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Learning Tips for the Top 8 Learning Challenges


On Friday, I issued the 30-Day Learning Challenge for June, and you responded incredibly: more than 2,600 people have signed up, and the list is still growing!

As a thank you for joining me, I thought I’d write a couple bonus learning articles this month (in addition to what I’m creating for the Sea Change Program) — this one on tips for learning specific things, and another in a week or two from now. Today I’ll look at your top eight most common learning challenges.

Before we dive into specific learning challenges, let’s talk about some general ideas for this challenge:

  1. Set a specific time for your daily learning session. Block off 10-15 minutes (or more if you have it) and set reminders so you don’t forget.
  2. Focus on learning just one thing this month. Yes, I know, you have 10 things on your list. But for now, it’s better to stick with one.
  3. Find some free learning resources on the Internet to start with. No need to go crazy and buy a course or a bunch of books/DVDs yet. There are amazing free learning resources if you look for 5 minutes.
  4. Make yourself retrieve the information you’re studying. Don’t just read or watch videos — actually use it. Quiz yourself. Put it into practice. Do this regularly so you’re forced to retrieve it before you forget.
  5. Don’t be afraid of hard work. The best learning is difficult. If you only do the easy stuff, it won’t be meaningful learning and it won’t last long.

Now let’s dive into specific learning challenges!


What a wonderful thing to learn! Here’s what I’d suggest:

  1. Find a really simple meditation technique if you’re just starting out. Simply sitting and counting your breath is a great way to start.
  2. If your mind wanders, try to notice the wandering. Gently return to the breath.
  3. A tip from my teacher, Susan: When you notice your urge to get up from meditation, don’t follow the urge, just sit there. The second time you have the urge to get up, don’t get up. The third time you have the urge, go ahead and get up. This helps you to notice urges and not need to act on them.
  4. Don’t be afraid to really work to concentrate on your breath. A lot of people allow meditation to be a time when they just sit and think quietly, which is fine, but if you really want to learn meditation, practice concentration. Put some effort into it!


I’m no master of languages, but I’ve attempted some learning and I’ve talked to people who are much better at learning languages than me (Benny and Tynan, for example). Here are a few things I suggest:

  1. Practice every day. If you can get into the habit of practicing for at least 10-15 minutes a day, you’ll get better even if you suck at it at first.
  2. Make yourself use the language. Don’t just listen or read, and don’t just repeat language tapes — actually find ways to use what you’ve learned. Talk to a language partner (you can find ones online), use it throughout the day whenever you get the chance, take online quizzes.
  3. Use the Anki flashcard system. It’s free, there are lots of language flashcard sets available on the Anki site, and its spaced repetition is the best method for learning available. Do your flashcards daily, even if you suck at first. You’ll start learning inevitably.


I’ve done a bit of learning with programming (dabbled in Python, PHP, Ruby, Javascript, all are good for beginners), and though I’m far from any kind of knowledgeable programmer, I’ve put in my share of beginner learning. And I’ve actually made some (very simple) working scripts and apps!

Some ideas:

  1. If you’re a beginner, start with a resource like Codeacademy. There are actually numerous courses online, all great — just make sure that they’re having you apply the knowledge they’re giving you, not just reading or watching videos. That’s why I like Codeacademy — they make you write actual code right away.
  2. Once you get past this stage (where you learned the basics of the language), you’re going to need to make some working programs. This is the hardest stage by far, because you know the basics of the language but not how to actually make a program work. Find some super simple projects to work on — a little beyond “Hello world” but nothing too hard. Just implement one feature of that project, and get it running. Then another. Force yourself to the knowledge you’ve been exposed to, not just read/watch some more.
  3. Internet searches are your best friend. Stuck on something? The answer is online — just do a search. Stack Overflow is a great place to find the answers to your question — it’s probably already been answered, so search before asking. But don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  4. After you make your first simple program, make something a little harder. One at a time, learn how to create a user database, how to make a login, how to display on a webpage, etc.

