Finding Motivation for Learning New Skills

A friend recently asked me how I motivate myself to learn new skills. It’s a good question. Typically, the first time we try things we’re bad at them, so how do we find the motivation to keep going? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Visualize being competent. Competence is intoxicating. The ability to create and get in the “flow” while performing a task is beautiful. Whether it’s an elegant chess gambit, a curving serve in ping-pong, or a cogent business presentation, there’s something intrinsically desirable about being good at a skill. When learning something difficult, I motivate myself by visualizing how enjoyable competence will be. It’s is not only enjoyable in itself, but competence is a large factor in your job satisfaction. Cal Newport argues that when it comes to enjoying your job, competence is far more important than having a preexisting passion (see his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You). 

  2. Bribe yourself. During college, one of my friends bought watches as a reward for achieving academic goals. Over the summer, I did something similar as motivation to study for a certification. I printed out a picture of a high quality microphone, hung it on my wall, and bought it after I completed the certification. Having a specific and tangible incentive for achievement is helpful for motivation.

  3. Think of the alternative. The thought of not progressing in skill and being stagnant is repulsive. The idea has a grayness to it that sounds like a slow death.

For further study, Jordan Peterson has an excellent perspective on this: