INTRO PLUS EXPLAINING THE CONCEPT
The purpose of this life project is to become that person who you may or may not know, who just seems to get everything right. Lets say you have a friend called David, and he just seems to excel at whatever he does. He gets good grades, he beats his friends at different video games, he plays instruments and can learn to play a new instrument if you challenge him, he dresses like an average adult but he can dress to impress and rock the look if the occasion demands it, if you cannot do something, you ask for his help and he can do it, he beats all of his friends at poker, every now and then he posts pictures in Facebook of him traveling around the world, or being surrounded by friends doing something exciting, and so on. To your eyes and your friends´ eyes he seems like the perfect man, you are glad you have him in your life but deep down you also envy him. You all think he was just born perfect and that he is meant for success, however, that is not the case.
What you do not know is that David fails on a daily basis. He fails the right way, on the little things and when nobody is watching. It has taken him years of training to be able to master the different skills he has mastered, and he is still learning day by day. David can take up any challenge, you tell him to go with you on a journey around the world, if traveling is on his plans he will do it because he has a bold and adventurous personality. You put him on any job role and he will become employee of the month, not because he was born with natural talent for perfection, but because of the skills he is developing over the years. You ask him to sing while you are all drunk to have a laugh, and he turns out to sing like the next American Idol, it just seems like he is going to have a blessed life and those around him who he welcomes into his life are going to be blessed as well for knowing him.
Throughout all of his failures, David learns in a way that allows him to avoid making those mistakes again, through practice, but not just any practice, the right practice. In FACT, he has been using this technique of learning quick from mistakes and adapting to environments that he has developed the skill to learn something new and begin getting good at it that same day. He is a quick learner but that is not something that he was born with. Imagine having a friend who has never touched a guitar before, you teach him some basic chords, lend him your guitar for a week, and the next week he is back and has learnt 3 new songs. This is the level of expertise I am aiming with David´s approach to learning, the approach I will be talking about throughout this post and the one talked about in the book called Peak by Anders Ericsson.
Learning something from a textbook is considered the traditional approach to learning a skill and if we do not put that knowledge to use, our brain can only retain so much things in long term memory. Whatever it is we are doing, doing the same thing over and over again (i.e playing the same song on a guitar for a month) will not make us better at that skill, it will only make us better at a certain task.
In the book, the author tells us about a different way of learning skills that will allow us to optimize our leaning efficiency and capabilities. This is a technique that to my opinion has been used since the beginning of times, but that we hardly give much credit to. I believe most people already know this and they know this is the RIGHT way to learn, but sometimes find this to be too complex or not important enough. This new way of learning comes down to two things, which the author calls Purposeful Practice and Deliberate Practice.
Purposeful Practice and Deliberate Practice to learn skills
Purposeful practice comes before deliberate practice, and it basically establishes 4 basic rules in order to start learning a skill: have a specific goal in mind, be intensely focused during your training time, have immediate feedback provided after each attempt (whether by someone else or yourself) and finally step out of your comfort zone constantly (by getting creative about solutions). Whenever we are faced with an obstacle, we look for ways to go around it and this is how we develop what the author calls Mental Representations, which is the mental POWER that we gain from deep practice that allows us to be more capable of doing things we could not do before. Basically it is expanding our capabilities through intense practice and stepping out of our comfort zone.
Now that we know what purposeful practice is, lets move on to the next definition. It is by using purposeful practice and getting feedback (from an expert) that we officially engage in what he calls deliberate practice, which is what will take us to develop new and improved mental representations, and be able to master whatever we set our minds to. That is all it takes, purposeful practice and feedback (and our response to that feedback). We can provide feedback to ourselves by reading expert´s opinions and so on, but the author highlights that if we truly want to master a certain skill, it is better to get the aid of an actual expert or teacher so that they can better guide us through the process.
An extreme example would be taking someone who was raised properly and who has grown accustomed to a nice house and food, and drop him in some jungle somewhere in the unknown regions of planet earth. Assuming he does not die on the 1st day from whatever reasons, he is going to have to learn some basic skills of survival. He is going to want to build a shelter, learn to hunt for food, build some weapons with stones and sticks and so on. His mental representations will shift completely and he will begin developing some primitive skills that will serve him a lot during his stay on this jungle. He will have to learn lessons the hard way, getting bitten by insects, getting sick from eating the wrong food, falling on his butt from building a crappy leaf house on a tree and so on. It is by experiencing this pain and need for survival, and being creative about solutions that he will be able to become capable of surviving on that jungle until being rescued, or stay there and become the king of the jungle. In this case, purposeful practice and feedback will both be provided by this same guy, since there is no expert around, he will have to learn from experience and from whatever he recalls about the subject.
