Our brains are complex and require significant effort to rewire. After all, our brains manage dozens of detailed operations throughout our body at any given time, so it tries to take shortcuts where it can. As a result, learning new skills — whether it be a foreign language or coding — becomes more difficult each day. Don’t believe me? Watch this video, where the man before SmarterEveryDay tries to learn a backward bicycle for months, and his son crushes it in a few minutes.
Why is it so difficult to learn new skills?
As said in the video, knowledge is not the same as understanding. We may read a book that gives us information, but that doesn’t mean we know what that information means. This is because of biases in our brain. Think of it like predictive text; the software uses your normal sentence patterns to predict what you will type next. This is nearly the same process our brain takes multiple times every day. By predicting our surroundings, what we read, what we hear, and what we will do, our brain makes it incredibly difficult to deviate from the pattern.
When is the best time to learn skills?
As a result, the older we get, the more difficult it becomes for us to learn new skills. It makes sense, as we have more experience detecting patterns each day. There is a scientific term to describe how structured your brain is: neuroplasticity. As children, we have more neuroplasticity, because our brains are able to take in and interpret more information without biases. As we learn, we create biases naturally. This is actually the basis for many psychological phenomena. Therefore, the best time to learn skills is as soon as you are able.
How should you learn a new skill?
The way you should learn a new skill may technically vary depending on the skill, but the best way is to practice regularly. Practicing for even 5 minutes every day is better than practicing for an hour every week. The skill needs to stay fresh in your mind and become a habit in order to stick. This is why many people lose the ability to speak a foreign language after they leave school, and why it is possible to forget how to do just about anything.
What are some skills you should learn?
Now that you understand why it is so difficult to learn a skill, you may be wondering which skills to learn. This will, for the most part, depend on your field and your interests. For example, a web design freelancer may also want to learn about ethical hacking. If there is nothing of interest in your field, you could always try learning a difficult foreign language (such as Arabic or Mandarin), improve your writing skills, or public speaking. No company will criticise you for practicing one of these.
Whether you are a manager or a low-level employee, you should keep this information in the back of your mind. Every year, our ability to learn decreases at a constant rate, and that can make training and retraining more difficult. However, it is also important to remember that while learning new skills is challenging, it is ultimately not impossible.