Tag Archives: deliberate practice

Mini-Habits: (Don’t) Break the Chain

I’ve been enjoying the Udemy app so much I have become an affiliate.

It’s been an app-y summer.   I’ve finished graduate school and though I am preparing to start a new career as a school librarian, there aren’t as many looming deadlines and forced readings as last year.   I’ve installed a few apps and I’m rolling with them:

  • Simply-e–which allows you to use your New York public library card to borrow books to read on my tablet
  • Epic–to get online picture books for my daughter
  •  Sworkit—provides a variety of workouts without a gym
  • Udemy–an app for learning new skills online from various content providers
  • Chains–an app that lets you track and maintain new habits

Using the Udemy website and app I’ve been  watching the “Mini Habits Mastery” course on Udemy.   In short,  this course explains that in order to create new positive habits you need to go teeny tiny and small.  (Thanks to Rob Schwarz, a friend and an NLP trainer who suggested the course.  You can reach out to him at rob.schwartz@gmail.com for more cool ideas).

Great course on how-to of building mini habits

The course has been worth it to me even though I’ve been mostly listening to it on my walks in Japan as opposed to watching the video content.   It’s been worth the price because it has allowed me to jump start some habits and think about how to maintain them.   The course itself really digs in deep in an informative and entertaining way so check it out.
However, the main point I’ve gotten from the course is that you have to go infinitely small to develop habits that you want to sustain you.   For example, if you want to get in shape, set the goal of doing one push up every day.  If you want to write, set a goal of writing fifty words a day.

The Mini Habits course does a much better job of explaining why you would want to do this.  However, here is my understanding of the power of mini-habits:

  • setting super-small goals and actually being able to do it every day ingrains life-long habits that can transform your life
  • tiny, do-able habits get you on the page, to the gym and lead to increased forward momentum
  • mini-habits encourage “bonus reps”and often lead to exceeding mini-habits
  • Mini habits help you to insure you have your “tools” out for further creation…my mini-habit may be to out the guitar in my hands for two minutes but it puts me in the position of playing more if I want to


Easy to use checklist with great quotes about the power of building habits

I have game-ified the Mini Habit process with Chains.cc, an app that lets you track your habits and try to create chains.   Every day that you practice your habit you swipe to the left on your the app and create a new link in the ongoing chain


When you turn your phone sideways you can see the chain of habits you are creating with cute images.

So far I haven’t broken a chain because it would be so sad to break the visual picture.  What’s more important is that I’ve gained some momentum on goals that have seemed formidable.   I signed up for some Udemy guitar courses and asked have practiced at least two minutes a day.  It’s just two minutes so why not keep the chain going?

So far I’ve noticed some powerful advantages to this chains and mini-habit fusion:

Picture your on going chains of success. Part of my success with this so far is not wanting to “break” the picture by skipping a mini-habit day.

  • It’s fun.   Because the daily goals are very low stake it’s easier to have s feeling of success at the end of the day.
  • Momentum leads to “bonus reps” as the authors of Mini Habits call it.  If I have the guitar out to do my two minutes it’s easier to do more.   The mini habits author explains not to secretly raise the bar because it’s the mini aspect of this system that makes it work.
  • The chain effect makes it harder to forget where I was, whether it is the latest blog idea or the names of te guitar strings.

So far it’s only been a week but it’s been a quiet but powerful way to change up my summer.   Hope you will join me.   Become part of the chain gang.

How to Get Ahead Without Losing Your Head

Get ahead without losing your head.

Get ahead without losing your head.

I finally got around to picking up a copy of The Last Samurai:  The Life and Times of Saigo Takamori.  After watching the Hollywood Tom Cruise version of history, I realized it is time to get a real historian’s re-telling of this transitional period of history.   Saigo Takamori is the “real” last samurai, who rebelled against the central government.  Long story short, Takamori loses his head.   The central government tries to find it but can’t.  That becomes a problem.

For me reading this chapter was an opportunity to turn great history writing into a schlocky self-help mantra:  How to Get Ahead Without Losing Your Head.   In truth, this is what this whole blog is about: how to move your mind and life forward without self-abuse.

One of the key germs for this life approach was All Japanese All the Time.  I was beating myself up about how I wasn’t learning Japanese and stumbled upon this website.   Khatz, the founder, explained that you could learn Japanese by doing more fun things in Japanese and through consistent but micro moves such as SRS flashcard reviews, and a whole host of techniques.  What AJATT helped me to do was be gentler with myself and keep trying, probing, and most importantly looking for the fun opportunities.

I haven’t made learning Japanese a big priority though I still make it a daily habit.  (I am treading water, but I still know a hell of a lot more than if I had kept on beating myself up.)  However, through my AJATT methods I’ve learned how to get ahead without losing my head.  Khatz explains in “Why are Third Rate Ideas Better than First Rate Ideas”:

Here’s the trick to making deep, long-term, self-directed language-learning work.

