10 Ways to Overcome Barriers and Learn New Skills

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Dec 6, 2019

10 Ways to Overcome Barriers and Learn New Skills

Whether it’s picking up a second language, dabbling in the arts, or something a little more business-savvy, each of us has a new skill we’d love to learn. So what’s holding us back?

“If only I had time, I’d…” how many of us are guilty of thinking this to ourselves? According to data from SkillUp your Life, discovering new ways of being more productive, taking up meditation, trying our hand at a new language, brushing up on our public speaking skills, and learning how to learn are amongst our most wished for skills.

Learning new skills can not only be fun, but can help boost your overall mood and wellbeing by creating a sense of accomplishment and pride in your progress. It can also help strengthen connections and decrease feelings of loneliness by meeting new people, boosting your self-esteem, and even discovering new career possibilities you never knew you had.

Why, then, do so many of us fail? What is it that’s holding us back? According to research by AI company Fountech, despite 58% of us being keen to learn a new skill over the past year, 80% of us either didn’t try or failed to learn that new skill.

Research has revealed that although nearly half (46%) of us act on our desire to learn a new skill, over a quarter (26%) of those who do try to develop new skills fail to reach the level they want. The main barriers holding us back from learning new skills include:

  • 63% of us feel it’s too expensive to work with proper teachers, professionals or experts
  • More than half (52%) say we don’t have enough time to learn new things
  • Over a third (38%) of us struggle to find reliable, engaging online resources to learn from
  • Nearly a quarter (27%) avoid learning new things, as they find the process demoralising

If you’d love to learn a new skill but are struggling to find the time, motivation, or staying power, there are plenty of things you can do to combat these barriers. We share 10 simple tips to help you identify what’s holding you back so you can start learning new skills.


1. Identify what’s holding you back

When you think about learning a new skill, how do you feel? Excited, eager, curious? Or anxious, nervous, and stressed? While a lot of us like the idea of picking up a new skill or honing something we’re already experienced in, the thought of taking time out of our already busy schedule, re-jigging a tight budget, or sacrificing some of our precious downtime can fill us with dread.

Exploring your feelings around learning a new skill can be a good starting point to uncovering what may be unconsciously affecting your overall sense of wellbeing, as well as your work/life balance. Try taking just a few minutes to scribble down the skill you want to focus on as part of a spider diagram; jot down all of the reasons why you want to try and learn this skill.

Then take a moment to think of all of the reasons why you haven’t already begun. Stress, time, money, being unsure of where to start – note everything down. Once you have these all in one place, you can begin working out a sustainable way to ease these pressure points, create an action plan you can commit to, and begin exploring something you're truly passionate about.

2. Put yourself first

Let’s be honest here: how often do we really put ourselves first? Families, friends, colleagues, responsibilities – there’s always something topping our list, pushing our own wants, needs and desires to the bottom of our to-do list. It’s time we changed that.

Having a creative outlet, helping boost your confidence as you see progress, allowing you to build your self-esteem and work towards bigger goals – personal development can be a vital part of self-care.

If you struggle to make your own needs a priority, have low self-confidence, or struggle with low self-esteem, there are a number of different professionals you can work with to help combat these feelings. Talking therapy can be a positive, safe space to explore why you feel this way, and how you can challenge negative ways of thinking.

Confidence is a state of mind. When we feel confident, we not only accept ourselves, but believe in our abilities. Without confidence, we can become stressed and anxious, feeling unfulfilled and unhappy. Another alternative can be working with a hypnotherapist to increase your self-confidence. Accessing your unconscious mind, hypnotherapy can use the power of suggestion to help facilitate positive change.


3. Think long-term, not quick-fix

When faced with the choice of a long-term gain or instant gratification, many of us will pick the quick fix without a second thought. Just think about it: are there really any areas of life where we have to wait? Between same-day delivery, swipe to match and hours lost to scrolling on social media, we’re all about the here and now.

It takes around 20 hours to learn a new skill. Daunting, but not unobtainable. If you think about it, that’s around 45 minutes each day for a month. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, anyone with a long commute, kids, or shift-based working hours knows trying to carve out nearly an hour each day for something that isn’t essential can be tough.

Reframing your thinking could be the way to go. Instead of focusing on the short-term benefits and hurdles, try thinking of the long-term gains. Learning a new skill can be equally as challenging as it can be exciting, but have you considered the possibilities that new skill could lead to?

Developing leadership skills, working with a diverse group of strangers with different abilities and exploring new interests can all help not only hone the skill you hope to learn, but also help you to improve on other areas. New skills and increased life experiences can help open up opportunities within your current career path, help you discover opportunities for side gigs, increase your overall confidence, and more.

4. Focus on giving, not getting

If learning a new skill feels too daunting, trying a more roundabout approach could be beneficial. Volunteering is not only a great way to give back to your local community while meeting new people, but can also help you to develop interpersonal skills, improve your teamwork, help you pick up new productivity and organisation tips - all whilst benefiting your mental health and wellbeing.