If you’re more advanced than this beginner stage, you don’t need my advice!


I’ve also dabbled in drawing, though I really suck at it. That doesn’t stop me from making suggestions!

  1. Sketch daily. Bring a pad around and sketch simple things you see.
  2. Watch a free online tutorial each day, and actually practice what you learned in the tutorial.
  3. Work on the basics: how to draw lines, circles, eyes, then faces. Practice the basics every day until your pencil control gets pretty good.
  4. Post your daily sketches online somewhere. You’ll be amazed at how motivated that makes you, and how much progress you’ll see over time.

Musical instruments

OK, I’ve never really learned to play anything, except piano as a kid (not very far). I’ve only dabbled in guitar, but my kids have taught themselves to play, so I’m obviously highly qualified to give out advice:

  1. Again, there are tons of online video tutorials. Watch one, then actually practice it!
  2. Learn three chords to start with: G, C and D. There are a billion songs with just those chords. Once you’ve learned how to do them, find a song that uses these chords and learn to play it! Using the knowledge will help solidify it.
  3. It takes a ton of practice to get even a little competent. That’s OK, keep at it! You’ll find it getting easier over time. When you do, learn a new chord and a new song.
  4. Play for your friends/family. Tell them you suck, so they don’t expect Stevie Ray Vaughan to show up in their living room, but playing for others makes you focus and really try to learn something.


I taught myself basic HTMl and CSS, and Zen Habits is a WordPress theme I coded myself. OK, it’s not that advanced, but the basic skills I learned have helped me a ton with my online projects. And it’s not hard to learn!

  1. Again, for absolute beginners, Codeacademy is a great place to start. They walk you through the basics while you actually put what you learn into practice as you learn.
  2. Build a basic site. Find a tutorial, and actually put a site online.
  3. Learn how to use your browser’s developer tools, and look at the HTML/CSS of really simple sites you like. Rip them off.
  4. I started with a free WordPress theme, put up a live site, and just kept making changes to the CSS until I liked the style. Then I learned to change the PHP tags of the theme until it was structured the way I wanted. Then I deleted a bunch of things (backing up my files first) until I had only the most basic things. Many themes these days use advanced PHP functions to make the site work a certain way … I recommend starting with the simplest themes you can, without a lot of custom functions required to make it work, because those are easier to understand.

Sports or martial arts

I don’t know anything about martial arts, and I recommend a teacher for that. But some of the things that apply to sports would apply to martial arts as well, I would think. What do I know about sports? Not a whole lot, though I’ve taught myself to be fairly OK at basketball, and I’ve taken up running, cycling, triathlon, Crossfit, and strength training at various times in the last decade.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Find some good online videos with the basic mechanics, even if you already know a bit about the sport. I’ve been watching basketball shooting mechanics videos, and it has shown me some things I’ve been doing wrong.
  2. Take what you learned in the videos and actually practice it. Do some drills. If you can, record a video of yourself practicing so you can watch the video and see where you’re going wrong. If necessary, post the video to an appropriate online forum for your sport, and ask people to tell you what you’re doing wrong.
  3. Play an actual game (or spar, if you’re doing a martial art). Don’t just do drills, but play in an actual game against opponents, even if it’s just a casual pickup game. Playing in a tournament or league is even better — it’ll force you to really practice, and you’ll learn much more. You’ll also find out where you’re weak and then you can work on those areas more.
  4. Be patient. The basics take awhile to master. Having a coach who can not only teach you drills and other techniques, but watch what you’re doing and make suggestions, is always a plus. But you can start out by yourself, trying to get some basic competence at the fundamental skills. That takes a lot of practice, but after awhile, you’ll start to get some muscle memory going, and it’ll be a lot easier. It’s like learning to walk: you’ll be shaky at first, fall down a lot, but eventually you won’t even need to think about it.

