Learning is a Series of Steps: 7 Tips to Master a New Skill



“The excitement of learning separates youth from old age. As long as you’re learning, you’re not old.” ~Rosalyn S. Yalow

A few weeks ago, at the age of thirty-something, I started the process of learning to drive.

To be completely honest, it has been a daunting experience, especially for an overachiever like me.

Most of the tasks I undertake I find relatively easy, but not driving.

Seeing as I’m an introspective kind of person, I‘ve been curious to identify what it is that I’ve been struggling with these past few weeks. The answer is an obvious one: fear.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of losing control. Fear of being responsible for my conduct on unknown roads in an unchartered territory.

In theory, I know that I have nothing to fear. I know that everything we have ever learned is learned through a series of steps—and driving is no different.

If you’re an experienced driver, you may be reading this wondering what all the fuss is about, but there is a lot to learn when you set out.

What I’ve learned is that these things take time.

There have been lessons where I’ve come out swearing I’ll never get in a car again, and then lessons where I’ve felt surprisingly in control and at ease with everything.

Regardless, I know that if I follow the steps, I will eventually get there.

If you’re learning a new skill, breaking a new habit, or simply trying to change yourself for the better, it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen if you commit.

Upon reflection of my driving experience, I thought I’d share a few things that I’ve learned with you today:

1. Embrace the fear.

Fear is a natural emotion—one we cannot avoid. We naturally fear the unknown, so when we start to learn a new skill or hobby, it’s likely there will be a certain amount of fear involved.

What counts is how we react to the fear. With driving, I chose to throw myself into it head-on, and so I forced myself to get in the car and drive into the CBD of Sydney, even though this felt incredibly scary for me.

In my experience, the only way to overcome fear is to face it. The good news is, once you face it, it usually disappears and leaves you feeling empowered knowing that you conquered it.

2. Be patient.

Think back to when you were a toddler. Did you learn to walk overnight? Or did your mom or dad patiently pick you up each time you fell until you eventually got the hang of it?

It takes time to learn a new skill. We must be patient and not expect too much, too quickly. Unrealistic expectations are the quickest route to giving up.

In my experience, it’s great to check in with someone who has already learned the skill. How long did it take them? Did they encounter frustrations like you? This is a great way to form a realistic viewpoint that will encourage you to keep going.

3. Take baby steps.

Don’t try and run before you can walk. While it’s good to throw yourself in, it’s important to take incremental steps to gradually inch closer to the goal of learning the new skill.

Know that it’s the small, consistent steps that will lead to a greater change in the long run, and that there are dangers associated with jumping in too quickly.

4. Persist.

When you have a day where you feel like throwing in the towel, this is the most important day not to quit. If you can just keep pushing through the tough, challenging days, you will eventually get there.

I had a day like this after a particularly tough driving lesson. All I wanted to do was quit. But it’s the moments when we persevere that really give us strength.

5. Practice self-awareness.

If something is really challenging for you, think about why you’re having an issue and try to come up with a way to fix it.

During my driving lessons I identified that one of my issues was that I was afraid of losing control, and so I created a mantra for myself to repeat inside my head during lessons. It was simply:

“You are in control.”

This helped to relax me and overcome the negative thoughts that were sabotaging my efforts.

6.  Don’t take things too seriously.

In my opinion, life shouldn’t be too serious. If you find yourself blowing things out of proportion, try and make light of the situation.

When driving, I used to get intimidated by big buses, as they tend to dominate the roads and have little sympathy for learner drivers. To try and change the way I viewed buses, I would call them “pink elephants” instead.

This helped me to not get too stressed out when they would fly past me. Plus my driving instructor would constantly be laughing at me yelling out, “Oh look out, another pink elephant!” This would, of course, lighten the mood.

7. Believe in yourself.

This really does make all the difference. Believe that you can do it. Try visualising yourself having learned the new skill in a few months time.

Imagine a real-life situation where you are using the skill and the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel. This is a great way to motivate yourself when you feel like giving up.

I can’t wait to be driving myself to new and exciting yoga schools, something that I can’t currently do without a license. This is what motivates me to keep going.

And I know I will get there, just like you will get where you’re going—one step at a time.

Learning image via Shutterstock

About Zoe B.

Zoë B is a strategist, coach and author of the SimpleLifeStrategies blog. Through her coaching programs and blog, Zoë helps others to learn the strategies that exceptional people use to perform at their own personal best.

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  • This gave me an interesting perspective. Firstly, it’s difficult to imagine how scary learning to drive can be for someone who has lived many years without driving. You don’t have the same eager devil-may-care approach of a 15 year old. So, it’s really valuable to understand the viewpoint of others when they try something new.

    More importantly, for me anyway, is to look at the goal or challenge I have (whatever it is) and say – hey, look at all the other people who are doing this and have mastered this. I can do this too. It’s just going to take a little time.

    Good story to illustrate your points, Zoe.

  • Veronica

    You can do it! I got mine at 30 when my husband died. Been driving for 18 yrs now. If I could do it anyone could!

