Learning Skills Quickly: One Habit at a Time

One Thing at a Time

Learning skills quickly is the process of mastering new habits. In my last year of speech competition, I decided to focus on developing my speaking skills. I grabbed a few of my friends who were exceptional speakers and had them listen to my speech. When I was done, they gave me a ton of feedback on how to improve. I’ll never forget one piece of advice my friend Micah gave me: We gave you a lot of suggestions. Just take one thing, and practice that one thing until it becomes automatic. Then take another “one thing” and practice it until that “one thing” becomes automatic. Repeat the process until speaking with excellence becomes a habit.

It was slow at first, but it picked up speed once I started practicing regularly. If you practice every day, you can more quickly “master the art of showing up” in any habit. In Atomic Habits, James Clear says that when people ask how long it takes to form a habit they’re asking the wrong question. What they should be asking is: How many times? How many repetitions do I need to complete until it becomes automatic?

The Process

You could say that it took me 2 months to go from being an average speaker to speaking with excellence. Or, you could say it took giving 50 speeches. I prefer to say that it took a lot of prayer and regular practice while using the “one thing” principle.

When my speech coach challenged me to practice my speech 5 times a day, I knew I wouldn’t do it. I didn’t practice at all (perfectionism).  Then I realized that was dumb and started practicing once a day. I kept that up until the week before my next competition when I stepped it up to 3 times a day until we left for competition.

Micah’s “one thing” principle was very useful in those practice sessions. In each session, I would focus on my diction, pronunciation, hand gestures, or how I moved. If I tried to focus on all of it at once, I wouldn’t do any of it well. Speaking habits become developed one at a time until everything I needed became automatic. You can do the same with any skill you want to learn if you follow these 5 steps:

Steps to Mastery

  1. Identify what one skill you want to learn.

  2. Identify what habits you need to develop to perform that skill at the level you want.

  3. Start practicing every day using a 2-5 minute version of the habit you want to build. More on this here: https://jamesclear.com/how-to-stop-procrastinating

  4. Keep moving on to new “one things” whenever you master an old one.

  5. Celebrate every milestone in your progress.


Don’t skip the last step. Don’t pass by those significant moments. The first time you notice you added pauses at the right moments without thinking about it. The first time you didn’t have to think about the notes when you play a song on the piano. The first time you didn’t have to struggle through a presentation. Those are all special moments. Celebrate them! Keep going until you get where you want to go. When you achieve what you’re striving for, reach out and let me know what you have accomplished.

What skill do you want to learn? What one small habit are going to master to develop that skill?

Please let me know what you choose in the comments below.

See you tomorrow,



p style=”font-size: 12px;”>Image Credit: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

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