When we discuss learning, we usually refer to academic subjects. Life skills are somewhat different, easier to acquire and more fulfilling. Let us indulge in the discussion following suggestions here, here, here, here, here, here.
People fill bucket lists with the things they want to do before they die. Acquiring yet another degree is rarely an item in such a list. What people really want are simple things that are easy to do or learn.
For example, most people want to travel to certain countries and speak the language of those countries. Fancy cooking and sports are also high in most lists. Some lists feature photography or arts or music as ways of self-expression.
Certain skills get into to-do lists, but not bucket lists. For example, learning first aid or self-defense, financial and computer skills can help achieve other things.
How do we learn life skills
To get a good job we need to take frontal courses, read A LOT, find mentors and do an internship. All in all, we are talking about five or ten years, depending on the position we are after. To get a life skill, we usually are prepared to spend between three and six months, part-time.
So instead of learning everything, there is to know about the subject, we focus on the most common applications. The Pareto principle is really important here: we cannot afford to learn everything, yet we can learn what really matters. Moreover, about 2/3 of the time should probably be spent in hands-on practice. The rest of the time we can search online, listen to video courses and read books. If you read really fast [e.g. completed our speedreading course], you will probably read x10 the materials your peers can master.
Do we need a mentor?
For life skill, we do not really need a fancy institution degree. More often than not we could acquire the skills we are after without any formal guidance. However, formal guidance has many advantages.
First of all, a mentor can focus us on the things that really matter. Books and online resources present a part of the picture, but we will probably miss a lot of the materials that is very important.
We will probably make mistakes, and a mentor can show us how to correct these mistakes. A mentor also provides a role model to follow and a constant source of motivation.
Not every mentor is perfect though, and it is better to skip mentors than to work with someone we do not like. A bad mentor may reduce our satisfaction from the subject, which should be avoided.
Minimal viable practice
Whatever we want to learn, there is a minimal viable investment. The actual number may vary widely, yet 8 hours per week sounds sufficiently versatile. Having less than minimal practice, we forget things between sessions and may start making mistakes.
Unlike academic skills, life skills usually require certain hands-on practice. We cannot simply read books or watch videos and feel like we understand. Once we start doing things, we will find that we miss some fine details or motoric skills. If we do not practice enough, we will forget as much as we acquire.
Pausing the learning process is also a bad idea. If it takes between 3 and 6 months to acquire a skill, it is OK to take one pause of a month or so. More pauses will require to restart the process from zero.
What if the skill we want to acquire is very small, like sewing a button or fixing a flat tire? We do not need a full course. Repeating the actual task for a couple of times with several months between repetition could be nice. Then one people often procrastinate?
Learning new skills requires a certain mindset. A small skill might be not sufficient to make us act. However, if we group several skills and acquire a set of tools, the added value may overweigh our natural inertness. It is also easier to learn several skills if they transform the way we perceive ourselves.
For example, if we own a house we may learn multiple construction skills simply to feel like handymen. If we learn survival skills, we will easily learn reading a map or first aid. When we acquire basic computer administration skills, we will we willing to learn about backups, antivirus programs, network encryption, and password management.
Having a list of things we would like to do eventually makes us do them. Everything on the list will be a nagging presence, requiring our attention sooner or later. Lists simplify chunking tasks and using the time-limited opportunity.
The biggest limitation of life skills learning is finding a place where we can acquire and practice the skills safely. Preferably under the supervision of someone with sufficient experience. If we write down the details of such clubs and places, we will probably eventually visit such a place and start acquiring the skills we need.
10 skills to start with
There are long lists of skills to learn in the articles referenced here. Yet, I want to provide 10 basic kinds of skills you may want to consider.
- Learning to learn. Obviously, this is what this blog is all about.
- Cooking and diet. We probably want to understand what we eat, how it is made and how it influences how we feel. When we cook good food, we feel better and can host parties.
- Money management and investing. At least some level of understanding of financial markets provides certain financial stability and saves from devastating loss of income. This also includes management of personal finance, such as taxes and pensions.
- Computer skills. Probably you should be able to set up your own web site. Anything above that is a great bonus.
- Other cultures. Not just languages. Geography, ethnography, history, arts, traveling… When we go to another country we enjoy more if we know more.
- Self-regulation. Not sure which type… You can select between mindfulness, meditation, NLP, CBT, and many more options. It takes many years to become an expert in each, but some basic hands-on skills can be easily acquired.
- Effective communication. This is a motherload of different useful life skills. Most communication courses do not help since a lot of practical activities are required. Public speaking is probably the most important of such courses.
- Emergency readiness. Depending on your level of paranoia and where you live you may do the minimal preparation or go all-in. Possibly you should know some first aid and what to do in case of an emergency. Martial arts or using weapons can harm you more than help you in a real emergency, yet they are fun to acquire.
- Self-expression. Writing, music, art, photography… Choose your creative outlet and use it. Probably you will never be good enough to be paid, but your life will be richer and more meaningful. Oh, and it’s fun.
- Tinkering. Fix anything that needs fixing. Or not. Up to you. Eventually, most of us have to change a tire, replace something at home, and fix an outfit.
My own progress with life skills
I think that I acquired most of my life skills as a part of some structured training that lasted for years. Some of it was for fun, like learning languages in the university. Others were imposed upon me, like when was an engineer in a rescue brigade during my military service. And then there are skills which are a part of my education which is somewhere between math, engineering, and finance.
I would say, that learning something for several years is better than spending several months acquiring a skill. Yet, I had many years to do that and a long life story.