  • TJ

    Hi Zoe, I am 32 and it was 2 years ago when i had my first lesson. I had lessons once a week for about 4 weeks, and frustration set it in. Everytime I got in the car it felt like the first lesson, i blamed it on the instructor. So i threw in the towel. A year later, had a few lessons again. I was hell bound on getting a manual licence, and people kept saying maybe its easier to start with automatic… so on and so forth. Same thing happened, i got angry with myself for not being able to just drive! Looking back it was perhaps my ego or more the fear of failure, thinking maybe i just don’t have it to be a driver…
    Last September started lessons again, once a week. And this time round I let go of the fear of failure. I thought i’m just going to keep at this till i get my licence. November had my driving test, and I failed.. I couldn’t believe how depressed i was. It was as if I was 10 years old and failed my math test and my interal parent screaming at me for being so ‘stupid’. Luckily somehow i realised I was behaving like a stubborn child who didn’t get her way so was kicking and screaming, and making excuses.
    Found the humor in the situation and there on decided to just have fun with the whole driving business. Failed my second test in December. And this time i knew it was not the end of the world.
    Early this year in January, finally passed the test, got my manual licence and ready to join rest of the hoons on the road 🙂
    When I was crying over failing my first test- a friend said ‘Honey, the first time i gave my test, i failed the test even before leaving the carpark! Had the hand breaks on the whole time!” It is amazing how important it is to not take things too seriously, and the principle of just having fun!
    Good luck with your driving, I am sure the pink elephants and the green ants on the roads won’t be able to stop you 🙂

  • Paul T

    wonderful article! it was both practical and profound. it helped me restore my sense of excitement about learning something new that I haven’t felt for many years. I look forward to feeling younger again. thank you

  • lv2terp

    GREAT tips and easy to relate and understand with the example of learning to drive. Wonderful post!! 🙂

  • SimpleLifeStrategies

    Hi Carmelo,
    Thanks for your feedback.
    Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂
    I agree – when working on a goal it can be super helpful to look for other people who have already achieved it, because this opens up the ‘possibility’ of you achieving it too (instead of focussing on why it’s difficult and all the reasons you might not reach it). You get what you focus on – so best to focus on the end result.
    Zoë B

  • SimpleLifeStrategies

    Thanks for the feedback 🙂
    Zoë B

  • SimpleLifeStrategies

    Hi Paul T,
    Thanks so much for your feedback. It’s such a good feeling to get a rewarding lesson out of something that has been a huge challenge for me. As they say – every cloud has a silver lining 🙂 Here’s to feeling younger again!
    Zoë B

  • SimpleLifeStrategies

    Hi TJ,

    Wow – thanks for taking the time with this response 🙂 You sound just like me! I too have battled with the decision over a manual or automatic. I was pushed into driving an auto because it’s supposed to be easier – but it just didn’t ‘feel’ right to me, so I recently switched to a manual which I much prefer.

    I’ve also had to let go of my ego and put aside my original target to pass my test within 3 months of driving. I’ve learned that there’s no rush and I can take my time.

    I recently bought myself a little manual car and now I’m going out for lessons with my fiance, they say it’s all about the practice and I know that if I just keep driving it will soon get easier. The funny thing is, my fiance has also learned alot through this process as he can be very impatient, but he’s had to learn to be patient when he takes me out in the car and this has been a really positive experience for him too.

    I think one of the scariest things is that you learn in a ‘live’ environment! There’s no real ‘practice’ sessions because there are real life, unpredictable people driving around you and you never know what someone else might do!

    It’s really inspiring to hear that you kept going until you passed your test – thank you so much for sharing that with me. You’ve given me hope 🙂

    Have a wonderful day!

    Zoë B

  • SimpleLifeStrategies

    Thanks Veronica!
    I will keep going!!
    Zoë B

  • Bobby

    I started in i.t. last year, and it has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, the hardest set of skills I’ve ever tried to learn. When I get fearful that I’ll be unable to figure something out, I can sometimes attain a state where the fear is driving my inquiry instead of paralizing me. It is pushing my mind forward into and through the problem toward solution. I try to remain patient, realizing I am not going to be able to solve every ticket yet, but that I am steadily gaining knowledge for the next tickets. Self-awareness: I remind myself not to be a burden on others when I don’t know – and not be a bully to others when I DO know. I DO take things too seriously.I need to work on that one. Thank you for this article. I agree and relate.

  • Michelle

    haha wow, I totally related to this article! I’ve had my license for over ten years and to this day, I remember going for those driving tests (cause I failed a few times) as one of the most intense and stressful experiences in my life! And even now, the idea of jumping into a car and not be secure on how to make it to my destination is still scary to me. But when I examine my fear a little more closely, I now understand why. My family didn’t have a car growing up so it was a struggle finding anyone to help me learn how to drive (I felt like they those who helped me, didn’t really want to), I had a negative experience with my driving school (different instructors each time I got in the car is very uncomfortable!) and my father died in a car accident. I guess that my point is that as with any life experience that we fear, there is usually something behind it – this article was a great reminder to me of that very point!

  • I’m learning the guitar and I must admit I’ve tried too hard and expected too much from myself. My finger movement is not yet proper and I just try so hard to play complex songs that I well know I cannot do.

    I’ve changed my strategy – To take one day at a time and be consistent with it. At one point, I felt like giving up because my pinky was paining a lot. But I’ll have to learn to embrace the fear and start working harder and progress slowly.

    Thank you for the heads up, that was certainly motivating.


  • Shannon Dante

    I accidently came across this site and fortunately enough I was able to find something that was really needed for me. Lately, I have been having thoughts of starting freerunning/parkour but I keep bringing up excuses about why I won’t be able to do it. And the Embrace your fear part really helped me out since I was always scared that i might actually break some part of my body if tried it. Thank you for this.

  • I learned to drive when I was 34! I was TERRIFIED but I did it and I love driving now. Good luck!

  • CL

    I am in the same situation too and this article totally reflects my feelings about driving. I failed my driving test because of parallel parking so I am still learning how to park my car, and it’s so scary because of some other incidents. And I am on the verge of giving up, shall re-read your article until I feel better about myself and my parking experience.