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.
Get into your mad lab creation space at least once a day. It could be a work space or a rambling walk.
If you do anything for yourself give your self one hour a day of “mad lab” time. Mad lab time is a time that you give yourself to create, tinker, putter without thinking of results, profits, “followers”, et cetera. This time can be structured yet loose at the same time. You can try to write for fifteen minutes, study a foreign language for twenty, brainstorm for five, whatever but it’s all done in the spirit of play. (In fact, a tight time schedule can be good.)
it creates an after-burn that can infuse your other activities throughout the day
it allows you to discover yourself and reinvent yourself at the same time
when you get to play the universe is happy
you start to get into the habit of creating
set a time and place where you can create. It could be a separate office or a quiet room in your house before everyone wakes up. Don’t get hung up on the perfect spot. (BTW…The Little Book of Talent says that a lot of talent hotbeds practice and create in rather spartan or grungy spaces.)
Have your “tools” easily accessible. A blank pad of paper, your laptop, your guitar and your tuner. Leave the “windows” to the necessary sites open. After a while you will build the physical habit of getting out your tools, which is more than half the step of creating
you don’t have to broadcast what you are doing to everyone . . . this is your time to cook stuff up. Don’t let the haters and doubters in by revealing too much. (Check out this short article from AJATT “Whose Team Are You On”)
Repeat. You will have good days. You will have so-so days. But the so-so days send a little life-line, a breath that can feed the “good” days.
Your mad lab can be work time that feeds play or play time that feeds work. No adults except in the company of a child!
This isn’t just coming from me. Steve Chandler explains you should “give yourself one hour every day.” Julia Cameron, author of the The Artists Way, writes of the vitality that comes from writing morning pages every morning. Yukio Furichi also writes about the power of the morning in his book 「１日３０分」を続けなさい！人生勝利の勉強法５５ (30 Minutes Every Day: 55 Study Methods to Win in Life). For me, it seems really important to do the heavy lifting/creating early in the day because it gets the juices going and starts the day with a “win.”
There is a Sufi saying that “You have three hours to live. Two of them are gone.” Get into your mad labs and create.
Anki, ajatt.com, flashcard systems can help you untangle the flotsam and jetsam. But it is also important to keep exploring and having fun. Throw out the trash. Explore the trash.
The other day my daughter, who is five, asked me where to find a good boyfriend. Startled, I answered that the trash might be a good place. Luckily, she laughed her head off. I’m not quite ready to answer those questions from my daughter.
I have trash on my mind these days. Some people think about the Laws of Attraction. I have the Laws of Trash:
Delete, throw out on a regular basis. Deleting is achieving.
Don’t be afraid to enjoy “trash” on the way to learning goals.
Delete, throw out on a regular basis. Deleting is achieving.
I recently started a drawer by drawer method of elimination. Every weekend, I go through one drawer or section of the apartment and take store of what is there and throw out what I don’t need. It’s a doable project given my busy life. Two interesting things happen: I get more free space and I firm up my connection with projects and ideas that I had “shelved.” I’ve come up with a lot of interesting projects that I thought I had abandoned.
If you are learning a foreign language (or anything) and using electronic flashcards deletion is really key. Throw cards out and get some breathing room for what you are learning. Every time I delete a card I feel like I am learning more because I am making a more active choice about what I am learning and reinforcing what I really like to learn.
Our path can often be a little less um, scenic, than our lofty goals. Luckily, you have a pair of crappy sneakers to help you dance above and through it all.
Khatzumoto over at alljapaneseallthetime.com is making it even easier these days with his surusu flashcard program. Khatzumoto has been working in his mad labs again. I hadn’t touched Surusu flashcards for a while because my decks had gotten huge. He added a huge and prominent delete button on the card. When you delete a card, you get congratulated for “keeping it clean.” Thanks to surusu for making deletion an act of joy.
Now, when I delete I may think “Yes, you are very interesting but hey maybe I will see you again in a more fun context” or “good riddance.” Every deletion is a review. It may even be a fresher review because you have made a fresh choice. Deleting adds life where there wasn’t any.
Don’t be afraid to enjoy “trash” on the way to learning goals.
On the other hand, don’t be afraid to enjoy trash along the way to your learning goals. What are the silly games, books, et cetera that could help you learn your skill or language? My skills and interest in studying Japanese jumped when I decided to ready trashy self-help books in Japanese. Lately, I’ve gone back to reading “Beck,” a manga about rock and roll. My Japanese still sucks but I am amazed at how much more my reading comprehension has jumped. Furthermore, some of the dialogue is review of cards I’ve studied, both deleted and non-deleted cards. (In a weird way, at times it reinforces my continued suckage in guitar. The other day, I just stared at a picture of the character studying the C major scale diagram. I was “studying” but just kind of stumbling, day dreaming into part of a skill.)
Don’t lose the love for what you are trying to learn. Put out the trash. Look through the trash. Think trash.
This kiddies is a floppy drive with an actual floppy disk. I need a tech guru to help me manage my flow. Yes, I’m getting medieval.
You may read this blog and see the picture of real wasabi being washed in clear water and think—ooh this is so Zen. Or you may actually read my posts and think–err, maybe not. :). It’s spring break and I have a little more time for personal projects with a heap of potential work (planning, grading, thinking) for school to do as well. I am proud to say I have wasted a lot of that time on iDistraction. Here’s how:
I actually did do school work, reading essays and letters students wrote and shared with me on google docs. I noticed my pulse rate increasing after the third time I noticed an un-capitalized “I” pronoun.
I started listening to podcasts about how to improve WordPress blogs and integrate all kinds of plugins, etc. I started to think about all I didn’t know. Great podcasts. Too much information.
Somewhere along the line I got the idea that I could convert a lot of my previous writing to Kindle and try to publish it. I’ve some interesting interviews and I thought it would be great service to people to put it out there. I’m embarrassed to say that a good portion of my writing is on a 2002 Gateway computer that I have held on to. I’ve not only had to figure out how to transfer that material but also figure out how to properly format it for Kindle.
The organization to which I applied for a grant to travel to Japan decided to tweet winning proposals every hour, in addition to mailing out snail mail notifications. I received a grant three years ago, so it’s a long-shot, but that did nothing to settle my iDistraction.
I fired this thirteen year old computer to get at an interview that I think would still help people. Check out the floppy disk on the right.
I finally realized that I had to do something when I realized that I had children in my home. There’s a moment when you realize that they aren’t watching television any more and have moved on to exploring flammable chemicals. Not really but that’s what it felt like. 🙂
It’s a new day and I am not feeling so much iDistraction. The organization is not issuing any tweets and it looks like their website has crashed. I am not making any promises but I am aiming to do a few things that might help this iDistraction:
set time limits on my different efforts. Part of what I learned to do while I was on Silverspoon was do things in little bites throughout the day. Learning Japanese is such a huge project that the idea of it all can swamp me. But I learned to use different “time-boxes” and “chillax” periods to keep persisting without the overwhelm.
re-read or skim Steve Chandler’s Time Warrior and Wealth Warrior. He really writes cogently about the importance of silence, reflection, and non-overwhelm.
Re-investigate a spiritual path, meditation, or at least go back to recording things that I am grateful for at the end of the day. Ironically, the project I was working on was an interview on the interplay between a spiritual practice and money with Jerrold Mundis, author of How to Get Out of Debt, Stay out of Debt, and Live Prosperously. Mundis really emphasizes the importance of operating from a calm center in relationship to money:
And indeed, when we are obsessed with material and wealth, acquisitiveness, craving it’s very hard to lead a spiritual life. One can lead a spiritual life and still have material things, and still have money, but the spiritual life comes first. And, out of that center and calmness one can use money quite healthfully and well.
I’m going to get on all of that. After I check one more tweet.
Random Collection of Notebooks. Samurai notebooks help keep me inspired, searching, while at the same time keeping me anchored.
I’ve mentioned samurai notebooks lately, but haven’t really gotten into detail about them for a while. Samurai notebooks are notebooks where you put positive ideas, plans, information, etc and review on a regularly spaced basis. My samurai notebooks aren’t necessarily pretty, but they have been transformational.