Don’t do ten good things.

Do one good thing. One day. At a time.

And not even a very good thing. Just a good enough thing. Just barely good enough.

I think this is a great idea for making “deep, long-term, self-directed” growth work in areas beyond language.  Be gentle but push forward.   The samurai mind notebook is a great way to do one good thing.  Put your daily inspirations/vital information and review–just a little bit if you can’t do more.
Get ahead without losing your head.

Take time each day to reclaim your samurai mind.

Small is the New Big: Samurai Chain Reaction

Screen shot 2013-10-27 at 8.59.31 AM

Actions may seem small but actions accumulate. Like water creating waterfalls, carving canyons and sustaining life.

Taking five minutes to do something you love or practice is more than a small act.  Taking five minutes does more than place a bookmark in your life for important projects.  “Five Minutes” is  a revolutionary act because  but because it can create a chain reaction that can last a lifetime.

There is something sublime about the power of small acts.  Recently I’ve been taking a class called Building a Personal Foundation through Coachu.com.   We have been focusing on taking steps to fix things big and small that we have been tolerating.

Last week, I reported that I what I had done for the week was small.  I organized my man bag and cleaned out the spider’s web of old bags, spare change, and random papers that I had been lugging around the city.   That small act actually started a whole process of going through my closets.   In small chunks of time, I have been lowly and methodically throwing out unneeded materials and finding long forgotten resources.

When I reported this little victory our coach, Susan Abrams,  asked me to examine the fact that I said that cleaning my bag had been a small act.  She explained that  even sewing on a button can be important as making a job change because it starts the chain of looking for changes.  In times of great stress and overwhelm sometimes the best thing to do might be to set a timer for fifteen minutes and clean your desk or perform some equally small act.

Small has the potential to start a chain reaction.  Khatzumoto over at AJATT.com started a language immersion service called Neutrino.   Part of Khatzumoto’s philosophy is that you can learn a language through continuous small, neutrino sized bits of study, immersion, and fun.

Neutrinos are all part of the chain reaction.  To think and act big, think and act small.  Start your samurai mind chain reaction.


Take it to the Edge and Empty Out

I believe these are cans of oxygen to get you to the last steps of the climb up Mt. Fuji.  Sometimes you need a little help as you take it to the edge.  Make positive reaches.

I believe these are cans of oxygen to get you to the last steps of the climb up Mt. Fuji. Sometimes you need a little help as you take it to the edge. Make positive reaches.

In order to have something, you actually need to leave it.  In order to remember something,  you need to take it to the point of almost forgetting. In order to listen to the music, you need to have silence.

Yep, I guess I ended up sounding Zen-ish.  But it’s seriously something that has been going through my mind lately.   In order to have something, sometimes the best thing to do is to leave it or at least have it almost beyond your reach.

The easiest way that this comes to me is in terms of flashcards.  I have a very basic flashcard program on my iPhone and iPad called Midori.   The flashcard program is very basic in my view because it for the most part studying words in isolation is not the way to go. (See AJATT on this one.)  However, I have come really try to use cracks in time and sometimes hate to waste a minute so, in a pinch, I will have some fun with the flashcards.  (Speaking of a pinch–on the iPad version of Midori if you “pinch out” a flashcard that you are reviewing you can see sample sentences.)

But is really important to remember to forget.   I make it a point to stop studying cards when they start to repeat.  If a card starts to repeat too soon, you are drilling to kill.    You are fracking your mind.  I prefer to wait, look around, have some fun and come back to the card when it is more of a “reach” instead of a mindless repetition.    Daniel Coyle, author the talent code, and many other writers speak about the effects of positive reaches.   You want to consistently go towards facts, skills, ideas that are just beyond your reach.

I also think in terms of emptying.  To get full, you need to empty.  If you want to soak up water with a sponge, you need to squeeze it out.   If you want to hear music better, you need to have silence.

Sign for cyclists on the beach.  Slow down.  I think to speed up, you need to be strategic about having opportunities to slow down.

Sign for cyclists on the beach. Slow down. I think to speed up, you need to be strategic about having opportunities to slow down.  Forget to remember.

I’ve incorporated this into my morning exercises in Numazu.   I walk out with my iPod, listening to a podcast or Japanese music.  I am staying in an area called 千本浜, and I fast-walk in a shady area filled with thousands of pine trees.   I tack my way back through the beach (don’t get too inspired–it’s concrete lined beach 🙂 ) and stop at a rocky point and do Chinese exercises called Nei Kung.  I used to listen to music, but I was starting to get annoyed and decided to turn off the music and just listen to the sound of the waves.  Or not.

