The First 20 Hours – Book Review

The First 20 Hours Review

20hoursI love learning. Not like book learning, but real life skill acquisition, where you “learn as you go”. Those of you who know me have likely heard me mutter the phrase, “Teach you? No one taught me how to do this. I just learned it.” Yeah, I can be snarky sometimes.

Josh Kaufman’s new book, “[amazon_link id=”1591845556″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast[/amazon_link]” breaks free of the notion popularized by Malcolm Gladwell that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Kaufman acknowledges that not everyone has to master a craft in order to practice a craft, and sets forth a framework in which anyone can learn a new skill, talent, or ability in 20 hours or less.

You don’t have to be a black belt in everything to live a satisfying life. – Josh Kaufman

Kaufman structures his book around two main frameworks: the Ten Principles of Rapid Skill Acquisition, and the Ten Principles of Effective Learning. Both of these sets of principles form the foundation on which Kaufman himself strives to master several wide-ranging and disparate skills, from yoga, to computer programming, to touch typing, to playing Go, to playing the ukulele, and finally to windsurfing. All very different goals – but the Ten Principles framework plays an important role in his adventures (and misadventures!) in learning each of these skills.

Curious about the Ten Principles frameworks? Here they are, in a nutshell:

The Ten Principles of Rapid Skill Acquisition

  1. Choose a loveable project
  2. Focus your energy on one skill at a time
  3. Define your target performance level
  4. Deconstruct the skill into subskills
  5. Obtain critical tools
  6. Eliminate barriers to practice
  7. Make dedicated time for practice
  8. Create fast feedback loops
  9. Practice by the clock in short bursts
  10. Emphasize quantity and speed

I love the first two principles because they are two things that I struggle with continuously.

Many times, I’ll take on projects that I think are important, like growing a healthy organic lawn. But I’m not that passionate about my lawn at this point in my life. Maybe when I’m older and prone to wearing black dress socks with my sandals – but not right now. I’d rather be focusing on loveable projects, like spending time in my vegetable garden, poking at my compost pile, hitting the treadmill, reviewing the next up-and-coming fitness gadget, or anything besides fretting about my lawn.

And that’s the second thing I struggle with – focusing my energy on one task. I constantly have too many projects on the go. Besides all of my outdoor projects, I’m in the middle of several not-yet-finished home renovation projects, I’m working on four or five web-based projects, and I have a huge stack of books and periodicals that sit on my nightstand and look at me pointedly from inside their plastic wrappers – unopened, unloved. I know that if I focused on just one or two important projects, I’d probably be much further ahead in life – and my spouse would be happier as well!

But knowing how to approach a new skill is not the same as knowing how to approach learning about the new skill. That’s where Kaufman’s principles of effective learning come in:

The Ten Principles of Effective Learning

  1. Research the skill and related topics
  2. Jump in over your head
  3. Identify mental models and mental hooks
  4. Imagine the opposite of what you want
  5. Talk to practitioners to set expectations
  6. Eliminate distractions in your environment
  7. Use spaced repetition and reinforcement for memorization
  8. Create scaffolds and checklists
  9. Make and test predictions
  10. Honor your biology

What makes “The First 20 Hours” such an interesting book is that Kaufman is a self-experimenter, a la Tim Ferriss. He doesn’t just talk about theoretical frameworks, or the philosophy of learning, or the importance of biological reinforcement techniques. He takes us along on his journey of self-discovery as he becomes his own experimental subject, and attempts to teach himself six new and disparate skill sets in the course of a year. Not only does he talk about how the theory lines up with the reality of learning a new skill, but he also talks about his failures, his feelings, and his future plans for his new-found skills.

Bottom Line

If you’re at all interested in jumping the queue when it comes to learning new things on your own, “[amazon_link id=”1591845556″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast[/amazon_link]” is a must-have in the library of every Wellness Rebel. The discipline Kaufman preaches isn’t overly difficult, and he himself allows that a lot of the frameworks are just plain common sense. But the magic of the book is the straightforward manner in which the author walks you through applying these tactics to learning in your everyday life. Coupled with an in-depth analysis of each of his successes and failures, Kaufman provides each person – regardless of their academic ability – with a way to truly succeed in the important areas of their life.

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