Daniel Coyle reports that a great percentage of high performers keep some kind of notebook, whether it’s an actual notebook or even a shoebox of loose papers. Coyle cites Serena Williams, Eminem, and Twyla Tharp among others. Write down “results from today, ideas for tomorrow.”
A samurai notebook helps you create your own channel, the information and ideas that you brush up against. You can bathe in the fear, sarcasm, and negativity that gets offered up 24/7 or you can create your own channel.
A notebook helps you direct your life by helping you remember. Adding spaced repetition keeps reviewing from becoming burdensome.
Buy any notebook. Think cheap and sturdy. I prefer Campus notebooks from Japan but don’t get hung up on what kind of notebook to get.
Put any information, thoughts, plans that interests you into this notebook on a daily basis. Make sure to date each entry. Recently my notebook includes snippets of guitar/music theory, helpful hints from a Japanese book on guitar, and ideas from several teaching resources.
Review the notebook every day. If you’ve put interesting and valuable information it will become a fun process. I put a date on the review and mark how many days from the original date. I try to review according to the following schedule 1, 2, 3 or four days, and a week after the original review. After that it is one week, two weeks, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, etc. I use a timer and review five minutes every morning. I also review if I feel like it on train rides, appointments, etc.
Dating entries and reviews are important. It would be overwhelming if you didn’t space out reviews.
Quickly mark what kind of review it was and include the date. I put 1D for one day. As you do reviews, you will save time by only entries that are “up for review.”
If you come across an entry that wows you or seems really important, copy it into the days new entries. Doing this puts it back in a shorter term loop and reinforces that this notebook is exciting. (BTW, you don’t have to “study” each page, just glance at it. If there is something you want to target and do some work with, go ahead.) Cross out pages that you think you may never be interested in again. Deletion and skipping over. Happy feelings bring happy learnings. (See ajatt.com on the importance of deletion.)
I’ve learned to alternate between “New” reviews and “Old” reviews. One day I will review the most recent reviews and the next day, I will begin from an earmarked “Old” page. “New” information gets to “mature” and “old” information gets a systematic chance to get refreshed. I write “New” or “Old” on the day’s entry to let myself know where to go in the next session.
Date the cover, depending on the last entry. This notebook will be up for review in two years. If anything hits me like a lightning bolt from an old notebook I make sure to a) put it in a more recent notebook and/or b) do something with the idea or information.
When you finish with a notebook, mark the outside with when the next review date should be.
Feel free to use any or none of these methods. According to Coyle, Eminem uses scraps of paper tossed into a shoe box. Whatever you want to do, some kind of notebook will help you get there. Try my samurai notebook style or flow into your own style. A simple little notebook could transform your life.
There is a lot of good information in this book that can be applied to general skill development.
After reading Daniel Coyle’s Little Book of Talent, I realized that I was spending too much of my free reading time in English and needed to veer back to Japanese. I pulled out ギター上達１００の裏ワザ (100 Secrets to Becoming Better at Guitar) by Masaki Ichimura. Following your interests in your target language is a little something I like to call hybridizing your crack, doubling the learning power.
Right now, I am mostly interested in the soft skills and philosophy of playing guitar. Here are just a few interesting principles that could apply to whatever you are trying to learn. (My translations are inexact and include other context. Take with a dash of soy sauce.)
If you practice 10 minutes a day you will accumulate 3, 650 minutes of practice. You will make a difference in your playing. 続けたことによって発見する物事があります。基本練習を毎日１０分やるとしても、１年で３，６５０分やる人と、やらない人で差があります。
In order to become a guitarist who looks at the audience, practice blind folded. 各席を見られるギタリストになるは。。。。目隠し練習. This hint reminds me of The Little Book of Talent. If you want to become better and more natural at a skill, you have to change it up.
