Practicing new skills – competence model

One of the discoveries most we make when we are learning new skills is that there is a BIG difference in learning new concepts versus practicing actual skills.

This became so clear to me when I began learning to meditate. There are an abundance of books resources and guided meditations out there. Really quite wonderful, actually. Check out Insight Timer if you want to start a meditation practice. I have used it for over 2 years and I love it.

But then there is the act and the art of practice. You do not learn new skills (like yoga or meditation) by reading about them. You must invest the time to practice, preferably daily, although 5 days a week would probably make a significant impact.

hierarchy of competence.JPG
Diagram from Wikipedia entry

I like the cycle of learning as expressed in the four stages of competence model. Someone who knows nothing starts with unconscious incompetence. You do not know and you do not know WHAT you do not know.

Then you progress up through conscious incompetence. This is where I am now with teaching yoga. I KNOW what I do not know, but I must acquire the skills to act on my knowledge.

Eventually a learner passes through conscious competence, where they can practice the skill with their full and complete attention. I imagine this is where I will be by the end of my 6-month certification program. There are plenty of practice opportunities built into the curriculum, and I am happy for that!

The final stage is unconscious competence, when the learner has practiced so many times they can now execute their skill or practice with much less effort. Meditation is becoming like that for me, finally. I can drop in within a few minutes and feel fairly comfortable with it (which does not mean my mind is quiet) because I have practiced and primed my brain.

Are there new skills you are trying to learn this year? I find that this model gives me comfort, because the journey through these steps are naturally a progression that takes time. As our brain grows the neuronal connections it needs to make a practice seem “effortless” or at least smooth and well-practiced, we must stay committed along the way.

Three cheers for neuro-plasticity and our brain’s natural ability to grow, change and thrive when we give it the required nourishment along the way!

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

The eve of Yoga Teacher Training

I will be starting my Yoga Teacher Training (YTT 200-hour) certification program this Friday. I am brimming with excitement and the slight trepidation that always seems to come from beginning a new endeavor. I am curious about the following:

What will this experience be like?

What kinds of students will participate? Will I like them? Maybe I’ll find some kindred spirits among them?

How intense will the personal practices be?

Since we are asked to bring food for our potluck dinner on Friday night, and I am not  much of a cook, I wonder: will people like the salmon salad I intend to bring as my contribution? (How embarrassing that this detail was one factor that almost made me decide not to sign up for the program!)

YogaNorth
Link to Yoga North

I have always loved school and learning experiences, so most of my doubts are not about the nature or challenges of learning the material. I am a little concerned that there are three 9-hour days in a row of time I will be spending with 15 other students and three teachers. From the schedule it appears there are not many breaks or opportunities for “solitude” or escape during that time – all meals appear to be group-wide.

So this introvert is going to need to find respite in other ways, perhaps bringing my journal along so that if we do have breaks, I can withdraw slightly. Not having the need to socialize and interact constantly with people can be part of building a “restorative niche” as Susan Cain recommends.

The other thing I have already done for myself is make sure to have solitude scheduled for a substantial portion of the day before training and the day after it, in order to reset my equilibrium. There, my planning is done. Now I feel prepared for this new journey! Wish me luck!

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Defeating self-doubt

Yesterday during a coaching session with my dear and wonderful coach, Elizabeth, I got an acceptance on another science writing and research contract offer. While I am in coaching sessions, I do not have my phone on. But I saw the message as soon as I left the session.

Last Friday I had put in the proposal, since it was on sleep research, a topic near and dear to my heart. I know that some of these postings get 20-50 proposals on the first day, so I had no idea if I would actually get it. But I wanted it enough that I crafted a hook in the first line that must have gotten through, even though there were many other applicants. My blog was the source of several of my writing samples!

Courtesy of Canva designs – copyright mexi-minnesotana 2018.

