Take a daily dip in the ocean of talent. Light a little fire. Mix your metaphors. 🙂 Photo: unprofound.com.
Mixed metaphors time kiddos. Keep treading water. Keep the fire burning.
With three more weeks left of school, the demands on my time have ratcheted up to hyper levels. Last minute student essays and administrative demands all put an extreme demand on my time. I want to help. I want to do a good job. Does that mean I give up writing, learning Japanese, and practicing guitar? No. It means that the little chunks of five minutes are more important than ever.
One of the key tips that I learned from Daniel Coyle’s Little Book of Talent is that five minutes a day is better than two hours on the weekend. In building a skill, the daily repetition and re-igniting process of five minutes keeps a skill “myelinated.” Hey, maybe it’s pseudoscience but it works for me! If I do five minutes of practice, there’s more of a chance that my fingers and my memory will remember what I did the previous day. If I wait until the weekend, it can almost be like I am starting from zero.
Five minutes is a bookmark, a life-line. If all you think you have is five minutes use it. Keep treading water until you can head into deeper water or see your talent ship a comin’. Keep a little tiny daily fire burning until you have the time and wood to get a decent campfire. When you are done mixing your metaphors, stop swimming and celebrate with a bonfire on the beach!
This image is from a great book in Japanese that translates into 100 Tricks to Get Better at Guitar. It has a lot of practical practice tips and also tips that I think could apply to life beyond guitar. One of the tips is whatever you do have fun and also do it your way. STSU, give up, and do it!
I’ve practiced more guitar lately because I have given up. I’ve given up on becoming great. I’ve given up on having to know everything instantly. However, I know that I am not so helpless that I can’t find five minutes. Sometimes I start five minutes, make connections and the fatigue fades away. Or not. However, no one can take those five minutes away.
Yesterday’s five minutes connects with yesterday’s five minutes. Or not. A little breath feeds the fire, keeping the mind and heart a little more awake for today and the next day. Or not.
As far as guitar is concerned, I’ve taken the approach that with my limited time I will practice and study from all ends. Maybe some day it will “all come together.” Or not. After reading, Guitar Zero, I decided to buy guitar teacher extraordinaire’s “Fretboard Vitamins.” I’ll steal Roche’s words to explain it:
The method uses contemplation cards and exercises to help the student tame the geometry of the fretboard and develop a strong sense of relative pitch. This innovative teaching approach was praised by cognitive psychologist Gary Marcus in his new book about music and the science of learning, “Guitar Zero“.
I love the beautiful red box they come in and the gorgeous pictures. Will the vitamins work? I don’t know. I just started. But I like the idea of a new way to help mix fun, theory, and the senses.
Part of what was stopping me was panicking about the right methods, books, etc. Did I have the right books? Am I doing the right lessons? Am I having the right kind of fun? I decided to “Shut the Samurai Up”, push just a little bit and when I’m finished pushing, noodle around on the guitar. I picked a theory book to push on for five minutes a day. I put the Jamplay lessons on surusu electronic flashcards with links to the lessons, so thinking about which lessons to review will be less of a drama queen moment.
I’ve decided to shut the samurai up, give up and try anyway. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Or not.
This book is huge but I like it. Reading it on an iphone breaks it up into bits. I skim until I get to the interesting parts. I use it as a treat to keep pushing. Yes, nerd alert.
I’m reading on the cloud these days and loving it. I bought a Kindle from a friend and am enjoying the fact that I can read a book “on the cloud.” I can read on various computers, my ipad, and my iphone. Ironically, it is not available on the actual kindle. I am reading The Making of Modern Japan, a massive book that I actually own a print version of. The estate of the author, Marius Jansen, is probably enjoying a few extra cups of coffee thanks to me. Reading on the cloud has become addictive but I am learning to use the addiction.