If you take lessons, you won’t get better if you don’t practice at home. ギター教室に通うひとは。。。自宅練習しないと上達しない Of course this is common sense, but engaging and choosing with your skill is all part of the fluid choices that you get to make with your life. To tell the truth, I kind of suck at guitar. But I’m trying to practice a little bit each day, so I suck less than I did when I started. Khatzumoto recently got all neuroplastic on us and spit it like this: “Your mind, your body, your skills are fluid and mutable. While you’re alive, it’s up to you what you flow and mutate (?) them into; you have the power to choose.”
To Go Up in Your Level of Playing, Reach for the Next Hardest Level Within Your Reach. 上達という階段を登るには。。。。手の届くレベルにトライし続ける。Coyle would call this looking for “the sweet spot” or “reaches.” You won’t become Eric Clapton overnight, but where is the next “reach” or do-able “stretch” in your learning? Not just for guitar, kids.
Don’t forget to have fun doing it your way!
t’s Important to Do What You Like. 一番、好きなことをやろう。Reaching, stretching, etc is important but a key and often forgotten element is to do what you like and reach for what you think is fun with your skill. Ichimura illustrates this with a wonderful cartoon of a middle aged man playing guitar dressed in his socks. Happy feeling make happy learnings. 🙂
Tip 100: You are the “Producer” of Your Life. あなたは、あなた自身の人生のプロデューさーです。 No matter what age you are, you get to mix it up and do it like you want to. You get to write the score, choose the instruments, and write the dance track to your life. Enjoy.
“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. 🙂
Take a little off the top and the side. Don’t be overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible.
Just yesterday some friends shared a little clip from an organization called code.org. I have to admit, just the thought of coding is something that overwhelms me. But according to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the creators of twitter, dropbox and many other mega-sites explain, it is an approachable skill. One of the coding stars explains that it is like any skill that might seem scary at first, whether it is playing an instrument, learning a sport, or hey learning a language. I don’t know if this clip is propaganda for some kind of coding cult but I like its message of how the seemingly impossible can be possible.
One phrase that helps me with this these days is “take a little off the top.” I am a teacher and a father of two young children. I am pulled in ten thousand directions, so the thought that I would also write, learn Japanese, and learn guitar seems ludicrous. But taking a “little off the top” is doable and that’s what I’ve learned to do day to day.
I think the ability to persist in small and steady games has been one of the benefits of doing Silverspoon, an online coaching service I used to immerse myself in Japanese more. In one of the emails I got from Khatzumoto, he summarizes the game/plan of action:
AJATT 7-Step Victory Formula: 0. Have no good intentions whatsoever. Just pick a good direction. No intentions. 1. Start off on the wrong foot. 2. Set your quitting time ahead of time (timeboxing) 3. Do a bad job. Quick. Dirty. Ugly. 4. Do only half the job (or less), using only what tools are immediately available. 5. Stop and switch games at quitting time, before quitting time or as soon as you get bored, whichever comes first. 6. Get more, better tools. 7. Return to step (1)
(BTW, AJATT has a really interesting new article on the importance of skimming.) I could complain that I don’t have all the time in the world to write the great samurai self-help book or I could play around with writing in 15 minute stretches every morning. I could whine that I don’t know that I don’t know how to play guitar or I could pull out a lesson from my SRS deck, Jamplay, or any other tools and then just let myself play. I may not be able to put in 10,000 hours but I can “take a little off the top.”
You can also take a “little off the side.” What I mean by this egregious hair metaphor is the importance of changing tactics,
Some Brazilian players play “futbol de salao.” Small, challenging environments can improve skills. Work it! BTW this isn’t futbol de salao. 🙂
environments, and tools in addition to the persistence of “taking a little off the top.” I just finished reading The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle (in five minute daily increments). His tip #9 is “To Build Soft Skills Play Like a Skateboarder.” He encourages people to explore and expand their skills “inside challenging, ever changing environments.” He is alluding to the skateboarders that are featured in Dogtown and Zboys. One of the ever changing environments they discovered were empty pools. Confined, ever changing environment that took skateboarding in new directions. Coyle also discusses how some Brazilian soccer teams train in small rooms that force them to learn all kinds of new skills.
Games are fun because of their limits. Don’t be scared to develop the skills you want because of limits. Bend time and space like a ZBoy. Take a little off the top. Come at it from all sides. Enjoy.