I realized that if I had let my self-doubt take over as I wrote that proposal, I never would have landed the work. I have this little naysayer voice in my head sometimes when I work. Do you have one too? It’s Anne Lamott’s little “Radio KF*CKD” voice. It says things like, “you’ll never get this one, why are you bothering? You’re too new to this platform. Your last client did not even leave a review yet…” 

But a wiser voice (the one I trust more) says: “well, if you don’t submit it, you definitely won’t get it. Just take a few minutes, put in the proposal to get some practice at this. You have to make a certain number of these proposals to see what “sticks.” Don’t be too disappointed if it does not come in, this is a numbers game. Just keep working at it.”

Yup. It’s true. No I am not crazy. Turns out this is normal: we all have this inner critic that tries to protect us from humiliation or “loss” by playing it safe, not risking anything. It’s easier not to take the chance, and more comfortable. Some of us have a “louder” voice than others. I have learned to turn the volume down on mine, but to thank it for the feedback (a Liz Gilbert suggestion).

People who succeed are often just the ones who put more stuff out there, try more things, take more chances. They are persistent, they keep making small efforts, and this builds resilience over time.  Keep working at it. You’re improving. Don’t let your inner critic win. 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Muscle memory

I have recently taken on some new challenges, started learning some new things.

  1. Dance! – I made a pledge to myself back in January, took a foundations class, and then I also followed on with another Zumba class. I will do more of this, especially now that my schedule will be more flexible for the next couple of months.
  2. Massage – My massage therapist gave me a 90-minute lesson on how to give a massage to my hubby. I’ve been wanting to learn, and to have a non-sexual way to connect through physical touch. I wanted to learn how to properly do this without giving myself carpal tunnel or hurting my back over the massage table.
  3. Motorcycling – I took an intro class to ‘Cycling and Scootering. I did a lot better than I thought for only a 4-hour class. I am now more motivated to study for my permit and take the longer “Basic Rider Course” sometime in August or September.

What do these three activities have in common? All of the teachers spoke of the practices as building up “muscle memory” over time in order to make certain parts automatic. While learning new skills, we often have to think and focus intensely. This is all new and our minds and bodies need to make the connections necessary to master the skills. Then they take practice, repetition and time in order to build up the muscle memory that allows for less conscious effort, a more fluid and easy feel.

muscle memory
Photo credit link – Snowmie (Stop Your Tricks)

I started considering the muscle memory that drives many of our daily habits. Have you ever gone out to do an errand and ended up driving somewhere automatically even though you did not consciously want to go there? Your mind was somewhere else, but your body knew where you usually go (work, the grocery store, etc).

I thought about the muscle memory of playing the flute (started in middle school) or the saxophone (started in high school). My teacher told me that it was a good thing I started on the flute and then moved to saxophone because the movements are more precise and delicate. Apparently it is more difficult to go the other way. Hours and hours of practice on the flute helped me “convert” the muscle memory of the similar fingerings on the saxophone.

When we embark on a new chapter in our lives, there is no muscle memory yet for how to do our daily work. We need to suspend judgement and be kind to ourselves while we are learning. All of our efforts are part of the feedback loop of mastery, even if they fail, even if we shift too quickly and cut the engine while not allowing enough throttle to create momentum.

There are ways to visualize and help to create muscle memory even more quickly. One motorcycle instructor told us that even practicing our hand and foot motions in the evening for 10 minutes while sitting in a chair watching t.v. could help us master the skill more quickly. The memory is formed not just in our muscles, but with the help of our brain, and this is what world-class athletes do before their routines.

As I visualize my next chapter, I associate feelings of ease and excitement. I see myself learning new things, and having my back, giving myself encouragement if I make mistakes. I build up these muscle memories and know that in time, the practice pays off, and the learning accumulates. Confidence increases, and satisfaction as well.

What kinds of muscle memory do you access regularly?

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

What are you making it mean?

One of the things I have discovered as I have developed a daily practice of meditation is that my mind does not sit still very willingly.

I used to confuse meditation with the idea that you must empty your mind of thoughts. Maybe some well-trained and long-practiced gurus can do this, but I am not at that level. What I *can* do however, is pay attention to my thoughts. If I use a mantra for meditation, like “ease of being” or pay attention to the breath, or scan the body, I inevitably get distracted, and my mind starts doing what it does so well, thinking and churning away.

