Q1 (January — March) is approaching, I thought I would share with you what I have learned thus far. Both my new skills but also what this overall experience is teaching me.

For those interested in the process, here it is; I decided that every month I would teach myself a new skill that I have always either been too scared to try (for whatever reason) or something I have always been fascinated with.

I have chosen skills that I had no prior experience with, that I am really keen to learn and would be proud to learn, and possibly excited to teach someone else. I needed to have some amount of passion and intrigue if I was going to stick to my new severe programme.

I mapped out that I would need, on average, 3o hours to learn each new skill. Some would require an afternoon on the weekends and others would require a hour a day for at least 5 days/week. Learning a new skill didn’t mean perfecting it — even though in some instances I believe I more or less have. It was important I reminded myself of this on a regular basis. It isn’t about been the best at any of these but more so actually being able to do the thing.

It’s important to document your progress so you actually know you are progressing and getting better. It’s also incredibly motivational to see the progress you have made black on white so if you can share it with someone (or many people) I highly suggest you do it.

What this exercise has taught me and still teaching me

1.It’s the learning process that counts

With every month that has ended and a new skill under my belt, it has been very thrilling to know that I have successfully taught myself something new — all by myself. However, far more exciting has been the small wins along the way. Seeing the growth with every day that goes by has been the most rewarding. It has also been a nice reminder that what might take you a day, can then take a few hours and latter just a few minutes to complete. Nothing big ever happens in one day or one go, everything — and I mean everything — takes time, practice and commitment. But it’s also nearly always achievable.

My initial rigorous programme — or rather what felt like a rigorous programme— very quickly didn’t feel rigorous at all. It was starting to feel like fun more than a chore. It’s great to be able to turn a programme into a routine and then a habit and even something you look forward to.

2. It’s about the lasting change

Three months in and I have already been able to shift my mindset to thinking about what these new skills have changed for me as a whole. My mood is far happier, I manage to be proud of myself on a more regular basis and more often(I have caught myself recently grinning in the mirror more times than I care to admit) outside of work, this has also impacted my attitude towards challenges; it’s more positive than ever.

It’s fascinating what something that pulls you in can do to your morale. It’s so much more exciting to set-out to do things rather than setting out not to do certain things. Which I discovered is what I had been doing for the last five years (at least) — stop eating sugar snacks, stop drinking wine, stop pointing out mistakes, stop buying unnecessary things… Actually setting out to do things is far better and you can always turn a negative into a positive. For example, stop eating sugar snack can become eat more fruit or do more sports.

These things then become the thing that you need to do in order to feel good; these are the lasting changes that count. It’s not just about achieving a goal or crossing something off your to do list.

3. It’s the small wins that count

You get results by mapping out a programme and sticking to it. In order to achieve whatever goal or objective you have, you need to break it down into manageable / bite-size goals you can achieve. You will soon find yourself winning at the little things — the small victories — that will boost your morale and mood and push you to move the goal post.

For example, one of my skills was to learn how to solve a Rubik’s cube. It didn’t matter how I solved it or how long it took me, I just wanted to be able to solve it. One week in I was able to solve it in an hour and a couple of tries, then I decided to do it in under 10 minutes, then 5 minutes etc. I kept moving the goal post because the small wins I had set out were achievable and actually fun. I can now solve it in under 150 seconds. It was only when I had one week left on the Rubik’s cube skill that I realised that I was pushing my own boundaries and upping my expectations, which is what made it all exciting.

It’s the small victories that drive real fulfillment.

Progress of time for solving the Rubik’s cube. As you can imagine, I know want to solve it in under 2 minutes.

4. It’s addictive

Winning is addictive. I don’t mean winning against someone else but rather hitting the targets you set out for yourself, crossing things of a to do list, being successful at the smaller milestones you set out for yourself. They are all addictive because they make you feel good and proud of what you have accomplished.

I am not teaching myself a new skill every 30 days because I want to say I did it but rather because it’s creating a sense of progress on a daily and monthly basis but also because I will end 2017 with 12 more skills than when I started and that feels great and fulfilling.

5. You truly switch off

Until recently, the way I have switched off has been pretty passive — I watch a lot of TV series (I absolutely love them and love being transported into another world). For many years, TV series have been my escape route and my way of ‘switching off’.

However, I spend a lot of my time now being a laptop — sending emails, taking calls, on video conferences, doing researching… so the idea of going home and putting myself in front of another screen has maybe lost it’s appeal. I also realised, that I wasn’t actually switching off. I was actually multi-tasking — watching a TV serie and planning my next day of work, doing some research, sending emails or just thinking about what else needed to be done.

When you teach yourself a news skill (either self-taught or with a teacher) you really do need to give it all your attention. There is no multi-tasking involved and no cutting corners. Your full attention is required.

What have I actually learnt at the end Q1 2017

#1 I now know how to bake chocolate Soufflés. If you know anything about souffles you will know that they are very delicate, take time, practice and the right preparation. I wanted to learn how to bake them because they have always intrigued me. Whenever I see them on a menu and I see that little mention — ‘Chef needs 30mins at the very least to prepare your soufflé, please order at the start of your meal’, I get very excited and always find myself wondering how complex must it be to make. I choose to follow this recipe for the molten chocolate soufflé.

#2 We now know how to cook the perfect rack of ribs. I say ‘we’ because this was more of a group exercise. I purchased for my partner’s birthday, the Joule — the latest sous-vide tool — and we started cooking lots of new things including meats, fish and cooking the perfect egg in 90 minutes (yep that’s not a typo). The perfect rack of ribs is also something that I have never attempted simply because it always feels like there is a secret recipe involved that has been passed down from generation to generation. We have now perfected the cook, the rub and glaze. This will will require more time and more practice but there are pretty darn good.

#3 I now know how to solve a Rubik’s cube in under a 150 seconds. I hadn’t planned on doing this but two things happened that prompted me to learn this as my new skill for March 2017. First, I learnt that Justin Bieber could solve a Rubix cube in under 2 minutes and thought “if this guy can find time to teach himself this, I sure as hell can find time to do this”. Second, I was cleaning out my closet and found a very very old Rubik’s cube that my mum had a very long time ago. And, if you have one lying around you might as well know how to solve it.

Ideas for future skills

I don’t have an exact idea of what else I want to learn this year. All I know is that I want the challenges to be fun, useful, exciting or something I have been thinking about for a long time. Some ideas that I have floating around my brain; longboarding, baking and constructing three layer birthday cakes, Poker, chess… If you have any ideas or suggestions please send them my way, I am all ears.

Author: Toni Cowan-Brown

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