I think that silence is important.  It’s another way of taking things to the edge by emptying out.  I don’t think there should be any rules or techniques about how you do this, but I think it is important to be cognizant of when music, words, and information start to be noise.

Take it to the edge.   Empty out to fill up.  Forget to remember.

Samurai Getting it from All Directions

Look back, look forward, look around.   Sometimes an all directions approach helps you move forward.   Think cross-train.

Look back, look forward, look around. Sometimes an all directions approach helps you move forward. Think cross-train.

I loved it when Daniel Coyle, author of The Little Book of Talent and The Talent Code, mentioned the skateboarders highlighted in the documentary Dogtown and Zboys.   These outsiders and misfits changed skateboarding forever.   Part of how Coyle explains how they developed their talent was that these skaters “trained” in ever changing environments.   The Zboys were influenced by surfing but also learned how to skate streets,  irrigation ditches, and in a year of drought a plethora of dried out pools.   Each change of environment added to their repertoire and talent.

The takeaway for me is to make sure to get it from all directions.  For example, I came to Kentucky from Puerto Rico at the age of eight and did not know very much English.  (I had the advantage of having a mom that already spoke English).   I went to school and was assigned a speech therapist in addition to regular instruction.   I also fell in love with comic books, specially Richie Rich, Casper, and Archie comic books.   I also grooved on “Sesame Street” and” Electric Company.”   I listened to AM radio.  I watched “Name that Tune.”  I was getting language from all directions.  A cat named Khatz did the same thing with Japanese at an older age and built a website called All Japanese All the Time.

Change your environments and approaches but not so much that you actually don’t move forward.   For example, I’ve taken a very dogged approach to music theory.  I spend five minutes every day moving forward on a little piece of music theory from Theory for the Contemporary Guitarist.  Is it the best book on theory for guitarists?  I don’t know.  Probably not.   At the end of each page, I hunt for youtube videos on the topic and see what other people have said about the various music theory topics.  I’m learning a foreign language here and I know that to learn it, I will need to approach it from many directions.   Every now and then something makes sense.   Victory! 🙂

I also make sure that there is time where I am playing and watching others play.  The point of practice is getting to the point of no mind, a concept I learned through continuous viewing of The Last Samurai.  🙂   Have fun strategizing and playing so when the self-doubt and “I am not worthy”  assassins come to kill you in the dark, you can have your Tom Cruise moment and come at them from all directions.  Peace!



“Weaponize” It

In real life, swords and spears are a little too pointy and scary.  As metaphors they great.  Nice quote from Boldt:"The Warrior is totally alive. He accepts his life and his death.  Most people accept neither.  They live in terror of death and muddle through life half asleep, scarcely aware of the dangers and opportunities that lie all around them."

In real life, swords and spears are a little too pointy and scary. As metaphors they great. Nice quote from Boldt:”The Warrior is totally alive. He accepts his life and his death. Most people accept neither. They live in terror of death and muddle through life half asleep, scarcely aware of the dangers and opportunities that lie all around them.”

I’m trying to re-envision for work, for myself,  my audience and students.   I bought Zen and the Art of Making a Living, by Laurence G. Boldt, many years ago but was put off by its size and its tendency to ramble.   But I’ve decided to put a few minutes each day into reading it and its starting to get its grip on me.   Zen contains a lot of questions and exercises to reflect on your life, vision, and how to translate that into a career.

The effect of Zen and the Art of Making a Living has the potential to be even more powerful because I have put key parts of it into my samurai mind notebook.  A samurai mind notebook is just an over the counter-notebook that I fill with inspiring ideas, skill work, and reflective exercises.  What “weaponizes” the notebook is that I review these notebooks on a rough “Spaced Repetition System” schedule.   I have an easy to use system where I am reviewing my notebooks 1 day, 2-3 days, 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year basis.   If I hit upon positive knowledge or inspiration or even reminders to follow up on different projects, I place that in the latest notebook.

Reviewing my notebook, helps me create my own inspiration and information ecosystem, that reminds me of what is important to me and through others’ word helps me expand in areas where I want to grow.   Looking at my notebook provides a little immunity from the information ecosystem that the media provides us: despair, statistics, stories of violent crime, etc.   So instead of picking up the daily rag and reading about who is divorcing who or who killed who, I get a little message that directs me to myself and to how to best serve the world.

For example, one of the fun ideas I’ve gotten from Laurence Boldt is the idea of playing the career game without getting to wrapped up in it.  I put one of his affirmations into my samurai mind notebook:

Because I choose my career with full awareness, I am able to play with intensity without getting serious.

I wrote that quote into my notebook on June 9th and then came across it again in relaxed reviews on June 10th, June 11th, and June 13th.  I would then come across that thought a week later, two weeks later, etc.  If upon review, my spine tingles and my heart quickens and I realize I really need that thought right now, I will copy it again into the latest notebook entry so the thought gets further looped into my daily routine.  A useful thought is now further “weaponized” into my  mind.

