How to Learn Anything in 20 Hours

This is a fun video by Josh Kaufman. One of my big interests is learning, and of course helping others to learn through teaching. One of the impediments to learning that I’ve often noticed is that people are afraid of looking silly, and without stepping out of our comfort zone, we are never really going to learn anything.

In the talk, Josh addresses this issue well in this video when he says: “The major barrier to skill acquisition is not intellectual – it’s emotional. We are scared because we feel stupid when we are learning something new.” I’ve seen this same block with people trying to learn languages, trying to learn musical instruments, and trying to learn new life skills. It’s getting over that initial emotional fear of looking stupid that is key.

One of my life mottos has always been “it’s better to do it than to worry about it.” Nice to see a more thought-out version of that by Josh. Here’s the video on Youtube. Enjoy! I’ve also jotted down a quick summary below the video that may be useful.

Scientists do this kind of research. When you start something new, it takes you a long time to do it. Once you practice a lot, you need less time for this performance.

In general, we are more interested in how good we are after a certain amount of practice and it looks like this.

How long does it take to go from nothingPretty good

20 hours of focused deliberate practice (that’s about 45 minutes per day for about a month) will get you up that curve really quickly. 

But it’s not just fooling around. You need to practice efficiently with the four steps shown below. 


  1. Deconstruct the skill
    Decide exactly what you want to be able to do and chunk it down into little bits – what are the parts that are most important. Practice those first – then you’ll be able to get really good at them.
  2. Learn enough to self-correct
    Get 3-5 resources – books, Dvds, websites, etc. Don’t use them to procrastinate. Use them to learn just enough so that you can notice when you are making a mistake and then do something different.
  3. Remove barriers to practice
  4. Commit to practicing at least 20 hours
    The frustration barrier makes us feel stupid. By pre-committing to at least 20 hours, you will be able to overcome the initial frustration barrier for long enough to reap the rewards. 
    The major barrier to skill acquisition is not intellectual – it’s emotional. We are scared because we feel stupid when we are learning something new.


A Letter for Teachers in Japan

Dear Teacher,

We hope the semester has been a good one so far. It’s hard to believe it’s over halfway finished.

We are writing to you today about a weekend workshop that may be useful to many teachers. The workshop is called “From Burnout to Brilliance.

The focus of this teacher workshop is on personal development, not only in the role of teacher, but also in the many other areas of our lives that affect us as teachers. The workshop takes place in mid-July, the time of year when grading looms, the students are lethargic, teachers are tired, and the temperatures are soaring. Prime burnout season.

Our workshop aims to help teachers to understand the causes of burnout, address the issues, and ultimately provide the tools and techniques that will help them to overcome burnout now and in the future.

To create a really relevant workshop, we have examined the research into burnout and more importantly we have interviewed teachers in Japan about what creates burnout in their career. Based on this and our other work in personal development, we have designed a series of useful activities for this workshop.

The workshop will help teachers to gain new perspectives on their work environment and other aspects of their lives, including their relationships with friends, family and workmates, their experience of living and working in a foreign country, their enjoyment, their finances, and, very importantly, their overall physical and mental health.

Over the course of two days, teachers will gain an in-depth understanding of their own personal triggers for burnout in and outside of the workplace, and learn how to address them in practical ways before burnout has a chance to set in.

If you or the teachers in your group believe that this is a workshop that will benefit you in your personal and professional lives, please join us on July 15th and 16th at Nanzan University for a weekend that may change the way you look at work forever.

If a group of 3 or more teachers from an institution would like to attend the workshop, a discount of 20% is available on the cost. In the past, some participants have used their research or teacher budget to cover the cost of the workshop, and we will work closely with you to provide any documentation you may need to complete your paperwork.

Attached is a flier that we hope you will distribute to any teachers you feel would benefit from this workshop, and do feel free to post it on bulletin boards, or distribute in the mailboxes of any teachers, full or part-time, at your school.

If you have any questions, please contact us with the form below and please have a closer look at the webpage:

Thanks for your time and interest, and we look forward to hearing from you and seeing you very soon.

All the best,

Sarah Mulvey and Brian Cullen

Standing in Spirit Training (SIS Training) and The J’Expat Network

Nagoya, Japan

Motivation is not constant

There is an interesting piece of research that shows just how much motivation varies even over a short period of time. Dr Julia Dietrich of Friedrich Schiller University investigated students’ motivations in 10 lessons. In each lesson, they recorded their level of motivation at that particular moment using smart phones (or paper).

