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Ugh. New Year’s resolutions. They’re so hard to keep, right? It’s always something indefinite like “I’ll be healthier” or “I’ll be a better person.” According to most conventional wisdom — and like, people on the Internet, so it must be true — that’s where we always go wrong. Our resolutions need to be definite, specific and goal-oriented. A good example of the right way to do it is if you made a solid resolution to learn something new. It’s a brave challenge at any age to decide to give up the status quo and dive into some new activity or endeavour. So, we’re here to give you a leg up on keeping your New year’s resolution to learn a new skill.

Learning a Musical Instrument

I made a resolution on New Year’s Eve last year to learn a new musical instrument. I already play a little guitar, but I’m really interested in the ukulele. The reason I want to learn the uke is that everyone and their dog seems to play guitar (and so much better than me), so whenever I got together with friends to jam, there’d be a half dozen guitarists strumming away together with not much diversity. I figured a ukulele would be awesome accompaniment, and besides, I have a bit of a Hawaii obsession. So, I begged my wife for a ukulele for Christmas last year, and of course she picked one up for me, along with a little book teaching the basics. The uke, in its nice black canvas case, is still sitting beside my desk where I put in on Dec. 25 last year, and I don’t think I’ve so much as cracked the book open. But this year, I told myself that I would not let another year go by without at least learning to play something like Don Ho’s Tiny Bubbles on my little black uke. So, what’s the secret to learning a new instrument? Well, you can take lessons from someone, of course, or watch some YouTube videos, or even use something like Rock Prodigy’s Learn Guitar Course 1, which you can install on a smartphone or computer to give you lessons at your own pace. In addition to finding a place to learn the proper techniques, you’ve also got to commit to the process. One of my musician friends suggests keeping your new instrument out in the open and somewhere where you will see it all the time, so you’ll always have a reminder to pick up that guitar (or ukulele) and put some time into learning how to play.

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Learning a New Language

Having been born and raised in Montreal, I naturally speak both English and French. However, as a world traveller I know that you can’t always get by everywhere with just those two languages, and I’ve always wanted to learn to speak Spanish as well for when we vacation in Mexico. Learning a new language can seem daunting, but if it is something you really want to do this year, there are plenty of ways to make that dream a reality. I know plenty of people who have used the Rosetta Stone series to learn languages, and it seems like a pretty solid method. The software offers guided lessons with a native speaker of whichever language you want to learn, plus an online component where you can practise your new skills with a live community on the internet. And if Rosetta Stone doesn’t do it for you, there are a plethora of other language software packages you can use to immerse yourself in another language. It may be helpful to join a group of people in your area who are also interested in learning the same language, so you practise your conversational skills in a live setting. For my own foray into Spanish, I’ve tried to watch some Spanish television when I can, as I’ve always found it helpful to just listen to people speaking to better understand the ebb and flow of a language. And if all else fails, you can always bring along a translating device to help you get by when you’re stuck. Most of all, just don’t be self-conscious about trying to use your new language skills, as most people really appreciate it when you at least try to speak in their tongue. Just don’t be shy. The more you use the language, the more you’ll be comfortable using it and before you know it… you’re bilingual. At least, that’s how I learned to speak French.

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Learning Real Photography

Another skill that’s usually at the top of people’s resolution lists is photography. “But don’t our smartphones have cameras that are equal to professional cameras?” That’s a question I actually get asked a lot, as I sometimes work professionally as a photographer. The short answer is “no” and the longer answer is “hell no.” Sure, most smartphones today have wicked cameras, but honestly, if you want to take photography seriously, you need a good DSLR camera. Look at any professional photographer out there today, and not one of them uses a phone to capture their award-winning shots. Besides, your phone is for texting friends and surfing the internet. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend something like a Cannon EOS Rebel. Before everything went digital, my first rig was a Canon Rebel, and I stuck with the brand when I bought my first professional digital camera. It’s served me well through years of magazine and newspaper articles, and nobody ever complained about my shots. You don’t have to go crazy, because admittedly, photography is an expensive hobby to get into, so pick up a good starter camera (with a decent mid-range, all-purpose lens)and then over time you can add all the accessories, like more lenses, big flashes, tripods and the like. Again, you can find lots of photography lessons online on YouTube and elsewhere, or you may want to join a photography group in your area to pick up some tips and tricks. The great thing about digital photography is you can take tons of shots of the same thing (using different settings on your camera, f-stops, light exposure, etc) and then just choose the best one and delete the rest. No longer do you have to waste film and money trying to get that perfect shot. Of the new skills we’ve outlined in this article, photography is the easiest to pick up… just point and shoot. Let your eye decide what is appealing. You really can’t go wrong, and you’ll only improve over time.

As with learning anything new, your own commitment to making it happen, and the amount of time you spend trying to acquire the skills will determine how fast you learn anything. So, if you made a New Year’s resolution to learn a new skill in 2016… as the sneaker commercial says, “Just do it.” You’ll be glad you did.