The first 20 hours — how to learn anything | Josh Kaufman | TEDxCSU

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Hi everyone.
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Two year ago, my life changed forever.
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My wife Kelsey and I
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welcomed our daughter Lela into the world.
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Now, becoming a parent is an amazing experience.
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Your whole world changes over night.
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And all of your priorities change immediately.
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So fast that it makes it really difficult to process sometimes.
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Now, you also have to learn a tremendous amount about being a parent
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like, for example, how to dress your child.
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(Laughter)
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This was new to me.
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This is an actual outfit, I thought this was a good idea.
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And even Lela knows that it’s not a good idea. (Laughter)
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So there is so much to learn and so much craziness all at once.
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And to add to the craziness, Kelsey and I both work from home,
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we’re entrepreneurs, we run our own businesses.
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So, Kelsey develops courses online for yoga teachers.
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I’m an author.
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And so, I’m working from home, Kelsey’s working from home.
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We have an infant and we’re trying to make sure
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that everything gets done that needs done.
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And life is really, really busy.
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And a couple of weeks into this amazing experience,
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when the sleep deprivation really kicked in,
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like around week eight,
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I had this thought, and it was the same thought
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that parents across the ages, internationally,
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everybody has had this thought, which is:
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I am never going to have free time ever again.
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(Laughter)
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Somebody said it’s true.
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It’s not exactly true,
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but it feels really, really true in that moment.
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And this was really disconcerning to me,
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because one of the things that I enjoy
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more than anything else is learning new things.
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Getting curious about something and diving in
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and fiddling around and learning through trial and error.
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And eventually becoming pretty good at something.
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And without this free time,
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I didn’t know how I was ever going to do that ever again.
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And so, I’m a big geek,
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I want to keep learning things, I want to keep growing.
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And so what I’ve decided to do was,
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go to the library, and go to the bookstore,
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and look at what research says about
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how we learn and how we learn quickly.
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And I read a bunch of books, I read a bunch of websites.
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And tried to answer this question,
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how long does it take to acquire a new skill?
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You know what I found?
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10,000 hours!
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Anybody ever heard this?
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It takes 10,000 hours. If you want to learn something new,
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if you want to be good at it,
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it’s going to take 10,000 hours to get there.
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And I read this in book after book, in website after website.
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And my mental experience of reading all of this stuff was like:
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No!!
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I don’t have time! I don’t have 10,000 hours.
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I am never going to be able to learn anything new.
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Ever again. (Laughter)
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But that’s not true.
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So, 10,000 hours, just to give you a rough order of magnitude,
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10,000 hours is a full-time job for five years.
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That’s a long time.
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And we’ve all had the experience of learning something new,
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and it didn’t take us anywhere close to that amount of time, right?
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So, what’s up? There’s something kinda funky going on here.
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What the research says and what we expect, and have experiences,
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they don’t match up.
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And what I found, here’s the wrinkle:
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The 10,000 hour rule came out of studies of expert-level performance.
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There’s a professor at Florida State University,
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his name is K. Anders Ericsson.
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He is the originator of the 10,00 hour rule.
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And where that came from is, he studied professional athletes,
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world class musicians, chess grand masters.
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All of this ultra competitive folks in ultra-high performing fields.
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And he tried to figure out how long does it take
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to get to the top of those kinds of fields.
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And what he found is, the more deliberate practice,
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the more time that those individuals spend
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practicing the elements of whatever it is that they do,
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the more time you spend, the better you get.
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And the folks at the tippy top of their fields
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put in around 10,000 hours of practice.
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Now, we were talking about the game of telephone a little bit earlier.
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Here’s what happened:
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an author by the name of Malcolm Gladwell
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wrote a book in 2007 called “Outliers: The Story of Success”,
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and the central piece of that book was the 10,000 hour rule.
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Practice a lot, practice well, and you will do extremely well,
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you will reach the top of your field.
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So, the message,
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what Dr. Ericsson was actually saying is,
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it takes 10,000 hours to get at the top of an ultra competitive field
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in a very narrow subject, that’s what that means.
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But here’s what happened: ever since Outliers came out,
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immediately came out, reached the top of best seller lists,
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stayed there for three solid months.
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All of a sudden the 10,000 hour rule was everywhere.
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And a society-wide game of telephone started to be played.
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So this message, it takes 10,000 hours to reach the top of an ultra competitive field,
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became, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something,
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which became,
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it takes 10,000 hours to become good at something,
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which became,
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it takes 10,000 hours to learn something.
