How to Learn New Skills Quicker and Easier
We’ve warmed up, we’ve worked on improving existing skills, now we want to tackle new ones. Learning a new skill is an exhilarating, fun and rewarding experience. One we’d like to have as often as possible. It’s essentially crack.
What’s the best way to be able to learn new material consistently and safely?
The first is to have a strong, refined foundation. Boring, but true. The second is to work with a knowledgeable coach or expert regularly. The value of a high quality coaching cannot be overstated. Thirdly, you can employ visualization techniques to help speed the learning process along.
Lastly, having a solid understanding of the learning process, the steps you have to go through and what you have to do at each step to move forward will help you take control of your learning experience.
If you haven’t already, check out our blogs on Skill Ceilings & Techniques & on Three Training Mistakes to Avoid. There is a lot of information in there that is relevant to this process.
Gordon Bombay: The Reason the Mighty Ducks Didn’t Mighty Suck
Before Gordan Bombay was sentenced to community service the Mighty Ducks were just some kids playing ice hockey on a pond. After Gordon Bombay? They’re now a major NHL team. Wow, what a transformation. Pond-to-Pro.
The advice that is going to have the biggest effect on your learning & training is, work with someone who knows their shit.
Namely: A coach.
I promise you it makes the whole learning process easier. I have created a handy flow chart to show you the difference between learning with a coach and without a coach.
Your best bet for finding a coach, depending on what discipline and skills you want to work on, is to google ‘circus schools / acrobatic gymnastics / acroyoga classes near me’ or reach out to someone in your community who’s knowledge and understanding exceeds your own.
Your search may prove fruitless and you might not have a coach nearby, and you might not be willing to abandon your life, pack up shop and move to a new city to find one. .
Luckily, thanks to the wonder of the internet it’s possible to work with a coach online in some capacity. While online coaching comes along with its own challenges that aren’t present with in-person coaching, it is more effective than not having a coach at all.
We have a video review coaching service to give you specific feedback on advice on the skills you’re chasing.
The second pearl of wisdom would be to employ visualisation. It’s an immensely powerful strategy used by athletes the world over.
Before you attempt a new skill, I want you to do this:
One: picture what the trick would look like if someone else was watching you do it. Try and visualise someone else doing the trick as perfectly as possible. Picture where their body has to go in space, and what it’s doing from a third-person perspective.
Second: picture it from your (first-person) perspective. Imagine that you’re going to replicate what you just saw. What will it feel like? What will you see? Will you be looking at the base’s chest? At your flyer’s feet? Try and make this as vivid and detailed as possible.
I am going to wildly dumb down the science behind these strategies: part of what makes a new skill so tricky is that it’s new. Duh.
So, by taking the time to really focus in on what it should look and feel like before attempting, you can kinda-almost-sort-of get a leg up on the whole ‘it’s a new skill thing’
If you’ve vividly pictured what a new skill will look like numerous times and intensely imagined what it’s going to feel like, it’s not going to be quite as surprising to you and your brain as it would be if you hadn’t.
The Reverse Funnel of Incompetence
Lastly, know where you currently sit on the‘Hierarchy of Competence’, or as I like to call it ‘The Reverse Funnel of Incompetence’, and try and act accordingly. This is an established psychological model detailing the learning process by splitting it into ‘four stages of competence’. At least, the pyramid is. The reverse funnel is my version.
This pyramid, or reverse funnel, breaks down learning into four stages. We’ll look at each of those stages, what’s in them and what you can do to move to the next stage of learning.
I’ve Got No Clue What I’m Doing At All.
When you first start a new skill there can be a period of time where you and your body are completely clueless, and you have no idea what to do or what to change in order to do the skill better. This is totally normal!
The easiest, best and smartest way to bypass this part is to work on new skills with someone who knows exactly how the skill works, and what you should and shouldn’t be doing. They can not only tell you what you don’t know yet, but they’ll also know what you don’t know you don’t know. You know?
I have to recognize the value of the skill, and my own incompetence, before I can move on
You have to understand why you’re learning this skill and what benefit it’s going to bring you otherwise you’ll just either give up or not put in the effort needed to move on to the next stage of learning.
You also need to acknowledge your lack of knowledge – without that acknowledgement it’s really easy to fall into the trap of just expecting to be able to do something. Which can get frustrating, quickly.
In order to move on you have to hold your hands up and honestly say
‘I’m not able to do this. But that’s why we’re here’
Depending on your level of experience and the complexity of the skill you’re trying, you might be able to completely bypass this stage. If not, it typically doesn’t take very long to move from this stage to the next. Which is…
I Know I'm Doing It Wrong
Even though I don’t know how to do it yet, I have an understanding of what I don’t know.