Subject like history or math

I’ve studied various subjects that interest me, but I don’t consider myself an expert (I’ve never gotten a PhD, for example). That said, I will make a few suggestions:

  1. Quiz yourself before you study something — yes, you’ll get a lot of things wrong, but it will make your learning even stronger, because when you get to the answers in your study, you’ll recognize them as things you don’t know and make some solid connections with that knowledge.
  2. Quiz yourself regularly. It helps to take a quiz right after your study session, but also a couple days later, and a week after that, etc. This regular habit of forcing yourself to retrieve the knowledge will be difficult, but will interrupt your forgetting and make the learning last longer.
  3. Again, use the Anki flashcard system. It’s free, there are lots of subject-based flashcard sets available on the Anki site, and its spaced repetition is the best method for learning available. Do your flashcards daily, even if you suck at first. You’ll start learning inevitably.
  4. Join a study group. There are lots of other people studying what you’re studying, and surprisingly, they’re online! This will help motivate you, help you when you get stuck, and deepen your learning because you’ll make lots of connections between what you’re learning and the interactions you’re having with people.

OK, there was some repetition in these different areas, but that’s great! It helps with learning, you know.

I’ll give you another article on learning in a week or two. If you haven’t signed up for the Challenge, do it now!


Zen Habits

Leo Babuata
Neither Averting Nor Craving in Each Moment
How Taking Care of My Finances Changed My Life
Tips for Traveling with Kids
My Grand Travel Experiment
The Parent I Aspire to Be
The Best & Less-than-Best Motivations for Learning
The Miracle of Suspending Mis-Belief
7 Strategies for Dealing with Toxic People
Finding Motivation on Important But Non-Urgent Tasks
Learning Tips for the Top 8 Learning Challenges
The 30-Day Learning Challenge
The Place Where You Are
Feeling Determined to Change
Practicing Non-Judgment
Hold Your Own Feet to the Fire
Don’t Waste Your Opportunity
How to Beat Procrastination with Daily Training
The Time When We’ll Be Present & Content
A Simple, Powerful Self-Compassion Method
When Others Frustrate You
Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality
The Case for Replacing Exercise with Play
Leave Yourself Wanting More
Fail Faster at Habits
The Anti-Bucket List
Getting Started with the Discipline Habit
The Case for Caring About Your Work
Questions of Priority
The Futility of Always Pushing Myself to Be More
Pare Down with the Declutter Habit
You’re Not Doing Life Wrong
Getting Lost in Just Doing
An Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit
The Source of Contentment
Savor Discipline: Merge the Interests of Your Future & Present Selves
What You Can Say Instead of “I Don’t Feel Like It”
The Things That Get in the Way of Doing
The Girl Who Saw Through the Illusions
A Gradual Approach to Healthy Eating
Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself
My Typical Day: How I Get People to Think I’m Productive
The Contentment Habit
The Delightfully Short Guide to Reading More Books
In Praise of Limits
The Art of Being My Dad
5 Ideas to Create an Amazing 2015
Essential Zen Habits of 2014
Karate Chop
Practicing Slowness & Being Present
Overwhelmed by All the Changes You Want to Make
My 2014 Successes and Failures
Finding the Motivation to Change Your Entire Life
When You’re Lonely
The Brain’s Fast Mode
5 Questions to Simplify Your Life During the Holidays
The Zen Habits Holiday Gift Guide
The Four Hidden Habit Skills
The Power of Delay
Overwhelmed & Rushed? Do a Stress Assess
Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book
Please Support the Zen Habits Book
Are You a Lift or Drag Force?
When Resistance Smacks You in the Face
When Your Plate is Too Full
The Quickstart Guide to Quitting a Bad Habit
The Zen Habits Book is Almost Done
A Quick Guide to Gaining Confidence When You Socialize
The Empty Container
The Realization
A Guide to Changing Self-Destructive Behaviors
Pushing Past the Terrifying Dip in Motivation
It’s Not Too Late to Change Bad Habits
The Smart Way to Stick to Habits
My Most Effective Learning Tools
What I Do When I Fail
How to Put Your Writing in Public