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But that last statement, it takes 10,000 hours to learn something,
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is not true. It’s not true.
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So, what the research actually says —
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I spent a lot of time here at the CSU library
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in the cognitive psychology stacks ’cause I’m a geek.
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And when you actually look at the studies of skill acquisition,
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you see over and over a graph like this.
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Now, researchers, whether they’re studying a motor skill,
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something you do physically or a mental skill,
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they like to study things that they can time.
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‘Cause you can quantify that, right?
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So, they’ll give research participants a little task,
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something that requires physical arrangement,
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or something that requires learning a little mental trick,
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and they’ll time how long a participant takes to complete the skill.
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And here’s what this graph says, when you start —
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so when researchers gave participants a task, it took them a really long time,
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’cause it was new and they were horrible.
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With a little bit of practice, they get better and better and better.
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And that early part of practice is really, really efficient.
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People get good at things with just a little bit of practice.
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Now, what’s interesting to note is that,
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for skills that we want to learn for ourselves,
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we don’t care so much about time, right?
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We just care about how good we are, whatever good happens to mean.
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So if we relabel performance time to how good you are,
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the graph flips, and you get his famous and widely known,
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this is the learning curve.
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And the story of the learning curve is when you start,
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you’re grossly incompetent and you know it, right?
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(Laughter)
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With a little bit of practice, you get really good, really quick.
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So that early level of improvement is really fast.
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And then at a certain point you reach a plateau,
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and the subsequent games become much harder to get,
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they take more time to get.
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Now, my question is, I want that, right?
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How long does it take from starting something
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and being grossly incompetent and knowing it
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to being reasonably good?
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In hopefully, as short a period of time as possible.
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So, how long does that take?
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Here’s what my research says: 20 hours.
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That’s it. You can go from knowing nothing
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about any skill that you can think of.
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Want to learn a language? Want to learn how to draw?
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Want to learn how to juggle flaming chainsaws?
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(Laughter)
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If you put 20 hours of focused deliberate practice into that thing,
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you will be astounded.
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Astounded at how good you are.
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20 hours is doable,
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that’s about 45 minutes a day for about a month.
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Even skipping a couple days, here and there.
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20 hours isn’t that hard to accumulate.
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Now, there’s a method to doing this.
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Because it’s not like you can just start fiddling around for about 20 hours
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and expect these massive improvements.
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There’s a way to practice intelligently.
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There’s a way to practice efficiently,
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that will make sure that you invest those 20 hours
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in the most effective way that you possibly can.
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And here’s the method, it applies to anything:
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The first is to deconstruct the skill.
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Decide exactly what you want to be able to do when you’re done,
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and then look into the skill and break it down into smaller pieces.
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Most of the things that we think of as skills
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are actually big bundles of skills that require all sorts of different things.
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The more you can break apart the skill,
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the more you’re able to decide,
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what are the parts of this skill that would actually help me
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get to what I want?
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And then you can practice those first.
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And if you practice the most important things first,
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you’ll be able to improve your performance
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in the least amount of time possible.
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The second is, learn enough to self correct.
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So, get three to five resources about what it is you’re trying to learn.
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Could be book, could be DVDs, could be courses, could be anything.
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But don’t use those as a way to procrastinate on practice.
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I know I do this, right?
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Get like 20 books about the topic, like,
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“I’m going to start learning how to program a computer
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when I complete these 20 books”.
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No. That’s procrastination.
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What you want to do is learn just enough
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that you can actually practice
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and self correct or self edit as you practice.
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So the learning becomes a way of getting better
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at noticing when you’re making a mistake
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and then doing something a little different.
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The third is to remove barriers to practice.
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Distractions, television, internet.
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All of these things that get in the way
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of you actually sitting down and doing the work.
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And the more you’re able to use just a little bit of willpower
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to remove the distractions that are keeping you from practicing,
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the more likely you are to actually sit down and practice, right?
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And the fourth is to practice for at least 20 hours.
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Now, most skills have what I call a frustration barrier.
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You know, the grossly-incompetent- and-knowing-it part?
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That’s really, really frustrating. We don’t like to feel stupid.
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And feeling stupid is a barrier to us actually sitting down and doing the work.
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So, by pre-committing to practicing whatever it is that you want to do
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for at least 20 hours,
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you will be able to overcome that initial frustration barrier
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and stick with the practice long enough to actually reap the rewards.
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That’s it! It’s not rocket science.
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Four very simple steps that you can use to learn anything.
