What I learned from a year of rapid skill acquisition


My year of rapid skill acquisition taught me more than just 12 nine individual skills—it taught me about motivation, psychology, and principles of skill acquisition.

First and foremost, I now see that the emphasis should have been first on practicing for 20 hours, and only secondarily on learning 12 skills in a year. I had the emphasis reversed, and as a result only achieved the desired skill level on a few skills. The system worked for the first couple months, while motivation was high, but as my drive lessened, so did my success. Part of what drained me of motivation was the constant unceasing onslaught of learning a skill. I would likely have had much more success if I would have only learned a skill every other month, with a month-long break in-between each. Rest is vital to work.

At the onset of this grand experiment I had decided to blog about my progress, as a form of accountability, to keep me on the path I had set before me. Here, however, irony reared it’s funny head: Rather than helping me along, the task of having to write actually held me back. Semi-unconsciously, I often wouldn’t begin practicing a new skill until I had written a post outlining my plan for that month, which I of course wouldn’t write until I had written a post detailing how the previous month had gone. As a result, I frequently did only a very minimal amount of practice in the first week-or-so of the month, cutting my total practice down by a significant amount. Had I not blogged about my journey, it’s not unlikely that I would have gone significantly further, and perhaps even gone on to finish the final three skills.

Here I must break up this monotonous negativity, and say that not everything I learned was of a negative nature or what I shouldn’t have done.  I learned one very significant fact: 20 hours is enough to give you a sufficient level of skill to make you feel comfortable & confident indulging in that activity, and give you the ability to truly enjoy what you’re doing.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of aiming for 20 hours is that it is a very specific and very attainable goal: one that is not so daunting that you won’t begin (let alone finish), and yet still significant enough to make a real change in your ability. Being able to say “I have met my goal, and don’t wish to continue, so I shall stop,” is much much better than having a much loftier goal and giving up on it. That feeling of completion & finality is a much better way to end.

Advice for others who may wish to follow in my footsteps:

  1. Focus on 20 hours. Don’t worry about how many weeks or months that takes, or how many skills you are to learn.
  2. Prevent burnout. If you’re planning to learn several skills, take a good long rest in between each.
  3. Remove barriers to practice. If writing about your progress will hold you back, don’t write about it.

Conclusion of the Conclusion to an experiment in Rapid Skill Acquisition:

Despite fairly paltry practice times for some of my skills, I still feel that the experiment was a success.

  • January’s skill (Piano by Ear) was the most marvelous, and the first step to an amazing pathway (if I ever continue down it).
  • February’s Ukulele was certainly very fun, and I now play quite satisfactorily for my needs.
  • The Palmer Handwriting I began in March has continued to be used & improved through the months, which I am quite glad of.
  • April’s Tap Dancing wasn’t especially practical (and wasn’t intended to be), but even that worked out very well.
  • May & Unicycling was the beginning of dwindling practice time, but even with just 5 hours of practice I mostly achieved my target skill level.
  • Gymnastics, Sight Singing, and Piano Sight Reading didn’t go very well at all (except for some small progress with the first) because of very limited practice, but…
  • The French of July mostly stuck with me. With just a little review on Duolingo in the past few weeks I was able to regain everything I had learned before, and continue onward towards French fluency. I plan to continue steady practice throughout the new year, in preparation for watching The Little Prince in French, after it’s released in October.

With this I conclude the conclusion to the conclusion of my quest in rapid skill acquisition. Goodbye, and good luck.

The Beginning of the End


Two-thirds of the way through the month, and no introductory post yet. This is indicative of how things have been progressing, and has led to a decision: this month’s skill shall be my last. While the last three skills would be interesting to try, I’ve not nearly enough motivation left (and I could likely contrive several other excuses as well). Instead, I shall just end with September’s skill (and likely stretch it out to 20 hours, rather than ending at the end of the month), and save speed reading, storytelling, and drawing for some other time.

For the month of September (and onward), I have undertaken to attempt to gain the skill of piano sight reading. I have basic knowledge already—the names of notes, and which notes correspond to which keys—but I certainly lack any semblance of speed.

