The Four Stages of Learning Anything New

Learning

Prologue

In a previous post on Repetition Reinforces, I discussed about some of my skills and how, with time as I repeated them over and over again, I got better and better at them. This time, let’s take a look at what goes inside the process of learning a new skill, a new art, of starting a business, of playing poker or any other game, of studying for an exam, and of almost all aspects of life.

I learnt swimming in the year 2009. I was in Mumbai. Good for me that in Mumbai (and in the major cities of South), the time of the year doesn’t have an effect on the opening and closing of swimming pools. As I entered into the pool, I figured this was something I could do. I decided to start learning swimming. Then began four grilling months of throwing my arms, legs, and face into the pool, four months of drinking the chlorinated water of the pool, of breathlessness, of tiredness, and of red eyes each time I came out of the pool.

Finally came the Eureka moment of my swimming life! That evening, after practicing multiple times it so happened that on one particular stroke I could do all four – perfectly move my legs, arms, face, and breathe at the same time! It was the first time the body learnt the synchronous movement required to swim in the pool! It was the first time the body understood the pool! It was the moment of joy, of celebration!

After that particular day, I knew the effort to learn was over. Now the effort was to get better, faster, and more ‘natural’.

Learning

A few days ago, I told a friend about something new I was trying to do. He said welcome to this particular field. Let’s see how you do at the grind. As I heard these words from him, I began to wonder if learning can be put in stages or levels as we progress. I had already heard from someone about the three stages of doing an online business. As I thought about those, I realized that this idea is prevalent in almost all aspects of life.

The four stages of Learning or Doing anything new:

Stage 1: Beginner’s Luck

Beginner’s luck or the first win for a beginner happens quite frequently when a person entering into any skill, playing a game, or starting a business encounters rather easily without a lot of effort. Think a little deep and I’m sure you will encounter situations where you experienced beginner’s luck playing in your life too.

I recall very clearly the first time I sat down to play poker. With little knowledge of the rules, I ended up winning the first few hands in no time. Then, reality sank in!

Why Beginner’s Luck?

I’m sure all of us have experienced beginner’s luck at some stage of our lives with one skill or another. The question is how? And Why?

Quite frankly, I don’t have a clear answer as to why beginner’s luck exists. There are a few explanations which I would want to bring out:

  1. Paulo Coelho said beginner’s luck is the Universe’s way of showing someone that she/he can do it. It is the first push by the Universe (or God or Divine…) to give you confidence that it can be done.
  2. Osho said that beginner’s luck exists because when I’m doing something for the first time, the mind is free from expectations. It is the first time I’m doing it. I have no idea how things are going to go. Since the mind is free from all ideas of losing and winning, there is no pressure to win or perform up to a certain mark. In other words, there is no fear of failure. Without the pressure to win and without the fear, I end up winning.

Whatever the explanation may be, the fact remains. Beginner’s Luck does exist and it does give a boost in the process of learning.

Conversely, so does ‘Beginner’s Unluck’! Recall the statement, “First impression is the last impression.” or the modified version, “First impression is a lasting impression.” If something goes wrong the first time, especially while learning anything new, we get wary and stop it then and there itself. More on this in a future post!

Moral of the story, the first stage in the process of learning anything new… Beginner’s Luck. The moment the reality sank in while playing poker I began to the next stage of learning the game.

Stage 2: The Grind

After winning the first few bets in my game of poker, the real game began. And as the real game begun I starting losing my bets. Primarily because of the fact that I was a novice and the people with whom I was playing were certainly better than me.

Once the beginner’s luck is over then begins stage called ‘The Grind’. The Grind is where Tendulkar bats for 10 hours a day, day after day, year after year working on different batting strokes, working on back foot front foot and all else. The Grind is where Anand begins to play Chess since the age of 6 for hours and hours altogether, understanding the pieces, the patterns, the moves, the flow of the game. The Grind is where Federer begins playing Tennis and understands different strokes, different serves, the types of courts, the rules of the game, the movements of the body, and the flow of the mind.

The Grind is the stage which begins with the first baby step made towards conceptualizing the idea of starting a business. All the entrepreneurs reading this would understand the hard work, the effort it requires to get the first set of paying customers. This stage is the Grind.

The Grind stage is different for different type of skills and also varies from person to person. While learning a guitar might have a grind of 2-3 months, driving may have a month’s grind, singing may have a year’s grind, Chess or Cricket’s grind might be even longer and a business may have a grind of 1-2 years before the things get ‘settled’.

I was in the Grind stage in the above example when I was learning swimming. I was learning to keep my body floating on the water, learning hand movement, head movement, legs movement, body movement, breathing and everything else related to swimming. All this effort was to move from the Grind to the next stage of Learning.

Stage 3: The Growth

The Eureka moment which happened when I began to do all components of swimming in parallel was my initiation from the Grind to the next stage called the Growth.

The Growth is where I now know the fundaments of swimming and it is the stage where, for the first time, I can actually ‘move my wings in the air and fly’ when it comes to learning a skill! This is also the stage when I have become enough good in a particular skill, say writing, that I can use my skill to generate my first revenue out of it.

For a business, the growth is the stage when I have the first set of repeat customers or customer recommendations to other customers. This is the stage where a continuous flow of customers and a continuous churn of my product/service begin. This is the time to hire the first set of salaried employees.

This is the stage when Tendulkar begins to play at the national and international level to represent the country and at the same time make money out of his batting skills. Further, the more one repeats, the better one gets at it which leads to movement to the last stage of learning.

The Gold

The Gold is the final stage of evolution in a skill or art or business where after spending tremendous amount of time and energy, one has understood the tips and tricks of the trade. This is the stage where one has attained a level of ‘mastery’ in it.

At this stage, monetization by performance or by sharing of the knowledge of the skill becomes an assumed eventuality. This is the stage where greats become legends. This is the stage where Tendulkar starts to come on TV for advertisements because he has become a brand. This is the stage where we begin to see TV actors as Superstars, rock bands as Gods, businessmen as Millionaires.

In a business, this is the stage where one starts earning a healthy profit. Not revenue, profit. This is the stage of a business where people in the industry know the business and the people behind it, where the business have achieved a brand name of its own and where customer flow is regular and hence the employee flow is regular too.

The Gold is the stage of reaping the benefits of all the effort and hard work taken by the individual or a team for all these years.

Conclusion

These are the four key stages which come in each and every new endeavor we get into. The beginner’s luck, the first boost to prove we can/cannot do it. The Grind, where we make mistakes, learn and make more mistakes and learn more. The Growth, which is the first step of generating revenue and at the same time using the power of repetition to grow more and more in that skill. The Gold, where one has achieved mastery in one particular skill or business and can now reap the benefits and accumulate wealth and riches out of it.

Before beginning any project, it is only wise to do a thoughtful calculation and be prepared with the necessary courage and the patience to get through the Grind!

Think-it-over: Think of all the different areas of life in which you right now. On a personal level, skills like cycling, driving, swimming, guitar, singing or a similar hobby, on semi-professional level skills like Excel, Powerpoint, Word, Photoshop or a similar software, and on professional level skills related to your work if you’re a lawyer, teacher, IT professional, sports player, entrepreneur or any other profession.

On which of the above four stages are you in all these different areas of your life? Chances are in some areas you might be just beginning, on some at the Grind, on some at the Growth, on some at the Gold. At whichever stage you may be, it is important to understand the rules of the game of the stage which you are at and play the game accordingly. Else quit strategically.