Skill Development

Basic theory on skills

 

Types of skills

 

Every skill falls into one of the two following categories:

 

  1. Hard skills
  2. Soft skills

 

Find out into which category the skill you want to develop falls into. They need to be developed using different techniques so it is important. They literally use different wiring in the brain.

 

Developing hard skills

 

To develop reliable hard skills, you need to connect the right wires in your brain. In this, it helps to be careful, slow, and keenly attuned to errors. To work like a careful carpenter.

 

Each fundamental, no matter how humble-seeming is a precise skill of huge importance, taught via a series of vivid images, and worked on over and over until it is mastered. The vital pieces are built, rep by careful rep.

 

Precision especially matters early on, because the first reps establish the pathways for the future. Neurologists call this the “sled on a snowy hill” phenomenon. The first repetitions are like the first sled tracks on fresh snow: On subsequent tries, your sled will tend to follow those grooves. Our brains are good at building connections. They’re not so good at un-building them. When you learn hard skills, be precise and measured. Go slowly. Make one simple move at a time, repeating and perfecting it before you move on. Pay attention to errors, and fix them, particularly at the start. Learning fundamentals is the key. If you build the right pathway now, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble down the line.

 

Developing soft skills

 

These talents appear utterly magical and unique. In fact they are the result of super-fast brain software recognizing patterns and responding in just the right way.

 

While hard skills are best put together with measured precision, soft skills are built by playing and exploring inside challenging, ever changing environments. These are places where you encounter different obstacles and respond to them over and over, building the network of sensitive wiring you need to read, recognize, and react. In other words, to build soft skills you should behave less like a careful carpenter and more like a skateboarder in a skateboard park: aggressive, curious, and experimental, always seeking new ways to challenge yourself.

 

When you practice a soft skill, focus on making a high number of varied reps, and on getting clear feedback. Don’t worry too much about making errors, the important thing is to explore. Soft skills are often more fun to practice, but they’re also tougher because they demand that you coach yourself.

 

Honor the hard skills

 

As you probably recognize, most talents are not exclusively hard skills or soft skills, but rather a combination of the two. A quarterback’s ability to deliver an accurate spiral (a hard skill) and his ability to swiftly read a defense (a soft skill).

 

The point of this tip is simple: Prioritize the hard skills because in the long run they’re more important to your talent. Technique is everything. If you begin playing without technique it is big mistake. Resist the temptation of complexity and work on the task of honing and maintaining their hard skills, because those form, quite literally, the foundation of everything else.

 

One way to keep this idea in mind is to picture your talent as a big oak tree, a massive, thick trunk of hard skills with a towering canopy of flexible soft skills up above. First build the trunk. Then work on the branches.

 

Preparation for training

 

Everyday

 

Small daily practice is more effective than once-a-week practice binges. The reason is that our brains grow incrementally, a little each day, even as we sleep. Daily practice, even for five minutes, nourishes this process, while more occasional practice forces your brain to play catch-up. The advantage of practicing daily is that it becomes a habit. The act of practicing—making time to do it, doing it well—can be thought of as a skill in itself, perhaps the most important skill of all. Give it time. According to research, establishing a new habit takes about thirty days.

 

Take a nap

 

Napping is good for the learning brain, because it helps strengthen the connections formed during practice and prepare the brain for the next session. You need sleep before learning, to prepare your brain, like a dry sponge, to absorb new information.

 

Think like a Gardner, work like a carpenter

 

Skill develops slowly. You would not criticize a seedling because it was not yet a tall oak tree; nor should you get upset because your skill circuitry is in the growth stage. Instead, build it with daily deep practice. To do this, it helps to “think like a gardener and work like a carpenter.”

 

Embrace struggle

 

Most of us instinctively avoid struggle, because it’s uncomfortable. It feels like failure. However, when it comes to developing your talent, struggle is not an option, it’s a biological necessity. This might sound strange, but it’s the way evolution has built us. The struggle and frustration you feel at the edges of your abilities, that uncomfortable burn of “almost, almost” is the sensation of constructing new neural connections, a phenomenon called “desirable difficulty.” Your brain works just like your muscles: no pain, no gain.