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The Age of Learning

We have reached an amazing point with technology where for the first time in history, anyone who really wants to learn pretty much anything has the resources to do so. Recently, I’ve been improving my piano skills with a wonderful course from Udemy. I had never even heard of Udemy until about a month ago when a friend mentioned the site to me, and now I am enrolled in several courses, having a whole lot of fun learning useful stuff.

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New book: 100 Days of Creativity


Sarah and I have just published a new e-book designed to trigger and support creativity. You can download the book on the Amazon Kindle store.

This book arose out of our own efforts to stay creative over a long period of time and I can say with certainty that it works.

This book is based on a very simple concept. Each day, the book offers you a few triggers to get your creative juices going. And then it sends you off with the message “Now go and be creative”, because that is where you really should be putting your time and energy and passion.

There are little milestones along the way as you achieve the important 4 days, 10 days, 21 days and so on. The book is designed to help you create a new habit of creativity (pun intended!). As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

We enjoyed making it and using it and hope that it will be useful to other writers, songwriters, drama folk, poets, business folk or anyone else that wants to be consistently creative over a long period of time.

Here is the description of the book (and the other books that will be coming out in the same series).

Welcome to the 100 Days of Creativity series of books designed to support your creativity. This series is titled 100 Days of Creativity because we believe that great things begin to come about when people are consistently using their creativity over a sustained period of time. Like other physical and mental skills, creativity is a muscle, and the more you use it, the better you get at it.

Every creative effort has to start somewhere. If you look at any finished novel or play or story or song, it was initially triggered by something that the creator saw or heard or felt.

This book gives you 100 days of triggers to fire up your creativity. Each day, the book gives you three thought-provoking or inspirational quotes that will help you to foster the habit of being creative every single day.

Download the book on the Amazon Kindle store.

PANSIG Conference


This weekend, I’m presenting at the JALT PanSig conference in Nago, Okinawa. The theme of the conference is Innovations in Education. And we definitely need some innovations in education throughout the world. I’ve been reading and enjoying Ken Robinson’s book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. It’s a great book by a well-informed writer who is also blessed with a sense of humour. Compared to some writing about education, this one is like watching Comedy Central. Hopefully, we will be sharing lots of ideas at the conference which follow along the same lines as Robinson’s suggestions.

Both of the PanSig presentations that I’m involved in are based on on-going research and teaching that I’ve been carrying out with various people over the last few years. Both are quite influenced by NLP. Both projects are also bringing more personalization and creativity into the classroom, two characteristics that I increasingly view as essential to real learning as I get older.

On Saturday at 1pm, I’ll be presenting with Ben Backwell about our course for helping university students to set and achieve goals. Then, on Saturday at 3pm, Sarah Mulvey and I will be doing a poster presentation on helping students to use more sensory language in their writing and speaking.


Generative Skills

Generative-model-1-e1314984752853Not all skills are created equal. I’m a big fan of continuing to learn and continuing to learn new skills. Recently, however, I’ve been frequently noticing the fairly-obvious fact that some skills open up more possibilities than other skills.

For example, learning a language is what I would call a “generative skill”–the type of skill that opens up many possibilities. Read More

Toyota International Association – Introducing Ireland

IMG_20160417_125923Yesterday, I did an introduction to Ireland event at Toyota International Association. I’ve been doing this kind of event for over 20 years now and it is still fun to share some information and some music about Ireland. Over the years, I’ve probably presented this kind of material to a few thousand people, and hopefully at least some of them have made it to the shores of the Emerald Isle. Read More

What do we mean by ‘thinking’?

Currently I’m working on a textbook called Tools for Thinking. It’s based on a series of activities that I’ve been using with my third year Japanese university students for the last few years. As well as being a language skills textbook, it also aims to provide practice in a range of critical thinking skills which can be applied to real-world personal and professional situations. Read More

GOAL Textbook – 2nd Edition

Last year, I wrote a textbook with Ben Backwell called GOAL – Identify and Achieve Your Life Goals. We have been very happy with the feedback from teachers and students. However, as a tool for learning English, we felt that the book could be improved. So we have been hard at work.

And now after several months of rewriting, we are proud to present the 2nd edition of GOAL.

160309 GOAL Textbook Cover

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Tao Te Ching

That which is incomplete will be made complete,
that which is crooked will straighten,
that which is empty will be filled,
that which is worn out will be renewed.
He who has little can only gain, but gain too much and the way will be lost.

Recently, I’ve been reading a chapter of Tao Te Ching each morning. Fascinating little book and once in a while a section really jumps out at me. The section above is one of those. Taoism recognizes that balance exists in everything and the lines above give some good examples.