Another example would be a socially anxious person who can barely talk to anyone, who then begins talking to people, then realizes how much he enjoys dong this and then finds out he cannot go a single day without talking to a stranger. This is something he never thought possible before, but because of the positive feedback he got and the new social skills he developed, he now feels capable of being more social.
The idea here is that whenever we reach an impasse, we must come up with creative solutions to go past the barriers. If that socially anxious person would have given up upon the first socially awkward encounter, he would not have made any progress whatsoever, however, lets say he took a different approach and joined a club (i.e a outdoors sports club) were he got to meet new people and make friends. This is a creative way of going past an initial barrier. It has to be creative and intuitive though. If at first we know what we should do, we do that (while in our comfort zone) but eventually we are going to need to get creative to go into new grounds. A lot of self-help books give us some basic guidelines about how to do certain things but eventually we will have to add our own unique contribution. In other words we must use existing representations (i.e self-help books ) and then mix in our unique representations (stepping out of our comfort zone and coming up with creative ways to go past barriers). Lets say this same person from our example, now finds himself capable of talking to a big group of people, so he takes public speaking classes and then decides to give a speech at a public speaking club he recently signed up for. He keeps expanding his mental representations, and therefore his capabilities.
Such level of so called perfection we saw with David can be acquired by developing certain life skills. Just like the book Peak talks about using purposeful and deliberate practice to learn certain skills (such as playing an instrument, or playing chess), it can also be used for life skills such as social skills, learning skills, reading skills, professional skills and so on. Even learning how to learn optimally is possible by using this technique.As long as the main components are involved (practice, stepping out of comfort zone and constant feedback) and you are consistent, you will turn into a completely different and improved person.
We must sure we step out of our comfort zone, and the way we realize if we are doing a good job, is if we are feeling uncomfortable, if we are feeling good while doing the hard work then we are not doing enough. We must test our boundaries and expand our capabilities.
This deliberate practice approach differentiates itself from the traditional approach to learning in many ways. The traditional approach to learning in schools has people read textbooks, do the same lecture methodology and tasks over and over again, take tests on certain dates and so on. The deliberate practice approach would have students be exposed to something that gets them out of their comfort zones, such as debating about the topics discussed, or playing games about the topic, or having them make videos to present in which they talk about a topic covered in class but in a way that even a little kid would understand, and so on. Creative ways to practice and getting immediate feedback on it.
I believe it is important for us to start using purposeful and deliberate practice now so that in a few years we can begin mastering the craft. No matter how old you are, the best time to begin learning this was back when you still in high school, the second best time is today! Or something like that.
This deliberate-practice approach will help you focus on getting skills as opposed to knowledge (although skills required knowledge, knowledge is not the ultimate goal), and work hard on what you can DO, instead of what you can KNOW.
AN EXAMPLE OF DELIBERATE PRACTICE GIVEN BY AUTHOR:
An example the author gives, is about a group of scientists (one of them was a Nobel prize winner) who went to a freshmen physics class at UBC separated a class into two big groups. One group would follow the traditional approach to learning, meaning having lectures and being tested on the lectures, while the other ones would have these scientists as the head supervisors and have students read and answer some multiple choice questions before the class, so they know what the class will be about, and also DISCUSS the topic they are studying among their groups. They were given some clicker questions during class and they had to discuss this among themselves, expecting that this would trigger curiosity among them to want to get to the answers. The teachers were around to answer any questions they had, and if the students were lacking behind on some particular topic, the teachers would offer a small lecture on that topic.
This is an example of how students can be engaged in a way that gets them out of their comfort zone (discussing a complex subject they are not familiar with among themselves) while also been provided feedback (the answers to the questions). Long story short, when the tests came, the traditional approach class scored on average 41%, while the other class scored 77%, even after correcting for the estimated guessed answers, there was still about a 30-40% gap between both groups. I know this is only one experiment, but I can relate to this methodology of teaching. I have run into this technique of having students discuss among themselves when I was back in college, I believe this same approach can be used for work.
He also a mentions a couple of other examples. One of them is the one of musical students who go on to become professional players at a prestigious orchestra compared to those who are just starting out in music school (if that is what it is called). Research found what could be inferred, and that is that the students who spend the most time doing solo practice (the type of extra practice not particularly mandatory at the music schools) were more likely to be accepted by the musical group of their choice, no matter how prestigious. This is because during that solo practice they did not only play the same songs over and over again, they practiced with patterns, they remember how notes sound like, what it feels to play certain notes, they practiced playing songs under different circumstances (i.e tired vs not tired), they went out of their comfort zones and got creative as to how they could improve their skills, and this had its clear benefits.