Target Performance Level

I wish to be able to play any simple, basic-level sheet music with rapidity, fluidity, and ease.

Skill Breakdown

As with any and all skills, the fastest way to progress is to be always pushing the limits, and always attempting what is just beyond your grasp. As speed is the key factor in reading music, my focus must be almost entirely on playing as absolutely speedily as I can. As speed is the first challenge to break through, I can ignore tempo and rhythm, and just plow through sheet music as fast as possible. If I can play notes much faster than is required, I can then slow down a bit and focus on proper rhythm, without being distracted by figuring out which key I must press next.


I shall post a review of my progress once I have practiced for 20 hours. At some point after that, I will write a review of the entire year’s learning, and what insights I have gained on rapid skill acquisition, and the pitfalls to avoid for any who follow in my tracks.

Whatever One Sows, That Will He Also Reap

The month of August was a dreadful failure. I practiced only five hours, and made no discernible progress. That’s really about all there is to say.

A Tale of Sight Singing And Neglect

Going Down

18 days into the month, and I haven’t written an introductory post yet. This sad story of neglect carries into my skill acquisition as well, as I’ve only practiced 3 hours at this point. I shan’t let this hold me back though, and am still going to write an introductory post, and hopefully get at least 10 hours of practice in this month.

Target Performance Level:

Be able to effectively sing the correct notes to a song I’ve never heard before a capella, by simply following sheet music.

Skill Breakdown:

Like any musical skill, sight singing is done by producing the correct notes with the correct rhythm. Since it’s singing, you ought also to produce the correct words.

Rhythm is basic enough (although can still be a challenge), so the greatest difficulty lies in singing the right notes. The most confusing part of music is that everything is not in the same key. This adds a layer of difficulty to following music for most instruments, but especially so for singing. How are you supposed to tell if a given interval is a half-step or a whole-step? Major or minor? At first I was going to memorize where all the half steps were for each key signature, but then realized it would be much easier and likely more effective to just make note of where the tonic was, and from there easily see where the third and fifth lie. With the little bit of practice I’ve done so far, this seems to be working out quite well.

I have a book of lots of old popular songs from the 1920s era such as would be sung by college glee clubs. I am unfamiliar with most of the songs, which makes them prime candidates for my exercise. Before singing each song I play the scale of the key the song is in, to acquaint my ear. I then give myself the starting note, and work through it, using helping notes from the piano as little as possible. As I progress I should see less and less assistance being needed.

My only wish for this month is that I was a Tenor, as these songs often go quite high.

Now I’m Ready for Anything!

French Street

Je parle et comprends un peu le français, et j’écris un peu le français. Mais pas très bien.

Translation: I speak and understand a little French, and I write a little French. But not very well.

My phone drowned in a puddle while camping at Flite Fest in July and I lost all of my time-tracking data, so I’m not quite sure exactly how much I practiced, but I’m fairly sure it was 12–13 hours—not quite the 20 hours, but it is nice to be back in the double-digits again. After self-control, travel is the greatest bane to rapid skill acquisition.

Learning French has been a lot of fun! I have the ability to do some very basic communication, have decent pronunciation and accent, and can sort of figure out how a word is spelled, just from hearing it. Duolingo says that I know 134 words, and there are even more that I learned with Pimsleur, so I probably have a semi-working vocabulary of over 150 words! This source says that the 300 most common French words are enough for everyday life, and just 600 words make up 90% of French texts. If the word/time learning curve is linear,  just fifty hours of practice would give you command of 600 words, and make you a somewhat capable member of French society! A diligent and motivated learner would be quite ready to live in France with just 2-3 months of language preparation.

Like any other skill, it seems that language is quite readily grasped with 20 hours of practice, and is really quite enjoyable. If you’ve ever wished to learn a language, go ahead and make a goal of practicing 20 hours, and go for it! You’ll be pleasantly surprised how quickly you can learn, and how enjoyable it really is.

Est-ce que vous êtes Américain?


I shall go to France!