This is an amazing part of the learning process where you’re putting a lot of things together and making connections between skills you’ve done before and the skill you’re attempting now. Technical concepts that were once unclear are slowly coming into focus, bringing a newfound understanding of the bigger picture.
Things are starting to click! You’ve had a couple ‘Aha!’ moments, and you’re dialing in on what makes the skill work and what makes it fail. Make sure you’re being mindful and focusing on the things you’re doing that are contributing to the success of the skill, as well as to the failure of the skill.
It’s all too easy to get frustrated with the obvious things you’re doing wrong, but forget the subtle things you’re doing right. It’s just as important to create consistency in what you’re doing well, as it is to remove what you’re doing poorly.
This step can take a long time to move on from, and it can feel like you’re stuck here. You’re doing it better than you were last time, but it’s still not correct or stable. Once again, that’s ok. Partner acrobatics comes in waves of sudden ‘Eureka!’ moments, and those moments disappear just as fast.
Over time those moments solidify and meld together in your brain & body to form a cohesive, replicable skill.
I Know How To Do It Right, But I Have To Think About It
I know how to do the skill, but doing it requires concentration. There is heavy conscious involvement in executing the skill.
This is a great moment, and where it feels like you are really starting to ‘get’ a skill. For a lot of people, they think the journey stops here. Once you’ve done it once, you’ve done it right?
You need to repeat the skill multiple times in order to solidify it and turn it from…
‘Something I can kinda do sometimes’
‘something I can nail all the time’
The only way to do that is to keep doing it. Keep focusing and concentrating on the things you’re doing that are bringing you success. You will lose the skill at some point in this step. You’ll turn up to training one day and you won’t be able to do it no matter how hard you focus. It’s ok.
Trust in the process outlined here, it will come back. You moved from the previous stage to this one once before, you can do it again!
Your knowledge of the skill is good enough that you could break it down into steps for someone if they asked. You have an understanding of how the skill works on a conceptual as well as physical level. Understanding a skill conceptually is just as important as understanding it physically, having the conceptual understanding of how it actually works will help you be able to apply that physically in your attempts.
It takes a long time to get here, and when you finally do, you will stay here for fucking ages. Taking a skill from something you can do sometimes, to something you never have a problem with is a long, long process (the in-between being this step). It’s going to be much longer than you think.
This step is where you’ll spend the absolute bulk of your learning and training time.
I Can Do It Right Without Thinking About It
This is everyone’s favorite place to be. This is when we can start to feel, and can say with some confidence, that we’re really starting to master a skill. When it takes little to no active focus, you are ‘unconsciously competent’.
Don’t get crazy. I just mean can you modify the skill in unusual ways and still find success? Can you talk to me about your day and do a handstand? Can you do a two high and juggle at the same time? These aren’t necessarily tick boxes you should be able to check, but being able to perform a skill while focusing on something else, like performing or engaging with an audience, suggest mastery and confidence with a skill.
You have enough of an understanding of a skill, conceptually and physically, that you can transmit that knowledge from your body & brain, through your mouth, into someone else’s ears and then into their brain & body. The clarity and understanding of those physical and mental concepts is so clear, and so precise that you’re able to communicate it effectively enough for someone else to learn from it.
There are two layers to this I think are interesting.
One, is that you may physically but not conceptually understand something. This will impact your ability to teach a skill.
Two, I think there are lots of people out there teaching skills where they haven’t reached this level of understanding. It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve seen people who are one, or even two steps back in this model and are trying to teach a skill. Be careful who you choose to learn from.
This isn’t to say that someone has to be able to do a skill to teach a skill, but they should conceptually understand the skill fully, especially if they have never done it physically.
Learning Is Fun
The last thing to remember is that this is meant to be fun. You should be enjoying this process. It’s so easy to get frustrated at a lack of success, but as we saw in the ‘reverse funnel of incompetence’ making mistakes is part of how we learn.
It’s important to make sure we’re being mindful of them, so that we’re learning from those mistakes, and to take precautions to ensure making mistakes doesn’t mean getting hurt.
Knowing where you are in the learning process and acting accordingly will help the speed and quality of your learning, as will visualization tactics.
The best thing you can do for your learning is to work with a good coach, we know that’s not always possible, so we’ve created in depth tutorial videos to help you along, and we offer a skill review service to help give you specific feedback on what’s going wrong and how to make it go right.
If you need help finding a coach near you, reach out to us and we can recommend someone near you who we trust and whose knowledge we think is invaluable.
I created Standing Acrobatics to help enrich and improve the practices of acrobats everywhere, so please always feel free to reach out with questions or if you need advice.