The Making of Modern Japan is not in Japanese and thus takes me a little bit away from my goal of Japanese fluency. But reading on the cloud has become addictive enough that I have learned to use it. When I noticed how much time and attention I was putting into the book, I decided to use the energy. In order to turn the page, I do a rep of electronic surusu flashcards. (What I really appreciate about these cards is that pretty soon after you do a few, it congratulates you on “repset finished” or something like that. You feel a sense of accomplishment and can move on.) You can substitute any short 2-3 minute “push” activity. After you finish you can briefly return to your non-harming addictive activity.
So the next time you find yourself complaining that you just wasted a bunch of time looking at Facebook, think about how you can use the addictive pull towards healthy pushes. After checking a screen full of statuses, slide over to your guitar, tune it, and do one little exercise. Hey, don’t blame me if you end up practicing for half an hour. 🙂 You don’t have to practice for half an hour. Just five minutes and you can go back to your virtual paradise.
Of course, I could hybridize my crack and find a really addictive book in Japanese and double the pleasure. But this book has been beckoning me for years but because of how large it is and how I have perceived time, I have avoided it. Now that I can read it in so many places, I am enjoying it. (I gloss over the mind-numbing stuff about bakufu administrative structures). So instead of being pissed off at myself for reading in English, I am surfing the pleasure wave and using it as an incentive to push a little more in Japanese.
Use your non-fattening, non-harming mini-addictions. Become a pusher.
Stop trying to read in massive chunks of time Most of life is waiting. Most of life is disjoint snippets of time: two, three, five minutes here or there. That’s when you read. Stop trying or waiting for some golden multi-hour block . . .
I think that my problem with reading is that I tend to see reading as a marriage til death do us part kind of process. Probably what might be most helpful is to adopt a philandering, slightly-abusive role model towards books:
Read more than one book at a time. I have light books for taking on the train, heavy books like Zen and the Art of Making a Living that I work through pages at a time, and books that are pleasing but sufficiently unexciting for right before bed.
Graffiti and abuse certain books. Yeah, get all juvenile delinquent on some of your books. Some books have been untouched on my shelves for years, and now I am getting use value from them by writing on them, dog-earring the pages, and just making sure that I’m not reading passively. My music theory book has gotten and will get the most abuse.
Read for free until you don’t. I just recently got a kindle. It’s so easy to sample books and eventually I end up buying something and supporting authors. Just skimming and sampling seems to be good for my brain. I’m out there searching for good ideas. As of two days ago, I just discovered reading “on the cloud.” It is so nice to be able to jump into a book from the computer, to the iPad, to the iPhone.
Quick and dirty. Slow and savor the flavor. It’s all good. There are so many ways to enjoy reading. Skip pages. Read the end first. (I used to read history books that way.) Read the first sentence of each paragraph until you hit something good. I recently read Guitar Zero that way. Enjoy all the positions.
Most importantly, have fun. Ironically, this is one of the key messages of the Japanese book that I am reading, 情報量が１０倍になるNLP速読術 (Increase Your Information Rate 10 Times Through the NLP Speed-Reading Method). There’s a lot of NLP talk about “anchoring” and “filtering” in this book. Basically, when we have negative thinking towards reading we become less efficient
in retaining information and even continuing to read.
One of my lockers where I cage my books and laptop. Reading closely and savoring each word still has its place, but adding a little velocity to your learning game through speed reading or pre-reading is a way to shake things up. Do you have any books on your shelf that you think you should read but haven’t. A quick read might give you the lay of the land to read it or get the best part out. Feel free to eat the best part of the tuna!
The book includes exercises on getting in the right frame of mind to enjoy reading, but it’s also important to change the way we read in order to continue to read. There’s no one way. You are not contracted to any book. Speed date. Skip lines. Pick them up off the street. Have fun. 🙂
Talk about life long learning. I love that there is a book dedicated to teaching seniors how to play The Ventures. But why wait until you retire to do what you want to do? My Japanese father-in-law is taking up guitar. I’m thinking of seeing if I can join his classes. Japanese and guitar, wow!