The Productive Sprint
The Biggest Reasons You Haven’t Changed Your Habits
Seized by the Thunderhold of Fear
What to Eat for Fat Loss
The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Brief Guide to Overcoming Instant Gratification
How to Get Motivated After a Vacation
7 Strategies for Facing Your Internet/TV Addiction
How to Breathe
7 Discipline-Mastering Practices
7 Rules That Keep My Life Simple
An Education in the Majestic Sierra Nevada
The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes
How to Believe in Yourself
Don’t Waste a Moment
How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach
How to Be Great
Making Yourself Work
Inhabit the Moment
How to Master the Art of Living
The Delusional Fantasies We Live With Each Day
Living the Simple Life
How to Be Prepared for Anything
Turn Toward the Problem
The End of the Day Philosophy
The Painful Beauty of Impermanence
How to Change Other People
Pursuing Happiness When It’s Already Within You
The Quickstart Guide to a Decluttered Home
Parental Zen: How to Keep Your Cool as a Parent
Looking for Love
How to Stop Your Habit Changes From Getting Derailed
Why We Have Regret
The Essence of Fatherhood: 6 Simple Lessons
A Call for Revolt: Advertising is the Anti-Minimalism
The Frustratingly Slow Pace of Making Changes
My Struggles with Eating Boring Food
The No Procrastination Challenge
Creating a Lovely Morning
A Father’s Manifesto: Raising Young Men Who Respect Women
Turn Inspiration Into Action
Coming Back From a Setback
The Gift
A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life
No Excuses: Minimalism with Kids
How to Make a Marriage Work
Love Notes
Flavorless: My Month of Food Boringness
The Letting Go Ebook, Free
The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit
How I Tackle a Big Writing Project
The Habit Action List
The Reality of This Moment
Confidence in Your Business
10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do
On Making It Through Tough Journeys
The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most
What to Think About During Exercise
You’ll Be OK
The Most Important Two Minutes of Your Life
A Call for Compassion for the Defenseless
The Cure for Your Distraction Syndrome
You’re Not Worse Than Other People
Being Mindful of Your Stress
What if You Didn’t Have to Worry About Yourself?
The Universe of a Single Task
Simplifying Is Painful
Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant
How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life
The Busy Person’s Guide to Reducing Stress
My Month Without a Smartphone
What I’ve Learned as a Writer
What the Exercise Habit Did For Me
Fear is the Root of Your Problems
This Moment
36 Lessons I’ve Learned About Habits
The 3 Do-What-You-Love Conundrums
How I Conduct My Business
Constant Task Switching
The Habits of Five Amazing Founders
The Incredible Importance of Sleep for Habits & Motivation
What Really Motivates Us to Stick to a Project?
I Tried to Quit & It’s Too Hard!
Unwired: A Month With Limited Internet, & Now No Cell Phone
Procrastination is a Mindfulness Problem
Letting Go of Judging People
Don’t Scratch the Itch
Become Happy in the Face of Physical Misery
How Repetition Can Kickstart a Habit
Zen Productivity
When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt & a Lack of Motivation
The Child That Holds Us Back
Stateless Mindset
My Month of (Almost) No Internet
12 Changes for 2014
Essential Zen Habits of 2013
The Fear of Being Alone
The Calm Approach
Things Every Man Should Own
Family Gatherings: The Ultimate Mindfulness Training Ground
Letter to an 18-year-old on the Career Path Less Traveled
A Method to Find Balance
16 Surprising Lessons from My First 50-Mile Ultramarathon
The Simple Fitness Habit Holiday Challenge
Struggles with My Morning Internet Fast
Surrender, Mindfulness & Entrepreneurship
How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating, & Love Letting Go
Finding Focus
When You Run Out of Ideas
The Necessary Art of Subtraction
Jealousy & Suffering
How Creativity Works, & How to Do It
Self-Discipline in 5 Sentences
Make It Your Job
Developing Selfless Compassion
Lyrical Learning, & Why We Learn Habits Wrong
A Month Without Sugar
Why I Read (+ a Dozen Book Recommendations)
12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools
Burn Down the Farm
My Most Minimal Travel Setup Yet
The Exquisite Habits of the Founder of Blue Bottle Coffee