For now though, I shall be content with the greatest rapid skill acquisition experiment of the year: learning a language in 20 hours! This would be daunting, if it weren’t so easy. People say that learning a language is difficult, especially for adults, but the truth of the matter is that adults can learn languages faster than children. Traditional methods of rote memorization and vocabulary lists are unengaging, and as such unmemorable. Modern tools and methods can aid in learning a language much more quickly, and teach words and phrases that are actually useful. Through the month of July, I am making use of two different methods:


Duolingo is a fairly new business (only two years old as of June), but they apparently have more users than the total number of people learning a language in the US Public School system. They work based on two main principles: two-way written language translation, and audio transcription. In this way you quickly learn proper pronunciation, while also being able to read in that language. Duolingo also has a neat feature where more advanced students can translate Wikipedia pages into other languages for practice.


The Pimsleur method was developed by Paul Pimsleur in the 1960s, and teaches through the use of 30-minute audio lessons. This method keeps the mind engaged by prompting the listener to speak the translation of an English phrase, as opposed to simply repeating after the teacher as some other methods do. Pimsleur also employs graduated-interval recall, which is supposed to help get the language into your long-term memory quickly & efficiently, by bringing it up just prior to the point where you would forget it. Besides these learning techniques, the Pimsleur method focuses on core vocabulary that will actually be useful to you, instead of learning the French equivalent to words like “elephant”, and “acrophobia”.

Between the two of these, I should have the basics of French writing, grammar, and conversation down pat. The only real challenge I face this month is practicing a full 20 hours, as I have fallen far short of that goal during the last few months’ skills.

Josiah wrote a clickbait title. You won’t believe what happened next!


This post is the most touching thing I’ve read in my entire life. It’s almost as touching as what my hands did with the ground while doing handstands. You just have to read to the end. Seriously though, clickbait needs to die. Slowly, horribly, in a bath of molten lava and hot sauce.

In June I made decent progress, but nothing spectacular. Then again, I did only practice gymnastics for 4½ hours. It’s the muscular endurance that did me in—I never hitting the 30 minute mark for one day, though I was getting close by the end.

An observer won’t begin to cry after seeing my cartwheels anymore (unless they were watching while cutting onions), but they also shan’t cheer in the least. I still don’t really feel like I’m doing cartwheels quite right, which would lend to them the poor appearance that I tend to evoke. I really can’t quite figure out what I’m doing wrong though. Perhaps assistance from someone who can actually do them could have been of great benefit.

Handstands are another story completely. The difficulty here was nothing about form, and everything about balance (and a dash of tenacity). Hands are only a tiny bit shorter than feet, but oddly are much more difficult to balance on, although to be honest, I do have to say that I don’t remember how hard it was to learn to stand on my feet. Despite the unusuality of standing with your feet above your head, I did make excellent progress! I can do an “almost handstand” just about every attempt, and have made several handstands lasting 5-10 seconds. This doesn’t seem like such a great stretch of time, but when you consider that skydiving from 10,000 feet has a freefall lasting only about 30 seconds, it’s really quite a lot.  I made a few small attempts at walking with my hands, both to provide potential future transportation, and as a means to correct an imbalance of balance, but this very nearly fell flat, even if I didn’t.

If June has taught me anything, it’s that the circus will have to be patient.

A quest to discover why we walk about on our feet

Marines doing gymnastics

In June, I am learning gymnastics. More specifically, handstands, cartwheels, and possibly other things if rapid skill acquisition and time permit. These skills will certainly prove useful when I’m inevitably desperate enough to join a circus.

Throughout my childhood, I never really endeavored to do either, except a handful of odd times. When I was probably about seven years old, I did try doing a handstand by walking up a wall, and having my feet on the ground, but I never got to the part where you actually balance, and was left simply doing the part where all the blood goes to your head.

Now that I’ve mastered the art of walking on two feet (really truly, I almost never fall down, and you can scarcely see me toddle), and can balance on one wheel, I’ve decided it’s time to figure out how to stand upside down. First step: YouTube. Second step: lots of practice.