Exploring L2 Creativity book

I finally got around to publishing my PhD thesis as an e-book in the Amazon store. You can purchase a copy here. Considering that it took 6 years to write, the price of about $9 seems fairly cheap. And it is a surprisingly good read.

The topic of research is non-native-speakers songwriters who are writing in English and the 450 pages of the thesis examine this fun and complex process in lots of different ways.

Don’t expect Dan Brown, but as academic research goes, this is probably one of the most readable tomes that you will ever come across. Read More

Music at JALT 2015

12274505_10153646297700631_907389530697514805_nSarah and I played at the Best of JALT event again this year. It was lovely to be back at the conference again and to see so many familiar faces. For those who don’t know, JALT stands for Japan Association for Language Teaching, and I have played music at various events there since about 1995. Wow, 20 years!

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First Online Self-Hypnosis Course Completed!

self-hypnosis-300x225I did my first online training over the last three weeks by running a self-hypnosis course using a web-meeting system called AnyMeeting. Naturally, we had glitches along the way in the form of audio problems and other connectivity issues. Still, the power of modern technology
never fails to amaze me. It is now possible to learn pretty much anything that you want as long as you have a decent Internet connection.

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A Decision

One night, I was playing guitar and singing in an Irish pub in Japan and a young woman walked in. I knew that I knew her from somewhere, and she clearly recognized me. At the break, she came up and asked me in excellent English that difficult question, “Do you remember me?”
I had to admit that I remembered her face but couldn’t remember where we had met.

She told me that I had been her English teacher 8 years previously in high school, and then it all came back to me. Yes, I remembered her. I remembered her whole class because it was my least favourite class of all my time teaching in high school. I remembered that horrible feeling just walking towards the classroom before either of their two weekly lessons.

And I also remember making a promise to myself at that time that I would try harder in those classes than any other classes. So before every single class, I stood outside for a moment and reminded myself of that decision.  At the end of the year, I was so happy to say goodbye to them. I still didn’t like that group of students, but I had tried.
The young woman in the Irish pub remembered those lessons, too.
“There were some bad students in that class, but you tried so hard in every lesson to teach us that you really made me interested in English. Because of that, I decided to go to the United States to study nursing. Your class really inspired me. It changed my life.”
We never know when our little efforts and little words can change a person’s life and bring happiness in ways that we could never have imagined.

Matchers and Mismatchers in the Classroom

When you have free time, do you like to enjoy doing things that you have always done or do you prefer to try out new things?

How about going on holidays? Do you like to visit the same place year after year or do you like to visit new places and experience different things?

Or learning – do you like to learn in the same way or do you prefer to us new technology to learn?

If you strongly prefer to have and do the same things that you have always have and done, then NLP would call you a Matcher. If you strongly prefer to have and do different things, then NLP would call you a Mismatcher.

Another way of describing this is to talk about Sameness and Difference. A Matcher looks for the same things as usual. A Mismatcher looks for different things.

Of course, most people are somewhere in between. So you might be mainly looking for the same and also looking for something a little new at the same time. Or you might be mainly looking for new things, but want a little bit of the familiar in there, too.

As you begin to think about this distinction, you will probably notice that each of your students tends toward Matcher or Mismtcher. Neither is better or worse in any way. They are just different ways of looking at the world, and both can be useful in different situations.

Once you start to notice this distinction, you can begin to tailor your classroom language to achieve the best results.

For Matcher: “This is very similar to what we learned last week, so you will probably find it easy to learn today’s topic.”

For Mismatcher: “Much of today’s topic is completely new, and I think you will find it interesting to learn it.”

Eyes Up for Better Presentations

As teachers, many of us are helping our students to make presentations. Whether it is a simple show-and-tell in a kids’ class or an advanced presentation of fluid dynamics by an aerodynamics PhD candidate, some of the basic principles are exactly the same. I know very well because I have taught in both of these situations and beneath the very different content and language level is the basic need for good  human interaction.

And besides helping your students make better presentations, it is also useful thinking about how you can make your own presentations better. After all, as a teacher you are actually presentations every single day that you walk into a classroom and stand in front of your students.

When I was doing an NLP course in California at NLPU a few years ago, we had a guest trainer called Michael Colgrass. Michael is a successful composer as well as a trainer, so he knows a few things about dealing with an audience.

Michael Colgrass teaches people how to walk on to a stage using what he calls the “Eyes Up” technique. It’s very simple. Keep your eyes up as you are walking on to the stage and keep looking at the audience.

But it begins before you ever walk onto the stage.