Yesterday, I decided to stop at a cafe to have an iced latte. Because it was hot outside and their air conditioner wasn’t on, it was relatively empty. Then they turned on some Best of Jimi Hendrix, which I hadn’t heard in a long time. Listening to Hendrix after a long drought is like drinking a cup of coffee after I’ve “given it up”–it blasts me to the stratosphere. What was interesting was that as I was listening to it, I was thinking things like, “oh he slid up the strings there” or “how and where did he get that idea?” I didn’t do the usual hero worshiping, practice stopping rant. “I will never get there.”
If you think you never will “get there” you are right. You will never get there because where you are is right here right now. So what are you going to do about it? Find a way to hit just one string clearly or worship the rock gods? (Hey, why not do both 🙂 ) Will you find a way to just push for a few minutes to write a little scale or moan about how you wish you could write songs?
Part of pushing is allowing yourself to “suck” while you move forward. Part of why reading alljapaneseallthetime.com was so liberating was Khatz’s concept of “suckage.” As he explains, you have to be comfortable with were you are with your skill but not so comfortable that you aren’t doing something about it. “Accepting permanent suckage is not humility. That’s resignation. Sucking is a temporary condition. Contact is the cure.” Have contact with your desired skill at many ends from the theoretical pushes to just having fun listening to the “masters” without being threatened.
You will never get there. You are always here, now. Push. Play. Repeat.
This is the last hint in a Japanese book called, “100 hints to Becoming Better at Guitar.” Have fun with your “pushes” and “produce” the life you want. (I would love a great translation of the caption in this book.) You can do this in any area of your life.
My little music theory experiment continues. Music theory has scared me in the past but I have books that I have accumulated over the years that have laid dormant and untouched. I have decided to take one book, Theory for the Contemporary Guitarist, pulverize it into little digestible bits and put it into my samurai notebook. Each bit doesn’t take me more than two or three minutes. Today, I will draw the F major scale in my notebook and call it a day.
Because I review my notebook, I will be seeing my new friend a few more times. In the two months since I started this, I have progressed nineteen pages. Because the bits are so small the process has actually become fun. I have become a push ‘n play samurai.
There is no grand guardian blocking your path to any field of knowledge. You don’t have to own it overnight. There should be no, “I am not worthy.” There is nothing you have to do to be worthy. You are already “blessed” with the ability to breathe and think on this beautiful and complicated world. It’s a lot easier to start from, “what would happen if I just push a little bit and try to have a fun.” Here are a few little tips:
you don’t have to put your creative/learning pushes out there for the world to doubt, hate, question etc. I’m putting my little music theory push out there as a public service announcement but there are other pushes that are under the cloak of silence
you don’t have to know where you are going . . . I don’t really know if understanding music theory will really help my playing. But it has seemed impossible, and that’s part of why I’m attracted to it.
keep thinking small is powerful. Khatz, the dude over at alljapaneseallthetime.com, calls his immersion service Neutrino. Teeny tiny particles. According to wikipedia, my vast samurai mind powers, “a typical neutrino passes through normal matter unimpeded.” When you pulverize your new skill into do-able bits, it’s you will pass through skills you’ve seen as obstacles before.
Don’t break the neural chain, man. (You have to say this in a hippie voice!) Even if you pick up your guitar (code, language, piano [ouch!], business plan, etc) for five minutes, you are making the next day of practice a little easier.
You won’t always feel great, but I think you might just get a lot farther than if you just beat yourself up about how you don’t know fill in the blank. Skip the drama. Become a push ‘n play samurai.
Unchain the wheels of your talent. Little moments of practice. Keep it greasy! Photo from unprofound.com.
Sometimes some skills seem so far away and our lives are so busy that it may seem like it is impossible to attain certain talents. Japanese? French? Arabic? Guitar? Coding? Farfegnoogin? Fuggetaboutit?