3 Little Tricks to Deal With People Who Offend You
My Healthiest Travel Routine Yet
Startup Founder Megan Casey’s Habits of Priorities
My Pursuit of the Art of Living
A Month Without TV or Video
The Way of No Debt
Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One
The Way to Be
Ramit Sethi’s Entrepreneurial Habits
The Time to Shut Down
The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes
8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator
Zen Mountain: Leave It All Behind
Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different
Finding Quiet and Mindfulness Through Food
My Failed Month of ‘No Sitting’
The Thinking Habit That Changed My Life
Liking Healthy Foods is a Choice
Unschoolery: My New Blog on Unschooling
My Advice for Starting a Business
Creating Your Habit Environment
Travel Lessons with My Family
Easier Decision-Making: Conduct Experiments
Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches
The Fear of Being Found a Fraud
The Flexible Mind
Declutter Your Life
A Month Without Coffee
The Healthful Vegan Diet
Living the Quiet Life
The Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully
Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life
The Habits of Happiness
How to Keep Habits Going During Travel
A Year of Living Without
The Key Habits of Organization
I Failed
Vegan Guide to San Francisco
The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Secret to Dad Greatness
Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything
The Worry That You’re Doing the Wrong Thing Right Now
6 Steps To Being More Creative
How I Finally Faced My Weight & Debt Problems
Working with the Obstacles in Your Path
9 Rules for a Simpler Day
The Little Book of Contentment
The Obstacle is the Path
5 Lessons in Contentment from Billionaires Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger
Smile in Each Moment
A Guide to Practical Compassion
6 Steps To Healing Yourself
The 7-Day Vegan Challenge
Why You Should Write Daily
Achieving Without Goals
Flowing with the Stresses of Kids (or anyone else)
Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal
Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose
Expanding the Envelope: A Method for Beating Anger
A Guide to Practical Contentment
The Practice of Work Mind & Vacation Mind, Simultaneously
How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen
Quitting Your Habits
The 38 Best Methods of Successful Exercisers
How To Make It Impossible To Fail
The Not Knowing Path of Being an Entrepreneur
How to Change Your Life: A User’s Guide
Getting Your Family On Board with Life Changes
How to Stick to a Habit When Life Falls Apart
Zen Mind in the Middle of Chaos & Stress
Create a Sacred Space in Your Heart
Meditation: The Most Fundamental Habit
Creating the Genuine Connections We Long For
Tremors of Psychitude: One Little Trick to Find Purpose and Motivation
Create the Habits of Being Lean, in 7 Years
Walled-in: Life Without Facebook
The 7 Habits of Calmness
The Four Habits that Form Habits
Advice to My Kids
My 10 Essential Email Habits
The Daily Checklist
Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide
The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring
The Power of Habit Investments
Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe
The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early
Do Less: A Short Guide
How to Savor Life
What We Lack in a Hyperconnected World
Simplify the Internet
12 Rules to Live By
The New Rules of Fitness for 2013
52 Changes for 2013
The Unprocrastination Month, and the Relaunch of the Sea Change Program
Essential Zen Habits of 2012
The Other Person is Never the Problem
The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do
28 Brilliant Tips for Living Life
The Clutter-free Holiday Guide
The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better
Tim Ferriss vs. Leo Babauta Showdown: On Whether Goals Suck
The Work You Love is Waiting For You
The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing
The Buy-Nothing Holiday Survival Guide
Challenge: Buy Nothing Until 2013
How to Learn Anything
Shaken By Life’s Beauty, Shaken
Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring
15 Great Excuses Not to Form the Fitness Habit
How to Make Health Insurance a Bad Bet
Why the Fitness Habit is More Important Than the Plan
The Willingness to Think Differently
Create a Superhealth Community
A Vegan Tour of NYC