How to learn new skills with the DiSSS and CaFE methods
Last updated on: December 23, 2021
This quote by Tom Bilyeu is one of my favorites: “Tie your self-esteem to being a learner. Don’t tie your self-esteem up in being good. That’s a losing formula. The very thing that makes you proud of yourself should be your willingness and ability to stare nakedly at your inadequacies.”
But how do you learn new things?
In this article, we’ll find out how to successfully learn any new skill using learning frameworks called the DiSSS method and the CaFE method. Plus, we’re going to offer additional tips on how to master new skills.
What is the DiSSS method?
The DiSSS method is a framework created by Tim Ferris, devised to help people master new information-based topics.
DiSSS is an acronym for Deconstruction, Selection, Sequencing, and Stakes (i is just here to remember the acronym easier). Let’s get into more detail about what each of those letters means and what questions it answers.
D: How do you deconstruct a skill?
D in DiSSS stands for Deconstruction. You deconstruct a skill by finding the smallest useful units of knowledge. For learning a language, it’s a word; for playing an instrument, it’s a note.
You can also divide the skill you want to learn into sub-skills. If you want to become a good public speaker, the sub-skills you’d want to learn could be confident body language, voice control, effective communication, rhetoric, and delivery.
S: How to determine which units to focus on the most?
The next step is Selection. It means you need to determine 20% of those minimum units that will produce 80% of the outcome. When defining the DiSSS framework, Tim Ferris tested this ratio in practice.
Namely, he made huge progress with his Japanese when he stumbled upon a poster that contains all 1,945 of the jōyō kanji (characters and their readings) designated for basic literacy by the Japanese Ministry of Education.
If you’re learning to play guitar, there are a few chord progressions that are used in hundreds of songs — they are your 20%.
If you are looking to build muscle, your 20% could be compound exercises, as they activate several muscle groups simultaneously (always consult a professional trainer about the right exercises for this).
Does “the 20% that produces 80% of the results” sound familiar? You’re right, it’s the Pareto principle. It’s the observation by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto that 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes.
S: What is the best order of learning the units?
After that, we have Sequencing. A lot of people give up because they start with something too advanced for a beginner and they get discouraged.
You have to find out what is the most effective order of learning the units. Since it highly depends on the skill you’re trying to develop, it’s best to ask someone who has already mastered that skill.
S: How to stay motivated and disciplined?
The third S stands for Stakes. Set up some psychological and social mechanisms to keep yourself motivated and (even more importantly) disciplined. Here are some of the things you can do to set up the stakes.
Tell your friends
Tell your friends what you’re doing so they can keep you accountable. If there’s a deadline, announce the deadline too. You won’t give up as easily when you tell everyone about your goal — think of it as positive peer pressure. Moreover, your friends will be more understanding if you have to skip a gathering to work on your goal because they’ll know how important it is to you.
However, according to a TEDx talk by Derek Sivers (which is based on several studies), this practice might be counterproductive in some cases. It tricks your mind into thinking the goal has already been accomplished, thus making you less motivated. Sivers suggests phrasing your goal in a way that doesn’t give you such satisfaction, e.g. “I really want to run a marathon, so I need to train five times a week. Kick my ass if I don’t, okay?”
Set weekly goals
A week is long enough for some progress to happen and short enough to not lose motivation. Breaking a big goal into smaller ones makes it less scary and gives you a sense of accomplishment along the way.
Set a reminder
According to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes around 66 days to form a habit. Until then, there’s no shame in setting a reminder to make sure you don’t forget to work on your skill.
Make a habit tracker
You can make a habit tracker yourself, get a template, or simply use any calendar you have around. Cross off each day that you worked towards your goal. The longer the streak is, the worse it feels to skip a day and break it. This technique is called the Don’t Break the Chain or The Seinfeld Method.
Besides, crossing off a day gives you the same satisfaction as crossing off a completed task off of your to-do list.
Set a reward system
As Jack Torrance from The Shining feverishly typed over and over again, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. To keep yourself motivated, create a reward system that will make you breeze through your tasks. For smaller goals, it can be something as simple as your favorite chocolate bar, while for reaching an important goal you deserve to treat yourself with something bigger.
What is the CaFE method?
The CaFe method is a secondary framework for learning a skill that goes hand in hand with the DiSSS method. It’s also created by Tim Ferriss.
CaFe stands for Compression, Frequency, and Encoding. Here’s what each element is about, in more detail.
Can you compress the most important 20% (chosen during the process of Selection) into a cheat sheet?
Not only will you have the most important information easily accessible, but the process of making a cheat sheet will help you with learning. I always made cheat sheets when I was studying for my university exams. By the time I’d create a perfect one, I wouldn’t even need it anymore because I would memorize everything while making it.