But lately I’ve been taking advantage of little opportunities for practice and instead of thinking I’ve got to have it all at once, I’m telling myself, “I’m putting a bookmark here” and then just letting go. I’m still a “private dancer” as far as guitar goes, but the days of staying away from the guitar now seems a little foreign to me. I ain’t makin’ no promises to you, or even myself. I’m just moving the bookmark a little each day and yes, having some fun.
It’s all part of not breaking the neural chain, man. (hippie voice) One of the key components of little moments of practice is that they work with the way the brain works. As books like The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent point out little moments of practice keep the neural pathways greased. The phrase you practiced yesterday becomes more natural and may even enter long term memory. You want a learning affirmation from me? “Keep it greasy.”
The beauty of it all is that you will either keep a bookmark in that talent until more time opens up or by taking one small action every day realize that the impossible goal is within your reach. In other words those little bookmarks of five minutes will remind you that your targeted area is important and/or will become the opening wedge that will lead you to hours of practice and progress.
Who can eat just one french fry? Keep getting greasier and greasier.
“Keep the fire burnin’…never let us lose our yearnin'” . . . REO Speedwagon (ugh!)
Do you try to have all of your breath all at once? No. A small steady supply feeds all your body systems and your mind. Small keeps the fire burnin’.
Whatever you are trying to move in your life doesn’t necessarily have to move at once. In some ways, it may even work better to go small. I used to wait until my summer vacation and make big promises to myself to write and I did write. These days, I have around fifteen minutes every morning to write. I use a timer and then study Japanese. I’m getting a lot more done than when I had “all the time in the world.”
Small works when it is consistent. Daniel Coyle writes in The Little Book of Talent five minutes a day is better than infrequent and longer practice period. It is easier to link thoughts in writing when it is day to day. With musical instruments, it is easier to keep “muscle memory” going. Try to stop breathing for an extended time and see how much fun it is to get breathing again. On second thought, don’t. It will be a lot more pleasant for everyone if you keep breathing.
Fun illustration from １分スピード勉強法。 Short term memory expires quickly. However, through repetitions the memory can cover the distance to light the candle of long term memory.
Small leverages the short term to long term memory connection. Masami Utsude describes transforming short term memory into long
Real language exposure is the best and I get that too. However, I do a few minutes of iKnow every day. Short periods keeps it from getting boring and takes advantage of short term to long term memory connection.
term memory. He describes it as a relay race. Imagine a team of matches. One match (short term memory) runs until almost exhausted and lights the next match, continuing until it reaches a candle (long term memory).
Khatz, over at AJATT, talks about learning languages and suggests that critical frequency, moments of constant contact with the language will help it thrive and stay alive:
A language is like a cross between food, air and a pet. You can’t just binge on it once and call it a day. You need it there constantly, no, not constantly — very frequently — and when it does go, it needs to come back soon. Otherwise the skill dies.
Don’t let the skill die. Don’t prevent it from being born. Keep the fire burnin’.
“Don’t wait for your mojo to get to the dojo.”………… me 🙂
Daniel Coyle talks about “windshield time” or time spent watching people doing the kinds of things that you want to do or didn’t even think of doing before. You can do it with people, books, tapes, and languages. Cultivate your windshield. photo source: unprofound.com.
A funny thing happened on the way back from the dojo. My oldest daughter takes karate lessons. My wife takes our two year old daughter, who just watches. Lately when we watch our oldest practice at home, the littlest also tries to execute the form. I’m not a real samurai but the toddler’s form looks pretty good.
It’s the power of “staring at who you want to become.” This little mantra comes from The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle. He studied “talent hotbeds” across the world. One of the patterns he noticed across a lot of these training centers is that there is often a period of training where students observe the skill with intensity before actually practicing. In one Russian tennis center, students watch advanced players before they even pick up a racket.