But then I realize I have gone away from the intention for that practice, gently bring the mind back, and begin again. In the beginning, I think I used to get annoyed with myself – how did I get distracted so easily and so quickly?!? The more I learned and studied I realized that it was much better to view this with compassion. As Jon Kabat-Zinn would say: it’s not a problem, or a mistake that you got distracted. This is just what minds do. When you notice you have gone off, just bring it back. That is the very essence of the practice.

Wow. What a relief. I’m not doing it wrong. Dan Harris, wrote 10% Happier, uses the metaphor that meditation is like a “bicep curl” for the brain. The process of bringing the mind back, many many times, is what helps you grow in the practice, and to develop mastery over your mind.

presence of mind
Photo credit link – YouTube with Alan Watts on Presence of Mind

As I developed in my practice, I began to see places where my mind would create and invent stories upon hearing communication from someone else. And my mind is inventive about this, thought it has a very story-lines it seems to prefer. For example, if I heard a benign comment from my husband about something that struck me in an emotional way, I would stew about it, and use it to feel bad.

But if I used the approach, recommended by coaches and therapists to echo back what I had heard (“you plan to go cut some wood after work”), and said, “what I’m making that mean is that you want some time away from me, you are tired of spending time with me.” Typically that is not what he meant at all, and he would correct the invented story that was running through my head. By saying it out loud, and declaring my interpretation, I was able to clarify that HE did not mean that, my own mind was inventing a story that was creating hurt. 

So have learned to do this more often in general, not always out loud, depending on the context. But sometimes I will examine a particular comment or issue that is bothering me, and ask myself “What am I making it mean?” to allow myself to stop and take some distance, realize that my mind is programmed to make sense of the world, and so often jumps to whatever conclusion fits its usual story-line. When I question that thought, I realize that might not be the case at all. The objective facts or circumstance presented itself and my mind took the next “logical” step, which may not be logical at all.

Our minds are pretty sneaky, and we sometimes buy into these stories as though they are reality. These stories create an emotional state, and if they are habitual, we typically forget to question them. But it is worth stopping now and then, examining them, asking ourselves if we really know that thought is true. Or is it just a projection? Is it just a story-line that we have thought so many times, we believe it to be true?

We then understand that these thoughts are optional, and we may learn to let go of them more easily, to hold them lightly instead of tightly. There is so much freedom in that, and so much less drama. What are you making it mean?

 

Preach what you practice

Yesterday I was thinking of the common expression “practice what you preach” and considering why it is an admonition of sorts. Probably because it is easier to tell others what to do than to take our own advice sometimes.

So let’s turn that one on its head and instead preach what we practice. It occurred to me that I am trying to do this on my blog. There are certain things that really help me to live a better life: meditation, yoga, writing, eating real food, choosing love over fear, etc.

I love to experiment with practices to see how or whether they work for me. If they do, after some time and testing, I adopt them as part of my daily or weekly routines. Of course, you will have to practice them yourself to know if they work for you. I am not saying they will. But I really do like to “preach” some practices that work.

Blogging has led me to some really fascinating and insightful people online. The ones I enjoy most do this very thing: they preach what they practice. They share what works for them. They show some vulnerability in admitting they are not perfect, that they have made mistakes. And they invite others to learn from their experience as well.

Today I just want to thank a few of them that I read regularly and have given me feedback on my work as well. I am grateful that the internet has enabled this kind of virtual connection and that like-minded people can collaborate on this great experiment of life.

Steph at Make More Meaning is doing some fascinating things with minimalism. Jessie at Hoosier Mystic is doing some significant personal work. Julie de Rohan has given me some great shout-outs as well, and I appreciate her support. And also raynotbradbury is a source of creativity and delight, so check out her humor when you have a moment.

I know there are more of ya out there, and I thank you for your comments and contributions to the world of ideas and this ever-expanding universe that is the blogosphere. Cheers & happy Friday!

Friday kitty
Photo credit link