5. Ditch the perfectionist mentality

According to research, our need to be perfect is increasing – and that’s not a good thing. Evidence suggests that our excessively high standards of ourselves can lead not only to setting ourselves up for failure with impossible goals, but we may be increasing our anxiety and damaging our self-esteem.

Setting healthy goals is more important than aiming for perfection. Whilst old school mentality may say ‘if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right’, a better approach may be finished, not perfect. It’s better to get started – to get something done, to feel a sense of achievement and progression – than it is to spend just as much time, energy, and effort worrying about not getting something 100% right.

Try and reframe your goals. Instead of focusing on perfecting a skill, try and view it as taking up a hobby or increasing your social circle. By letting go of the pressure that can come with developing new skills and working towards self-improvement, you can begin instead enjoying the experience, focusing on the relaxation and de-stressing elements and how they can benefit you.

6. Find freebies and skillshares

Money can be a huge barrier when it comes to increasing our knowledge, but it doesn’t have to be. Between free YouTube how-to’s, online platforms like Skillshare, Udemy, and Future Learn, picking up a new skill has never been easier. You can browse thousands of courses for free or a low monthly cost.

If you aren’t so keen on digital learning, local libraries and community centres often offer free or cheap classes in a variety of skills, crafts, and wellbeing-related activities. Getting together with friends or colleagues to organise skillshare opportunities can also be a great way to discover areas you may wish to learn more about, whilst creating opportunities to increase workplace communications.

By starting off with free or low paid options, this can not only take off the pressure that paid pathways can have, but can also help you to feel more relaxed and open as you’re learning new things.


7. Don’t let fear hold you back

The fear of failure can seem much more demoralising than the promise of potential success. According to one study, 31% of us rank the fear of failure as one of our biggest fears. Fearing failure can hold us back from trying new things and stop us from achieving our goals.

If you’re worried your fears are holding you back, a number of different techniques can help. Hypnotherapy for anxiety can help you to identify the root cause of why you're feeling this way, helping you to change your relationship with these fears.

Complementary therapies can be another positive way to help combat self-sabotaging behaviours. Mindfulness and meditation can both help you learn to focus on the moment, connecting your mind and body to the here and now to break negative thought patterns and disrupt cycles of fear or anxiety.

8. Make time, not excuses

“I just haven’t got the time to learn a new skill”. It’s something we’ve all said or thought, most likely whilst scrolling through Instagram for the umpteenth time. A lack of time is a valid reason for many of us to not follow through and develop new skills. But it doesn’t have to be.

A personal development coach can help you learn to boost your productivity, organise your priorities, and get a sustainable action plan in place. Working with a life coach can also help with motivation. While motivation does come from within, finding the momentum to keep going can be tough.

By working with an experienced professional with an outside perspective, you can discover new ways to set milestones, recognise your achievements, and identify other areas you can improve to find the time to make impactful sustainable changes.

If you’re looking for small changes you can make that can have a big impact, try these simple ways to maximise your productivity by de-cluttering your workspace, or if you’re struggling with motivation, these nine podcasts can help inspire and motivate you.

9. Upskill your stress relief

Picking up new skills can be a form of stress management in and of itself. Learning something new doesn’t always have to be about enhancing your career or looking for new ways to market your abilities. Consider developing a skill that can activly help boost your wellbeing.

Discovering more about mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, or even yoga can all be healthy, beneficial skills to develop. Many can be done at home, through online tutorials, with the help of books, or through working with experienced professionals.

An often overlooked area that can benefit us in mind and body is how (and what) we eat. Healthy eating isn’t just good for our bodies; it can also help decrease stress levels, reduce tiredness, and even boost your mood.

Experimenting with cooking classes and learning more about nutrition can help in a wide variety of ways. From discovering how to better manage budgets and practising meal planning, to focusing on how to create more nutrition menus, healthy eating can have a surprising impact on your stress levels.


10. You aren’t locked in to learning one skill

Persistence may be key, but knowing your own mind, abilities, and interests can be more important. Who says the first skill you try has to be the one you stick with? Trying your hand at a new skill is an amazing achievement in itself. You’re taking the time and effort to go above and beyond, to better yourself, to try new things. There’s no shame in admitting when something isn’t working for you, if you’re not enjoying it, or if you’d rather try something else.

We’re not saying that if it’s been your life-long ambition to learn how to paint, that you should give up at the first hurdle. But perhaps oil painting isn’t for you. There’s still watercolours, sketching, sculpting, crafting, digital art.

There's a whole world of opportunities and options out there. How can you possibly know which will be the right fit, if you don't keep trying new experiences? If you feel like you may be struggling learning a specific new skill, that's ok; it could just be a sign that this may not be quite the right fit for you. Try and take a short breather and come back to it later. If the thought of returning leaves you feeling demotivated or filled with dread, it may be time to try something new.

Don’t get locked into a single skill path. Keep trying new things until you discover that one thing you can feel passionate about. Once you’ve found that spark of excitement, it’s easy to keep developing that skill for the better. Before you know it, you’ll be seeking out new skills you can feel just as inspired to try.

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