EXAMPLES OF HOW I WILL USE THIS TECHNIQUE
I am going to use it for tennis, reading books, socializing, job hunting, learning trivial skills like improving my speed cube time, learn a new language, write my own e-book, and for other simple things such as walking confidently, talking confidently and so on. Basically, I will attempt to switch my mentality towards learning, so that whenever I want to learn something new, whether a skill, or something to add to my personal inventory, I will do it in the best and most fun (because of the creative factor) way possible.
I will be using the PEAK methodology for deliberate and purposeful practice with my speed cube, just to experiment with it to see if I get any results that might motivate me to apply this to the other aspects of my life. Right now my speed cube solving time has revolved around 50-55 seconds. I estimate that in one month, following this PEAK methodology I should be at least in 30 seconds. I will not only solve the speed cube over and over again, remember, I will solve it from different angles, at different times, after taking a nap, while eating, after just solving it, I will identify a pattern and solve it with my eyes closed, use finger tricks and so on. The point is to get out of my traditional comfort zone of cubing (just solving the cube with the algorithms I know), keep my eyes out for any progress and re-assess.
I mentioned I will use this approach for tennis as well. According to the book, traditional approach is doing the same thing over and over again hoping to get good at it. A perfect example would be my previous approach to my tennis classes. I have been having classes once a week (currently twice per week) with my life-long coach Oscar for several years, and overtime I go we do the same basic drills or similar ones, and we always end the class playing a set. I find myself rocking the training, I hit balls and they land exactly where I want them to land, with the topspin I wanted, I get to balls quickly and use defensive and offensive tactics like it is nobody´s business and so on. Every training I believe I improve, so you may be thinking I am at the top category and receiving trophies every single time, that is not the case.
Despite my excellent performance during training, when I play that set with my coach near the end of the class, it is as if I turned into a completely different player. I play bad, the balls do not land where I want them to land all the time and so on. Some days I will play really good and beat my coach by a lot, but other days my game will be mediocre, and despite having an excellent practice, I end up losing the set 6-1, for instance. I keep on blaming the fact that I am tired by the end of the class, but deep down that is not it since in a real match I will still be tired at some point, and I still will need to find a way to power through. It is that I am getting better at training, not at the matches per se.
The reason behind this lack of follow through after a good practice has been taunting me for the past years. For someone who has practiced for so many years, one would assume that time and consistency means progress. However that is not the case, because like I said I was doing the same thing over and over again. The minute I realized I was not playing MATCHES like I played during training, I should have started doing something differently during practice. I will start implementing this technique this upcoming week during practice. My first strategy will be to think back to my past matches and realize what I did wrong.
The first thing that comes to mind is missing too many forehands and making unforced errors with it. Whether I was hitting the ball too early or too late, or I was accelerating too much or using the arm too much, something is still missing. To fix this with a deliberate-practice approach, I will spend most of next class practicing forehands ONLY, with many falls fed to me at different points and angles. The point of this is that I will be able to adjust the shot judging on where I am standing, instead of just hitting the ball baseline to baseline, since in an actual match there are more dynamics involved. Also I will begin practicing as if I was in an actual tournament, where the nerves also play a part. This is something my coach should have started doing with me, but at least now I can begin doing the right thing.
For my socializing experiments, I will have to talk to people no matter what (so I can get proper feedback), use different skills and try different alter egos to see which one clicks. I will use different topics of conversation to see which one is more popular, will use different body language techniques, tell different jokes and test which ones are better, experiment with open ended questions and so on. The point here is to get feedback, to see how people react so I can get better after every try.
So to put this in practical terms, whatever it is you are doing and you are trying to get good at, you must dedicate some time each day (the author recommends at least an hour), in which you block time and block out all distractions and work purposefully and deliberately on your solo practice. Whether it is to play an instrument, or to work on the skills required for your job (social skills, typing skills, meeting deadlines vs perfectionism skills, speaking boldly skills and so on), and make sure to test yourself (record yourself practicing, or ask someone to give you feedback).
SOME PSYCHOLOGY OF PROGRESS AND BELIEVING IN ONESELF
It is crucial that you set things up so that you are constantly seeing signs of progress, whether something tangible and objective, or subjective (i.e such as feeling more confident when approaching people). This is important because even though motivation should not be the key to getting us started, it is the key to getting us to continue. Once we see results and we get momentum, we are more encouraged to keep on going, and we might even consider speeding things up.
Also, you must believe you can succeed. Practice optimism when talking to yourself. Those self-questioning thoughts we sometimes have when engaging in something that takes us out of our comfort zone, learn to replace those with positive ones. Use the Law of Attraction. This is why Napoleon Hill emphasizes positive affirmations throughout his book Think and Grow Rich. We must believe in ourself and in the possible realization of our goals.
Things to be excited about this year!
Trip to Paris, London, Scotland and Ireland – Late May 2017
Expanding my post-grad education, learning more and making connections!
Getting my 1st car, being more independent.