Chances are good that you don’t know too many people who learned to run before they began to crawl. Likewise, you may not have met anyone who broke par while playing golf for the first time.

As beginners, even people whose skill now causes us to marvel would more likely have produced laughter and grins rather than applause. Now, why is that?

Except for some few aspects of life that are hardwired into us such as breathing, swallowing, and sleeping, everything else requires effort and practice. At first our efforts aren’t too productive because we have to deal with misunderstanding what is required, as well as with being unfamiliar with doing it.

Take a back handspring as an example. It’s almost effortless if you toss your legs back over your head with enough power. As you do so for the first time, you have to deal with very real concerns that you’ll land painfully on your head or break your neck in the process.

How does anyone ever learn? Well, trainers long ago figured out that they could put a harness on neophytes so that two people could hold the newbie up in the air while practicing. Only after the move is well ingrained does anyone attempt a back handspring without such safe support.

In many cases whatever we already know makes it harder to master something new. Why? Most of us are inclined to repeat what we already know, even if it doesn’t apply to the new activity.

Naturally, deep training helps us to accomplish more of what we practice. Ironically, such training can also make it much more difficult to practice something different.

What can be done in such cases? Follow the example of those who want to spring backward after spending most of their lives avoiding backward falls: Get others to help support you while practicing whatever new thing goes against most of your finely-honed instincts.

Here is a process involving seven practices that can help you:

1. Locate someone who has mastered how to do what you wish to learn.

2. Obtain agreement from such a person to assist you in gaining mastery.

3. Explain to the person with mastery what you find difficult or confusing about learning the activity and ask for suggestions.

4. Tell the masterful person how you plan to proceed and ask for improvements to your plans.

5. Establish a flexible plan and schedule for learning.

6. Regularly review your progress with the master.

7. Develop objective standards to measure your progress so you’ll know how you are doing and how you still need to improve.

Let me share an example of how this process worked by describing the experiences of a recent Rushmore University graduate. Mira Ahlin, M.D. had an unexpected experience that defied her medical understanding of how human perception works. The more she thought about the experience, the more she wanted to learn more about what had happened.

If Mira had known ways to measure, analyze, and interact with the phenomenon, it would have been simple to satisfy her curiosity by merely following such steps. Unfortunately, she didn’t know of such a protocol, nor could she find a relevant one described in the professional literature.

What could she do? Her instinct was to take the first step on the list: Locate someone who had mastered how to do what she wished to learn. Her efforts continued futilely for several years. Eventually she succeeded in finding a professor with extensive experience in developing new protocols. He quickly agreed to help her, the second step.

From there Dr. Ahlin shared with the professor the many things that bothered her about how to investigate and understand her personal experience in a more fundamental way, step three in the process. After much discussion ways were found to overcome the perceived problems.

After that Mira spelled out how she intended to proceed. Her advisor commented in detail about how the plans could be improved. A back-and-forth process continued until a well-developed investigation protocol emerged. With solid professional support she soon turned these plans into practical results.

As a busy physician, she knew that the investigation and reporting would have to proceed in stages, some of which might be punctuated by long periods of inaction while she met her other responsibilities. Since the investigation plan took such potential delays into account, they did not disrupt the integrity of her work.

At each milestone in the investigation, Dr. Ahlin reviewed her work in detail with her faculty advisor who provided practical advice on how to improve the work, make it more helpful to herself and others, and prepare for possible publication. This advice steadied her during the investigation in the same way that someone learning how to do back handsprings retains two spotters for safe support even after nearly perfectly performing the gymnastic move.

Mira’s research plan also spelled out key accomplishments for some of the most important investigations, such as how many people should be interviewed for a survey about their related experiences. These milestones helped keep her work on track and proceeding productively.

Soon after the research was completed, she was able to convert the investigation into a dissertation that was accepted for completing her degree as a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Mind. She is now performing some additional research to include in a book that will be an important contribution to the literature of her research subject: characteristics of the most frequently experienced forms of extra-sensory perception.

I waited a bit in the article to share her topic because I didn’t want to distract you from the important process that I have been describing. You might find it helpful now to reread her example here.

In medical school students are taught that the only external information a person can acquire comes through one or more of the five senses (see, hear, touch, taste, and smell). Anything else either doesn’t exist or is a figment of the imagination.

As a trained observer of those with various mental disorders, Dr. Ahlin knew that her own experience was no hallucination, nor was it induced by any substance. Because of her medical training, she was quite surprised to learn that almost half the people she surveyed reported experiences that contradict what the medical literature says can happen.

It seems clear to her now that there’s some other mechanism of perception involved, and she’s working hard to learn more about what it might be. Watch for her book that explains what she has discovered so far.

If such an intriguing and difficult subject can be better understood through the process I’ve just outlined, think how well you may progress when you, too, use the process for something that many people learn to excel in.

What are you new to that you would like to master?

What are you waiting for?

Author's Bio: 

Donald W. Mitchell is a professor at Rushmore University who often teaches people who want to improve their business effectiveness in order to accomplish career breakthroughs through earning advanced degrees. For more information about ways to engage in fruitful lifelong learning at Rushmore University to increase your effectiveness, I invite you to visit