Saturday, September 22, 2007

Familiarity is Fatal

At various times in my life I have participated in and tried all sorts of exercises to formulate and follow a plan for my life. From creating vision statements, to setting goals, to crafting written plans and laying out graphic plans, I've tried a host. For one reason or another they all seem to fall short.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come. If we fix on the old, we get stuck. When we hang onto any form, we are in danger of putrefaction. Hell is life drying up. The Hoarder, the one in us that wants to keep, to hold on, must be killed. If we are hanging onto the form now, we're not going to have the form next. You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.
-- Joseph Campbell

To be sure, individually they each have their merits and advantages. Some have worked better than others, or at least I have put some to more effective use than others. And while in general they are helpful for setting a direction or kick-starting performance, they seem to fall apart in the long-term. The control each tries to establish simply cannot be maintained in the face of the chaotic pressure exerted by the comedic farce that is my life.
Familiarity is the most powerful force exerted by humans.
-- Virginia Satir
As humans we long for, we crave the familiar. Conversely we are most afraid of that which we do not know. Why are we so able to conquer the fear of the unknown in some ways and not in others? Perhaps because of the familiarity?

When I was first learning to drive, like most people I suppose, I was nervous. I made mistakes, I had issues, but I corrected them and kept going. I was able to face each new unknown thing because I saw people around me every day successfully accomplishing this feat. My familiarity with their success gave me hope and a belief that at some point I could succeed with this too. If you can skydive, so can I. At least in theory. . .
Failure is only possible if you give yourself a time limit.
-- Richard Bandler
Considering the fantastical pull of familiarity, how can we harness that to help drive us forward? Start by asking yourself how you would behave differently if you knew it was alright to fail. If you were allowed to be wrong, to make mistakes. If trying again was normal, how would it change the way you see your progress? How would it change how you plan?

Would you, like many people I know, stay in a situation that isn't meeting your goals and objectives? If you weren't so afraid of the unknown of moving on, would you move on quicker?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Good, Better, Best

One of my friends is a talented musician. He composes and performs and I've never seen him at a loss for how to coax nice notes from any instrument he's ever picked up. He is, by almost any standard, gifted. Extraordinarily, unfairly, majestically, gifted in the art of making music.

On the other hand, the only way I can carry a tune is in a bucket. Which is not for lack of trying; it is simply that I really stink. So sticking with it when I am so horrendously un-gifted is a challenge.

It used to be that I would just say, I'm not gifted. I don't have that talent. Why waste my time practicing? I'll never be that good. Since then, I've been reading.

If you read books like Satisfaction and The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance you begin to realize that the only thing standing in the way of your growth from novice to expert is dedication. If you are consistent in your deliberate pursuit of change, you will find the change you desire.

Science today tells us that almost anyone can develop expert-level abilities in almost anything (from which they aren't physically impaired). I don't think anyone is saying you can beat Lance Armstrong, that man is just genetically supposed to dominating the rest of us. At least on a bike.

But for most abilities, like being naturally gifted at music or math or languages, the big differentiator between the beginners and the best is usually only a focused, deliberate, and consistent exercise of that ability motivated by a simple desire to keep getting better.

The basic premise we can infer from the science is that if you are willing to do what is required to keep getting better, you will actually get better. The key is that doing what is required to keep getter better is usually the hardest things to do.
Superior performers use their brains to intentionally focus on individual components of a skill to gain increasing control over their performance. In this way more of their performance comes from long-term storage instead of requiring the coding of new information.
-- paraphrased, Dr. K. Anders Ericsson
When you consider that becoming good at a skill requires deliberate, methodical control over each aspect of that skill, it is no wonder so many of us are novices. We would rather spend time on the parts we can actually accomplish or understand, instead of grinding out the rough spots that are the most difficult for us.

This lines up with everything I've ever been told by other musicians: Practice, practice, practice. It also reinforces my elementary school piano teacher, and my good friend when talking about the guitar. Just learn the scales. When you can play them smoothly, fast or slow, and transition between them without faltering, then you can worry about playing songs.

It's back to fingering scales for me.