How to overcome barriers and learn new skills

Whether it’s picking up a second language, dabbling in the arts, or something a little more business-savvy, each of us has a new skill we’d love to learn. So what’s holding us back?

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful 

According to research by AI company Fountech, despite 58% of us being keen to learn a new skill, over the past year, 80% of us either didn’t try or failed to learn that new skill.

Research has revealed that, although nearly half (46%) of us act on our desire to learn a new skill, over a quarter (26%) of those who give it a go fail to reach the level they want. The main barriers holding us back include:

  • 63% of us feel it’s too expensive to work with proper teachers, professionals or experts.
  • More than half (52%) say they don’t have enough time to learn new things.
  • Over a third (38%) struggle to find reliable, engaging online resources to learn from.
  • Nearly a quarter (27%) avoid learning new things, as they find the process demoralising.

If you’d love to learn a new skill, but are struggling to find the time, motivation, or staying power, there are plenty of things you can do to combat these barriers. Try these 10 simple tips to help you identify what’s holding you back so you can get started – and keep going.

Identify what’s holding you back

When you think about learning a new skill how do you feel? Excited, eager, curious? Or anxious, nervous, and stressed? While a lot of us like the idea of picking up a new skill, or honing something we’re already experienced in, the thought of taking time out of our already busy schedules, re-jigging a tight budget, or sacrificing some of our precious downtime can fill us with dread.

Exploring your feelings around developing a new talent can be a good starting point to uncovering what may be unconsciously affecting your overall sense of wellbeing, as well as your work/life balance. Try taking just a few minutes to scribble down the skill you want to focus on as part of a spider diagram; jot down all of the reasons why you want to try and learn it. Then take a moment to think of all of the reasons why you haven’t already begun; stress, time, money, being unsure of where to start – note everything down.

Once you have these all in one place, you can begin working out a sustainable way to ease the pressure points, create an action plan you can commit to, and begin exploring something you’re truly passionate about.

Put yourself first

Let’s be honest here: how often do we really put ourselves first? Families, friends, colleagues, responsibilities – there’s always something topping our list, pushing our own wants, needs and desires to the bottom of our to-do list. It’s time we changed that.

Having a creative outlet, helping boost your confidence as you see progress, allowing you to build your self-esteem and work towards bigger goals – personal development can be a vital part of self-care.

If you struggle to make your own needs a priority, have low self-confidence, or struggle with low self-esteem, there are a number of different professionals you can work with to help combat these feelings. Talking therapy can be a positive, safe space to explore why you feel this way, and how you can challenge negative ways of thinking.

Confidence is a state of mind. When we feel confident we, not only accept ourselves, but believe in our abilities. Without confidence we can become stressed and anxious, feeling unfulfilled and unhappy. Another option can be working with a hypnotherapist to increase your self-confidence. Accessing your unconscious mind, hypnotherapy can use the power of suggestion to help facilitate positive change.

Think long-term, not quick-fix

When faced with the choice of a long-term gain or instant gratification, many of us will pick the quick fix without a second thought. Just think about it; are there really any areas of modern life where we have to wait? Between same-day delivery, swipe-to-match and hours lost to scrolling on social media, we’re all about the here and now.

It takes around 20 hours to learn a new skill; daunting, but not unobtainable – if you think about it, that’s around 45 minutes each day for a month. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, anyone with a long commute, kids, or shift-based working hours knows that trying to carve out nearly an hour each day for something that isn’t essential can be tough.

Reframing your thinking could be the way to go. Instead of focusing on the short-term benefits, and hurdles, try thinking of the long-term gains. Learning a new skill can be equally as challenging as it can be exciting, but have you considered the possibilities that new skill could lead to?

Developing leadership skills, working with a diverse group of strangers with different abilities and exploring new interests can all help not only hone the skill you hope to learn, but also help you to improve on other areas. New skills and increased life experiences can help open up opportunities within your current career path, help you discover opportunities for side gigs, increase your overall confidence, and more.

Ditch the perfectionist mentality

According to research our need to be perfect is increasing – and that’s not a good thing. Evidence suggests that the excessively high standards which we hold ourselves to can not only lead to setting ourselves up for failure with impossible goals, but may also increase our anxiety and damage our self-esteem.

Setting healthy goals is more important than aiming for perfection. Whilst old school mentality may say ‘If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right’, a better approach may be ‘Finished, not perfect’. It’s better to get started – to get something done, to feel a sense of achievement and progression – than it is to spend just as much time, energy, and effort worrying about not getting something 100% right.

Try to reframe your goals. Instead of focusing on perfecting a skill, try and view it as taking up a hobby or increasing your social circle. By letting go of the pressure that can come with developing new talents to perfection, and, instead, working towards self-improvement, you can begin enjoying the experience, focusing on the relaxation and de-stressing elements, and how they can benefit you.

Make time, not excuses

“I just haven’t got the time to learn a new skill”. It’s something we’ve all said or thought, most likely whilst scrolling through Instagram for the umpteenth time. A lack of time is a valid reason for many of us to not follow through and develop new skills, but it doesn’t have to be.

A personal development coach can help you learn to boost your productivity, organise your priorities and get a sustainable action plan in place. Working with a life coach can also help with motivation because, while motivation does come from within, finding the momentum to keep going can be tough.

By working with an experienced professional, with an outside perspective, you can discover new ways to set milestones, recognise your achievements and identify other areas you can improve to find the time to make impactful sustainable changes.

Upskill your stress relief

Picking up new skills can be a form of stress management in and of itself. Learning something new doesn’t always have to be about enhancing your career, or looking for new ways to market your abilities; consider developing a skill that can actively help boost your wellbeing.

Discovering more about mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, or even yoga can all be healthy, beneficial skills to develop. Many of these can be done at home, through online tutorials, with the help of books, or through working with experienced professionals.

An often overlooked area that can benefit us in mind and body is how (and what) we eat. Healthy eating isn’t just good for our bodies; it can also help decrease stress levels, reduce tiredness and even boost your mood.

Experimenting with cooking classes, and learning more about nutrition, can help in a wide variety of ways; from discovering how to better manage budgets and practising meal planning, to focusing on how to create more nutrition menus, healthy eating can have a surprising impact on your stress levels.

However busy you are, dipping your toe in the water won’t hurt, and it will almost certainly help – so what have you got to lose?

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