Your presentation begins the moment that your name is called or the moment that you stand up to walk towards the front of the room, or perhaps earlier. That is the moment when people begin to watch you.

After this moment, the space in the room is your space. The time for the presentation is your time. And as you walk to the stage, you need to be aware that people’s eyes are already on you and that they are already judging your performance in the presentation.

So how do you prepare for all this attention. A key factor is to be in a good state, i.e. confident and ready. One good way to do that is simply to take a few deep breaths. Some presenters have a little mantra that they say to themselves to get ready, e.g. “I am ready…they are going to love me, I am ready…they are going to love me.” Some people like to stretch. It doesn’t really matter what your routine is–the point is that it should be a routine, something that you practice and can then reliably do in order to enter that state of confidence and readiness before that magic moment when you stand up.

And after standing up, what’s next? You walk towards that stage or the front of the room, with your body erect and your head held high. Of course, you should be “eyes up”, noticing the people around you and staying in your good state.

If there are steps to the stage, be sure that you have already visualized and figured out how you are going to climb them while still keeping your eyes up.

And then once you are on the stage, walk to the center, and make the space into your space. For the length of the presentation, it is your space!

When you begin, make eye contact with the whole room. Make sure that you look at everyone or at least at each section of the room. Strong eye contact at the beginning can make a connection that can strengthen your whole presentation as well as giving both you and the audience the confidence that you can do a great job.

You will probably use notes or slides or similar throughout  your presentation. That is fine–in that case, you probably won’t have your eyes on the audience the whole time.

But do remember to check back in with them. Words are important, but there are few things that can make a connection in communication as strongly as the human eyes.

The content of your presentation is important, and I’m sure that you spend lots of time preparing it to make sure that it is as good as possible. Language, however, can be regarded as either transactional or interactional. Transactional language is used to communicate information. Interactional language is used to strengthen or change the social relationships between people in a group. A presentation is both transactional and interactional.

So, of course your content is important (transactional language), but it is also vital to remember that you are presenting yourself (interactional language) and your image in front of the audience is extremely important.

Ghandi said “My life is my message.” By this, he meant that his whole life and way of presenting himself to the world was congruent with the content that he was conveying.

In your presentations or when you are helping your students make better presentations, aim for congruence. Think about your use of words, gestures, voice, eyes, use of space, and visuals. They are all important in helping you to really connect to your audience.

And if you want to hear the important message of this article one more time: Eyes Up!


Generalizations, Distortions, and Deletions

We do not experience the world directly (even all the stuff in our classrooms!).

Instead, everything that we see, hear, or feel comes into our neurology and our experience through our senses.
Our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin and other parts of our body convey the information from the outside worlds to our brains.

And of course, taking in all of this information is impossible.
There is simply too much of it for us to absorb.
So our neurology naturally has some mechanisms to figure out which information to take in, depending on what seems to be important at any moment in time.

In NLP, we call these mechanisms: generalization, deletion, and distortion, and we use them whenever we experience any external event.
In other words, we are always using these three processes in an attempt to make sense of all the stuff that the world and our students throw at us!

Let’s look at a few practical classroom examples of each of these processes and begin to consider how they can sometimes limit us.

Let’s say that you are teaching young kids and that you have learned that all young kids like to learn through singing songs. This is a pretty good generalization and will be useful for teaching most kids. Suppose, however, there is a kid who really hates singing and refuses to sing. Now, in your map of the world, your generalization of “all kids like to sing” is quite likely to make you view this kid as resistant. You are applying your generalization (which is useful in most cases) to a situation where it is not actually true (and thus not so useful). For this kid at least, your generalization is actually limiting his or her ability to learn.

Deletion occurs when we fail to notice something happening, in other words we ‘delete’ it from our experience even though it is happening in the real world. For example, have you ever had a ‘problem student’ who talks ‘all the time’. Chances are that the student is actually doing some good things, too, yet you fail to notice them (delete them) because you are not expecting to see them. In the classroom described above, we probably ‘delete’, i.e. Fil to notice, the non-singer’s ability to learn in other ways besides singing.

Distortion occurs when we notice something and change its meaning based on our previous experiences and map of the world. For example, we distort the meaning of the kid who doesn’t want to sing. He doesn’t sing because he doesn’t like singing. However, the teacher distorts it to mean ‘he is a resistant student’.

When we start looking at our classrooms and noticing things more carefully, we find that so much of the actual experience is being generalized, deleted, and distorted in order to match our current maps of the world. In many cases, this may be limiting our students’ learning.

As you begin to notice your classes more closely, what examples of generalization, deletion, and distortion can you share?