After many years in a successful career, I am nearing retirement, and I have more time to pursue other activities. My goals last year were to learn Spanish and learn how to play the piano, but I never learned either skill. I'm frustrated at myself for not making any progress toward my goals in the last year. How can I move beyond this place of being stuck?

Answers from Edward T. Creagan, M. D.

Not making progress toward a goal of learning a new skill can be frustrating. And it can happen to everyone. You may have had the best of intentions and been initially motivated. But life can get in the way. A year or two can go by, and you may have made little progress. So, what can you do?

Here are some suggestions for making progress toward your goals, which can apply to goals for learning a variety of new skills.

  1. Make a rock-solid commitment to get better at your skill. You may need to make a conscious decision to devote a certain amount of time on the subject, such as one year, before making a final long-term commitment. There isn't usually a shortcut or quick fix.
  2. When learning any new skill — such as a language, a musical instrument, a sport such as golf or tennis, or a culinary skill such as cooking — it can be difficult to learn the skill alone. A coach, a mentor or an adviser can be crucial to maximize your talent.
  3. Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist at Florida State University, has popularized the concept of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice means getting out of your comfort zone and working with a coach or a mentor who can give you real-time feedback.
  4. Keep in mind the 10,000-hour rule. This rule, as described by Malcolm Gladwell in the book "Outliers: The Story of Success," states that if you can commit to 10,000 hours of diligent practice, you'll gain expertise in that skill. You might not become perfect, but you'll likely improve. However, to practice this much can require a commitment of many years, which everyone may not be willing to do.
  5. You may need to have consistent practice patterns that you can follow no matter the challenges and the issues that life throws at you. One example is the five-hour rule, which means to commit to a specific activity for five hours a week and have clear milestones for progress. Committing an hour a day to your skill can be a good general guideline.
  6. It can also be important to identify a specific goal. An upcoming piano recital, a dance performance or a cooking contest can be real motivators to get better.

So, you may need to make a commitment, practice, have a coach or mentor, and have specific goals to learn skills and make progress toward your goals.

With

Edward T. Creagan, M. D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

Sept. 06, 2017 See more Expert Answers