Skill acquisition is a process, not a shortcut

July 13, 2023 | Mirta Fagundes dos Santos

10-year-old boy with a snowboard lifting his hands up and sitting on the snow

“I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now…”

This famous Queen lyric perfectly sums up today’s culture of immediacy and an overwhelming desire for instant gratification. Everywhere we look, from the quick download of apps to the instant streaming of movies, we are surrounded by the culture of now.

And this fast-paced “I want it now” mentality is not only reshaping our consumption patterns, it is also affecting how we approach skill acquisition and personal growth.

New skills at the touch of a button?

The roots of this culture are by far driven by technology. The fast-paced tech development allows for information to be at our fingertips, goods to be delivered within hours, and knowledge to be disseminated within seconds.

But, there is one aspect of human life that technology has not been able to accelerate at the same speed: the development of new skills.

Learning a new skill is a journey; a process that is often slow, messy, and full of obstacles. It demands time, effort, and patience. Acquiring fluency in a new skill is synonymous with making mistakes, learning from them, and enduring the painstaking process of practice.

But, our problem doesn’t really lie in the process but in the culture of immediacy that surrounds us.

The reality of skill acquisition: a snowboarding case study

Last weekend my husband took my three boys on a snowboarding trip.

Snowboarding is not something my boys have done, but they sure liked the idea of it, and really looked forward to the trip… until the first fall!

Actual quotes from my kids within the first hour on the mountain:

“This sucks. My bum hurts from falling so much!”

“I thought this was going to be fun, but it isn’t, I just keep falling over all the time!!!”

Oh, if only it was possible to “download” a skill into our brains, as quickly as we can watch a TikTok video. Alas, no! My kids, and probably many others, are now growing up in a culture where they see people showing off talent (online), but they don’t see what goes into that – the failings, the effort, the trying… They just think people are born with it…

The only sentiment that leaves them with it is “I wish I could do that”…

Embrace the journey, not just the destination

Cliché trigger warning!

If you’re learning a new skill, remember that the path to mastery is not a sprint, but a marathon.

We can change the narrative around skill acquisition. We can celebrate the process, embrace the failures as much as the wins. We can reframe our mindset from “I want to be good at this now” to “I’m excited about the process of getting better at this.”

Fast tracking expertise or undermining mastery?

The desire for instant gratification, specifically in skill development, is particularly apparent in the online learning landscape.

Courses promising to make you an expert in a few weeks are plenty. And while these courses can and do provide a foundation, they can’t circumvent the time and practice needed for true proficiency. Their true danger is that they feed into the mindset of “quick and easy”, eroding the fundamental understanding that true expertise comes with time and effort.

Cheeky segue warning!

Speaking of fundamentals, if you want to get started on the process of acquiring thinking skills, enrol in our next Thinking Foundations course.