I would also add that it’s important to have fun with “staring” at who you want to become. You could watch Jimi Hendrix play guitar and shout, “Jimi is God! I am not worthy!” (I still say that! 🙂 ) However, even Hendrix sucked at one point. You don’t have to avoid those feelings. But, you can also choose to put them to the side and just–watch. He plays on this part of the guitar, then moves his finger there, etc.
There are many ways to ride the stare-way to betterment:
keep the quotes from people who are doing what you want to do and think the way you want to think and review it in your samurai notebook….also copy out the phrases of writers whose style you admire
get into the sounds of the foreign language you want to acquire . . . no self-loathing because you don’t understand it yet just let yourself bathe in it . . . find the fun, funny and inspirational and move on … see AJATT.com on this one
don’t get threatened or angry at people that are “better” than you in whatever skill you want to acquire . . . watch them closely . . . watch for how they work and also how they bring joy and fun to their work . . . be grateful for people who are better than you. If you still feel threatened or angry that’s fine . Hating yourself for your feelings isn’t productive. Recognize it and find something to stare at (in a nice way!).
listen to the people that inspire you on headphones . . . the only English I allow on my headphones is audiobooks by Steve Chandler . . . I don’t agree with everything he says but I like the positive direction and humor of his work.
Don’t short-circuit yourself by rehearsing how bad you feel about your lack of skill. If it’s true that you become what you focus on, have some fun. Stare into the present.
“Let’s get physical, physical..let me hear your body talk.”….Olivia Newton-John, metaphysicist and 80’s pop star.
One of my lockers where I cage my books and laptop. Physical activity can be a form of review, which is really key to moving forward in your life. The physical act of going through spaces wakens up ideas and possibilities. Pick one space to “review.” Throw out the irrelevant bring forth the joy.
A couple of posts ago I quoted Snoop Dog, and now I am quoting Olivia Newton-John. Yeah. That’s how I roll. Just the other day I was reviewing my samurai notebooks, where I put ideas and borrowed inspirations and information. As I often do, I use a timer to keep me moving through different tasks. (Timeboxing, read about it later.) I wondered whether I should time the physical act of getting an old notebook out of a storage space. I decided to include it.
When you are making moves towards your goals, you are also making physical moves. Yes, Shakespeare wrote Hamlet and sonnets and all that, but does anyone talk about how many times he had to sharpen his quill? There are all of these unsung moves that needed to happen. Do you want to play guitar? Hey, you know the guitar is not going to get out of the bag by itself.
Ay, here’s the rub. Sometimes making the physical move gets you a little further along your “goal.” You’ve gone through the small act of getting the guitar out of the bag, you’ve tuned it, and strapped it around your neck. Are you just going to put it back down? Probably not. This little physical motion is already giving you momentum.
Khatz over at AJATT taught himself Japanese in fifteen months. A lot of how he explains he did that is physical. Not only was he listening and watching Japanese all the time, his walls and bookshelves were covered in Japanese. The key part is fun. Yes, I get frustrated that I fumble over “stretch” activities I am learning on the guitar. But once I have that guitar strapped around my shoulders, I make time to actually “play” with the guitar.
Make it so that you literally trip on the material you want to become. Inside you will find two lightweight notebooks (one current and one for review), a Japanese book on guitar, and random junk. 🙂
Part of the game becomes finding ways to “physical-ize” your goals. Here are some of my recent moves:
leaving a music theory book underneath my laptop so I there is more of a chance that I will look at it
making sure I always have a Japanese book in my “man-bag”
leaving a travel-sized guitar in the closet at work….buying a $20 tuner . . . after all the work is done for the day I try to spend 15-20 minutes…reviewing and/or farting around
making sure that the battery on my computer at the Writer’s Room stays charged at 80-90%. This means I need to show up everyday and work
make Netflix work by constantly having Japanese DVD’s in my laptop
keep various “study” and “fun” windows open on the browser so they are just there
Make 2013 the year when you get physical with your goals. Let me hear your body talk. Body talk. 🙂