 

Choose Spartan over luxury

 

Luxury is a motivational narcotic. It signals our unconscious minds to give less effort. Simple, humble spaces help focus attention on task at hand. When given the choice between luxurious and Spartan, choose Spartan. Your unconscious mind will get stronger if you do this.

 

Practice alone

 

Solo practice works because it’s the best way to seek out the sweet spot at the edge of your ability, and to develop discipline, because it doesn’t depend on others. This takes out the peer pressure factor out of your head. All you need is you.

 

The 3 x 10 rule

 

Our brains make stronger connections when they are stimulated 3 times with a rest period of 10 minutes between each of the stimulations. So to learn something most effectively, practice it three times everyday, with ten-minute breaks between each training set.

 

A training set must not be measured in minutes or hours, but in the number of high quality reaches and repetitions you make. This corresponds to the number of connections you form in your brain. Ignore the clock and get to the sweet spot during each of the reps in the sets.

 

Nothing else should be in your mind while training.

 

Training

 

Break it down

 

Take it a little bit at a time. This advice works because it accurately reflects the way our brains learn. Every skill is built out of smaller pieces or chunks.

 

Chunks are to skill what letters of the alphabet are to language. Alone, each is nearly useless, but when combined into bigger chunks (words) they can build something complex and beautiful.

 

To begin chunking, first engrave the blueprint of the skill on your mind.

 

Then divide the skill into small single elements that you can master.

Practice one chunk by itself until you’ve mastered it.

Then connect more chunks, one by one, exactly as you would combine letters to form a word.

 

No matter what skill you set out to learn, the pattern is always the same:

 

See the whole thing.

Break it down to its simplest elements.

Master the elements.

Put it back together.

 

Slow it down

 

When we learn how to do something new, our immediate urge is to do it again, faster, but it can create sloppiness, particularly when it comes to hard skills. We trade precision for a temporary thrill. So, slow it down. Super-slow practice works like a magnifying glass: It lets us sense our errors more clearly and thus fix them. It’s not how fast you can do it. It’s how slowly you can do it correctly.

 

Pay attention to mistakes

 

When we make a mistake, our every instinct urges us to look away, ignore it, and pretend it didn’t happen. People who pay deeper attention to an error learn significantly more than those who ignore it. Develop the habit of attending to your errors right away

 

Finding the sweet spot

 

There is a place, right on the edge of your ability, where you learn best and fastest. It’s called the sweet spot. Here’s how to find it.

 

                      Sensations Percentage of successful attempts
Comfort zone Ease, effortlessness. You are working, but not reaching or struggling. More than 80 percent
Sweet spot Frustration, difficulty, alertness to errors. You are fully engaged in an intense struggle – as if stretching with all your might for a nearly unreachable goal, brushing it with your fingertips then reaching again. 50 – 80 percent
Survival zone Confusion, desperation. You are over matched, scrambling and guessing. You guess right sometimes but mostly luck. Below 50 percent

 

You have to sense the mistake and fix it.

If you do this you are not just practicing, you are building your brain.

 

Locating your sweet spot requires some creativity. Mark the boundary of your current ability, and aim a little beyond it. That’s your spot.

 

Exhaustion and fatigue

 

Fatigue slows the brain. It triggers errors, lessens concentration, and leads to shortcuts that create bad habits. Train when you are fresh. But you still need to try and train when you are exhausted so that you will be able to use the skill when are exhausted in real life where it might mean life or death. Make your mind tough.

 

When exhaustion creeps in, push yourself for at least one or two more reps depending on the skill and then stop training.

 

 

Training overtime

 

End on positive note

 

A practice session should end with a small reward. Chocolate works quite well. This conditions your brain and helps to create the habit of practicing.

 

Mental movie

 

Just before you fall asleep after you wake up, play a movie of your idealized performance in your heads. Visualization will improve your performance, motivation, mental toughness, and confidence. Treat it as a way to rev the engine of your unconscious mind, so it spends more time moving toward your goals.

 

Take a nap again if possible

 

Napping is good for the learning brain, because it helps strengthen the connections formed during practice and prepare the brain for the next session. You need sleep before learning, to prepare your brain, like a dry sponge, to absorb new information.

 

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