The process for learning how to do a cartwheel is quite similar, although how you actually go about doing a cartwheel is a little bit different than I had expected. I remembered from a little research a few years back that you point your one foot in the direction you’re going to cartwheel, but I thought you tried to bend over more sideways, and not forward. In reality you bend over forward, not sideways.

If I manage to master the both of these before the month is out, I may attempt to learn walkovers, although honestly, I very likely may not have sufficient flexibility & strength for that.

The greatest challenge this month is going to be endurance. Gymnastics are quite trying on the muscles, especially with no prior experience. I’m not anticipating that I’ll be able to do even 30 minutes on any day, which will really cut down on my total practice time, compounded by the fact that I won’t have the ability to do extra for catch-up. Because of this, I’m going to have to be extra-vigilant to not miss practice. I may be able to break practice up into multiple sessions during the day, which could help me to get closer to 20 hours this month, although hopefully I’ll be able to do much more in much less time.

A little unicycle goes a long way

Unicycle Fencing

For the month of May, I only unicycled for a paltry 5 hours (precisely), making May very nearly a vacation from skill acquisition. And a sort of vacation from everything else, too, as I was out of state for 12 days in May on three different trips, and on another 8 days was gone from home part or most of the day. However! Despite this failure of practice quantity, I still very nearly met all of my lofty (because I’m up a little higher on a unicycle) goals!

☑ Texting while unicycling
☑ Juggling while unicycling
☑ Unicycling backwards
☐ Juggling while texting while unicycling backwards

The first, and easiest goal, that of mounting the unicycle without touching anything with a 95% success rate was met within the first day or two. Unicycling in tight circles was also met quite satisfactorily: I can often do a very nearly 180° turn! On the last day I tried juggling while unicycling, and was surprised to find that it was barely any more difficult than either juggling or unicycling on their own. With just a few minutes of attempting it, I was able to do four consecutive catches multiple times, and while standing on solid ground was only able to do 14 once, with most being in the range of seven or eight catches.

I only put a small portion of my five hours into attempting to unicycle in reverse, and despite this fact, was beginning to make very solid progress. On multiple attempts I was able to unicycle 1½ complete revolutions—or three peddlings—in reverse. The great difficulty comes in the transition from forward movement, to a brief standstill, and then backward movement. Keeping one’s balance at this point is exceedingly tricky, but I feel that a few more hours of practice would allow me to unicycle in reverse for great lengths of time, free from any difficulty of balance.

My approximate ability is shown in this video:

I am very pleased with the improvement I’ve made, almost hitting my goals in just ¼ of the desired time. Now I want to play Unicycle Hockeyand I posses the skills!

Look Ma, no hands!


For the month of May I am take up the art of one-wheeled transportation. Several years back I learned to ride on a unicycle borrowed from a friend, developing the ability to not fall off too often when traveling in a straight line (but not much more). In the spring/summer of 2013 I bought a unicycle of my own, and rode it a little, although not progressing much past my prior ability.

Currently, I can successfully mount a unicycle without the assistance of a stationary object at least half the time. I can go almost indefinitely in a straight line without falling, and can make gradual turns. I can go quite fast or quite slow. In essence, I have all of the basics down, save for sharp turns, which is the first additional skill I shall work on. But this is unicycle we’re talking about! I need to be able to go backward!

Target Performance Level:

The most important thing at this point is to be able to do a tight U-turn—a three or four foot circle would be ideal. In addition, I would like to have the capability to unicycle in reverse, and of course I need to get my unicycle mounting ability up to at least a 95% success rate. In the off chance that I manage to get all of those under my belt before the month is out, I shall attempt to juggle while unicycling. That’s all that I have planned—no bagpipes for me!

The greatest challenge I face this month is that of getting in anywhere near 20 hours of practice. I missed several days at the beginning of the month, as I was out of State, which is bad enough. Add to this the fact that unicycle gives no rest, and you see the predicament. In order to balance, you have to be continually exerting a force on both pedals, giving neither leg any rest for the duration, and there is no coasting, like on a bicycle. Yes, it is possible to continue the activity mostly non-stop for 40+ minutes, but it is rather tiring.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the circus.