How To Be Good Enough
photo by Brian Raney at Silver Creek Ski Resort
I didn’t do a great job of paying attention in my History classes in high school. But if I remember the gist, it’s that we humans keep doing the same things over and over, just with new names and fancier logos. It’s appearing that this is more and more true, even with technology. For what are audiobooks if not a modern version of the ancient oral tradition? Books were just an intermediate step while we waited for the world to come up with iPhones and white earbuds and mobile data plans.
I think that the process of learning (the user-centric name for “education”) is going through a similar type of ebb. I recently learned three new skills:
For each of these skills, my primary method of “instruction” was this process:
- Watch someone else (usually an “expert”) do the skill
- Try it myself
- Fail to achieve mastery, but notice something that I could do better next time
After repeating this 3-step process a few (dozen) times, I got better at each skill. Granted, I have not yet achieved mastery in any one of them. I won’t be ready for an Olympic Slopestyle competition anytime soon. But I’ve achieved a point of competency where performing each skill is now fun. And if I were to repeat this cycle a few thousand times, I have no doubt that I (or anyone else) could attain world-class skills.
If you think about it, this is how we acquired most of our core skills. I didn’t follow a lesson plan for learning how to walk. I watched my parents walk around. Then they helped me try it a few times, and I probably fell a lot. But I made some progress. Eventually, I got better. There was no walking final exam. I don’t remember any PowerPoint decks showing great walkers from history and their stride lenghts. I don’t have a certificate. I still trip over my own feet all the time. But I’m good enough to enjoy and make use of walking.
If you’re particularly interested in the skills that I learned, here are resources for each:
- Snowboarding: start with heel slide, then toe slide, then turn (SnowboardProCamp). Protips: Don’t lean back too much, you need your front foot to turn. When you decide to turn, commit and go all-in (“halfway” turning = falling). Oh, and you’re going to fall (a lot), so wear some well-padded pants.
- Swimming: The Most Graceful Freestyle Swimming by Shinji Takeuchi, Tim Ferris blog post on Total Immersion. Protips: Try to swim as slowly as you possibly can. You probably won’t get the technique down the first time (or the 5th time), but try to get better at one piece of the technique during each workout. Start by focusing on body roll from side to side; never swim flat on your stomach.
- Juggling: Learn How To Juggle In 5 Minutes. Protips: Juggling is all about throwing, and you probably suck at throwing right now. You need to practice throwing one or two balls longer than you’d think. Then, stand facing a wall, about an arms-length away, as a guide to keep from throwing balls too far away from yourself.
If you’d like to dig deeper on accelerated learning, check out Tim Ferris’s book The 4-Hour Chef, or Josh Kaufman’s TEDx Talk on The first 20 hours — how to learn anything. Josh uses a similar 4-step framework:
- Deconstruct the skill
- Learn to self-correct
- Remove practice barriers
- Practice at least 20 hours