Science of How to Learn New Skills Fast

The world today is moving much faster.  Skills required for us to perform at higher levels have increased rapidly as well. Now we are expected to have the working knowledge of more than one thing. People are now acquiring more and more skills and that has raised the benchmark of what an average person needs in order to either compete in their job market or for an entrepreneur running their own business


The question is in this fast paced world of constant changes  how do we increase our cognitive performance to keep up and excel in the world.


Recently the Scientists from HRL Labs in California were able to reduce the time of learning new things with the use of tDCS – Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS is simply a very low current stimulation of the brain)


Research- 1

The research subjects were novice pilots, and scientists were able to improve their skill level by stimulating their brains, so that their mental activity patterns resembled that of expert pilots.

First the scientists placed an electrode embedded head cap on the heads of experienced pilots. Then the expert pilots were exposed to the simulated flight exercise and their brain activity was monitored and recorded.

Then novice pilots were asked to take the same exercise but their brains were stimulated with a very low current or tDCS while participating in the flight simulation exercise.

As a result of this experiment scientists were able to replicate the same brain activity seen in the experts during the same flight simulation exercises and were able to bring the novice pilots ability to an expert level.

So, in simple terms the novice pilots learned to be experts in one session that probably took experts years to learn. That’s simply remarkable.


So, does that mean low level current is the answer to learning skills fast?

I am really intrigued by this and at the same time I am bit hesitant with the idea of exposing my brain to low electric current. But I am sure in coming years we will be able to replicate this and possibly create a personal tDCS device to learn new skills fast and safely.

This experiment also reminded me of the movie Matrix. Where they were able to learn things like fly a helicopter  and others in a matter of seconds.

We also know that kids brains change as they grown but according to recent research it’s been proven that adults brain structure changes as well with time. This change can be accelerated especially when we learn new things.


Research – 2

Research was conducted on cab drivers by Oxford University. At the end of the study it was concluded that Cab drivers had larger hippocampus than average people.

There are black-cabs in central London  and every cabbie driving these black- cabs has to have a memorized map of the capital which includes about 25,000 streets and thousands of other landmarks.

It’s a really brutal learning process that these cabbies are then tested on, which could take three to four years to complete. The final test is called “the Knowledge of London Examination” often takes 12 attempts to pass and even then only half of the cabbies ace this exam.

According to the report published in the journal – Current Biology, this rigorous process of learning and memorizing 1000s of streets and landmarks caused structural changes  in the brain impacting enhanced memory and growth in the Hippocampus, which is responsible for spatial navigation,  because of the fact that they had to drive in new locations and had to memorize new routes and constantly changing conditions on the road they have strengthened that area of brain.


Researchers also found in the same study that more experienced cab drivers had larger hippocampus than the less experienced ones.

That shows, with practice we can change the structure of our brain and that impacts our ability to acquire more skills during our lifetime.

An average adult can learn most new tasks within 6 weeks and this process will change your brain for good.

There are two kinds of skills one is a motor skills and the second is a cognitive skills.


Motor Skills – When the Brain, muscles and Nervous systems work together towards a task for eg. Learning how to ride a bike or baseball etc.

Cognitive Skills – Skills that need just cognitive function or only our Brain is required to accomplish the task, for eg. creativity or learning how to code.


Motor Skills do take longer to learn because there are several components in it whereas cognitive skills are much faster to learn and can be accomplished in significantly less time.


Now by learning new skills our intent is not to master them, intention is to acquire a working level proficiency in shortest time possible and it can be done without exposing your brain to low current stimulation.


According to an author and TED speaker Josh Kaufman any skill can be learned within 20 hours, also similar claims have been made by author and investor Tim Ferriss.

Josh Kaufman wrote a book called the first 20 hours. and quote “Forget 10,000 hours, learn a new skill  in 20 hours”


How to :


 1 – Decide what YOU want?

Set a very specific target so for eg. instead of saying I want to be a programmer, say or set a target that I want to create a website. Now you have a set want, you don’t need to learn all programming but you only need a sub skill.

2-  Deconstruct the Skill

Even though we only need one sub skill to perform a task, academically we are brainwashed to go over everything and to learn one specific task. So if people a buy book then they read it from front to back. But maybe in the whole book you only need one chapter to just get going.


2.1 – Repeat or perform the learning process 3 hours before bedtime.

In order to learn a motor skill, do it within 3 hours to right before bedtime. What happens when you leave a task right before going to bed, your brain works hard to learn that task overnight.

So you will wake up noticeably better than last night.


3 – Research the Skill just enough to get Started

You don’t need to know everything that is required to acquire the skill, as long as you do enough research and know first few steps to get you started that would be enough and then you can uncover more as you learn.


4 – Eliminate barriers of Procrastination 


5 – Pre-comit to do it for at least first 20 hours

In order to be reasonably good as long as you can identify the most important things needed, and you repeat them again and again, that’s all you need to learn any new skill.

The major barrier to learning something new is not intellectual – its emotional.

Its fear we are scared to fail, we are scared to be embarrassed and most importantly we are scared to reveal to ourselves that we can’t do.

I think if we dig deep enough, we will realize that we are simply scared of letting ourselves down and no one else. 



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