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Now, this is easy to talk about in theory,
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but it’s more fun to talk about in practice.
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So one of the things that I’ve wanted to learn how to do for a long time
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is play the ukulele.
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Has anybody seen Jake Shimabukuro’s TEDTalk
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where he plays the ukulele and makes it sound like —
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he’s like a ukulele god.
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It’s amazing.
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I saw it, I was like, “That is so cool!”
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It’s such a neat instrument. I would really like to learn how to play.
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And so I decided that to test this theory
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I wanted to put 20 hours into practicing ukulele
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and see where it got.
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And so the first thing about playing the ukulele is,
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in order to practice, you have to have one, right?
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So, I got an ukulele and — My lovely assistant?
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(Laughter)
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Thank you sir. I think I need the chord here.
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It’s not just an ukulele, it’s an electric ukulele. (Laughter)
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Yeah.
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So, the first couple hours are just like the first couple hours of anything.
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You have to get the tools that you are using to practice.
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You have to make sure they’re available.
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My ukulele didn’t come with strings attached.
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I had to figure out how to put those on.
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Like, that’s kind of important, right?
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And learning how to tune, learning how to make sure
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that all of the things that need to be done
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in order to start practicing get done, right?
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Now, one of the things when I was ready to actually start practicing
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was I looked in online databases and songbooks for how to play songs.
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And they say, okay, ukuleles, you can play more than one string at a time,
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so you can play chords, that’s cool,
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you are accompanying yourself, yay you. (Laughter)
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And when I started looking at songs,
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I had an ukulele chord book that had like hundreds of chords.
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Looking at this and “Wow, that’s intimidating”.
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But when you look at the actual songs,
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you see the same chords over and over, right?
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As it turns out, playing the ukulele is kind of like doing anything,
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There’s a very small set of things that are really important
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and techniques that you’ll use all the time.
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And in most songs you’ll use four, maybe five chords,
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and that’s it, that’s the song.
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You don’t have to know hundreds, as long as you know the four or the five.
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So, while I was doing my research,
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I found a wonderful little medley of pop songs
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by a band called Axis of Awesome. (Whistles)
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— Somebody knows it. —
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And what Axis of Awesome says is that you can learn,
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or you can play pretty much any pop song of the past five decades,
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if you know four chords,
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and those chords are G, D, Em and C.
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Four chords pump out every pop song ever, right?
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So I thought, this is cool!
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I would like to play every pop song ever. (Laughter)
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So, that was the first song I decided to learn,
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and I would like to actually share it with you. Ready?
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(Applause) Alright.
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(Music)
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(Singing) Just a small town girl,
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living in a lonely world,
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she took the midnight train going anywhere.
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I heard that you settled down, (Laughter)
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that you found a girl,
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that you’re married now.
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Every night in my dreams (Laughter)
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I see you, I feel you,
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that is how I know you go on. (Laughter)
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I won’t hesitate no more, no more. It cannot wait, I’m yours.
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‘Cause you were amazing, we did amazing things.
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If I could, then I would, I’d go wherever you will —
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Can you feel the love tonight. (Laughter)
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I can’t live with or without you.
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When I find myself —
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When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me,
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Sometimes I feel like I don’t have partner. No woman, no cry.
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Yeah mama, this surely is a dream.
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I come from a land down under. (Laughter)
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Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong.
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Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, (Laughter)
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but here’s my number, so call me
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Hey sexy lady, op, op, op, op, oppan gangnam style. (Laughter)
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It’s time to say goodbye.
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Closing time, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
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(Singing and music ends) (Applause)
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Thank you, thank you.
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I love that song. (Laughter)
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And I have a secret to share with you.
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So, by playing that song for you,
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I just hit my twentieth hour of practicing the ukulele.
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(Applause) Thank you.
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And so it’s amazing, pretty much anything that you can think of,
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what do you want to do.
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The major barrier to learn something new is not intellectual,
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it’s not the process of you learning a bunch of little tips or tricks or things.
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The major barrier’s emotional. We’re scared.
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Feeling stupid doesn’t feel good,
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in the beginning of learning anything new
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you feel really stupid.
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So the major barrier’s not intellectual, it’s emotional.
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But put 20 hours into anything.
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It doesn’t matter. What do you want to learn?
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Do you want to learn a language? Want to learn how to cook?
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Want to learn how to draw?
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What turns you on? What lights you up?
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Go out and do that thing. It only takes 20 hours.
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Have fun.
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(Applause)

 

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