Keeping a samurai notebook is one way to fight for your life.  A notebook helps fight against mental decay, despair, and has the potential to multiply the benefits of any self-improvement work you are doing.  Pick up that pen.  Use it.  Weaponize.

Give Up Samurai: We are the Two to Five Percent!

Work can be play.

Work can be play.  Give at least two to five percent a day to play/work towards your dream/goal/skill.

So it is in any situation you find yourself, no matter how overwhelmed you feel, no matter how much you may feel you are at the mercy of things that are just beyond your control, some part of it is within your control:  2 percent, 5 percent, who knows?  There is always something you can work on.   And often changing that little bit results in a whole lot.  . . . Above all else, it gives you Hope.   I am not as powerless as I thought.   –Richard Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute?

I don’t know about “Hope” with a capital “H.”   I’m not a Presbyterian minister who writes career books like Richard Bolles.   But I’m really grooving on the idea of finding the space were you can move towards the two and five percent.  We can move daily into the 2% to 5% that you can claim for your skill,  dream,  job search, or vision of what the world could be.  By moving ever so little forward you also reclaim  a part of yourself, samurai.

Even if you never reach proficient in your skill or reach the goal, you may just experience collateral benefit.  For example, I’ve been studying Japanese off an on for ten years.   The first six years or so were whiny self-loathing years.    Then I started to pick up some new methods and inspiration from All Japanese All The Time.  I started infusing fun into studying Japanese.   I learned about timeboxing.  My Japanese is a lot better, but what I discovered is that there have been “collateral benefits” to taking on this seemingly-formidable goal.  I’m writing more.  I’m being more persistent in guitar.  “. . . changing that little bit results in a whole lot.”

You don’t have to give 100%.  It’s awesome if you can devote your days to your goal or skill, but the all or nothing mentality can often kill.  What’s going to add up faster–a couple of weekends a year of 100% or daily shots of two to five percent?  Don’t let today’s poem die.  Yes, you may be tired but what’s a measly two to five percent?  Drop the seeds and let the flowers bloom.

Ronin Samurai: Go for Nuggets

No matter how long the path, don't forget to stop for nuggets!

No matter how long the path, don’t forget to stop for nuggets!

Yeah, well I don’t really know a lot about samurai despite the title of the blog.  But I do know that ronin samurai were masterless samurai, who lost their position through various events.  According to Wicker-pedia, in Japan “ronin” also refers to “salarymen” who have lost their jobs or students who failed to get into university and will try again.

In this shifting economy, we can all become ronin at some point.   That can be terrifying and at the same time liberating.   Furuichi talks about spending 30 minutes each day in continuous improvement.   I think in terms of placing little nuggets of inspiration and skill in my samurai mind notebook.   I love self-improvement books and one of the ways I reward myself for study “pushes” is by using little five minute explorations of self-help books.

One of my recent nugget discoveries is the career guide What Color is Your Parachute?  2013.   What I never realized about this book is that Richard Bolles, the author, updates it every year.   Every year he rethinks his advice and also thinks about the economic climate.   In the 2013,  he makes a point of really addressing folks who are unemployed.  He paints a useful picture of the difference between two unemployed folks.  One is glum and ready to blame.  The other one is not happy about his situation but:

 . . . he wakes up each morning glad to see the sun, puts on beautiful music, walks a great deal, counts his blessings, is in a job-support group, focuses on other people’s troubles, not just his own, is a great listener, spends each new day trying to be a better person than he was the day before, remains active in his job-hunt, tries to learn something new each day, essentially sees life as an adventure, and is willing to wait patiently for the next Act to unfold . . .

I think this is great advice even if you currently have a job.   Job hunt your own job to make it more interesting.  It’s also great as you are approaching your various learning projects.  Khatz over at ajatt.com  points to this “hunt for the nuggets” approach when he explores how to learn a language:

The journey of getting used to a language is so psychologically long that it can’t merely be a means to an end. It must become an end in itself. It must become its own joy, its own reward. And this perspective, this mental state, doesn’t require too much imagination or discipline or training to reach. Anyone who’s been on a road trip with friends knows: the destination is almost incidental.

Wherever you are in your ronin journey, find something to enjoy.  Don’t forget to stop for nuggets!

Water and Fire Samurai

Take a daily dip in the ocean of talent.  Light a little fire.  Mix your metaphors.  :)  Photo: unprofound.com.

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!

Shut the Samurai Up and Give Up!

This image is from a great book in Japanese that translates into 100 Tricks to Get Better With 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!

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!

“Practice with no hope of fruition.”  Terre Roche

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.