You can have fun with the cheat sheet: color-code it, use bold fonts, and make it aesthetically pleasing.
How often and for how long should you study? Keep in mind your limits and deadlines.
For example, I know that I can engage in deep work for a maximum of 3-4 hours a day, including breaks (unless I am under the pressure of a rapidly approaching deadline). Because of this, it wouldn’t make sense for me to set a goal of learning 8 hours a day.
Create mental anchors and tricks that will help you remember easier. Try to connect things you want to memorize with something you already know, for a rapid recall.
It may take some time until you find out what works best for you. It can be through:
- Acronyms. For instance, the acronym HOMES can be used to remember the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.
- Songs or rhymes. They are frequently used when teaching children, but can also prove useful with adults.
- Making up sentences to remember the spelling or order of something. For example, memorizing the sentence “Only unique goats have talents” to remember the spelling of the word ought. To memorize the order of the planets in the Solar system (which I’m sure you already know, but it will serve as an example to explain this mnemonic technique), remember the sentence “My very educated mother just served us nachos.” M stands for Mercury, V for Venus, E for Earth, and so on.
- Associations, my personal favorite. They don’t necessarily have to make sense, they can be as ridiculous as you want them to be. For example, if you can’t remember that gato means “cat” in Spanish, imagine a cat standing on a gate (my brain provided me with mental imagery of a chubby black cat proudly sitting on the majestic gold gate, like a tiny emperor). Gato and gate share 3 out of 4 letters, close enough, you’ll memorize it.
How can I learn to master anything?
Along with using DiSSS and CaFE methods, you can try out these tips to learn any skill faster and easier.
Be very specific with what you want to learn
If you’re familiar with the concept of SMART goals, this point will come as no surprise to you. Starting to learn a new skill can be overwhelming. Whether you want to learn to cook or a new language, the number of recipes and words is not only enormous, but also always growing. Where to start? How do I know if I accomplished my goal?
As Peter Drucker wrote, “What gets measured, gets managed.”
Try setting a very specific goal instead of a broader one. For example, make it your goal to learn to cook 5 simple meals you like and eat often. After you master that, you can either:
- learn to cook another 5 simple dishes, or
- try out slightly more complicated recipes.
This way, you’ll have a better idea of where to start and you’ll know when you complete your goal.
Define failure points
Before you start pursuing a skill, think about why you might fail. What are the reasons you quit before or the reasons others failed? If you’re aware of the failure points even before you start, you’re less likely to struggle with them.
Find a mentor
Having someone to guide you through your learning process can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. These are some of the questions you should ask your mentors:
- What should I focus on the most in the beginning?
- What are the biggest waste of time I should try to avoid?
- What are the biggest mistakes novices make? And what mistakes are common even within experts?
- When looking at the experts in your field, who is amazing at what they do even though they are not a natural talent? (These are the people you have the most to learn from!)
- Have you taught others and did they replicate your results?
- What are your favorite resources on the subject?
Learn by doing
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”― Benjamin Franklin
Studying is great, but start putting that knowledge into practice as soon as you can. If you’re learning a language, try writing and speaking, rather than only reading and listening.
Is it scary? It can be.
Will you make mistakes? Yes.
Will you learn faster? Also yes.
Most people are afraid of failure and being made fun of, which is why they avoid making mistakes at all costs. Unfortunately, they’re inevitable. And those who are not afraid to try and fail, learn better and faster than those who play safe.
Also, embarrassment is temporary but knowledge is forever.
It’s important to note that the crucial part of learning by doing is realizing you made a mistake and then correcting it.
Sometimes, errors are obvious, sometimes, not so much. That’s why you should ask for feedback, preferably, from your mentor, or someone who has a lot of knowledge on the subject. Getting criticism is not the best feeling in the world, but you can’t improve without it.
Wrapping up: how do you know when you’ve mastered a skill?
Let’s say you’ve applied all of the principles and tips we talked about in this article. How do you know if you mastered a skill? When can you truly say, “I know this”?
If you successfully followed all the steps of the DiSSS method, there’s a high chance you’re on the right track. Other than that, these are some of the signs you’ve mastered a skill:
- You do it effortlessly and naturally,
- You are confident in your knowledge ― i.e., you know you know something,
- You can teach someone else to do it,
- Someone is willing to pay you to teach them this skill,
- People ask you for advice or to be their mentor.
Of course, there is no such thing as learning everything; there’ll always be something new that you don’t know yet. A true master is someone who never stops being a learner.
✉️ What skill do you want to master? What method of learning helps you the most? Do you have any tips to add? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured in this or future posts.