The Problem with “Just”

The word JUST is a big indicator word – if we hear the word “just,” our ears should perk up!!  We try to tackle various aspects of our lives and are told to “just” do something (see “Just is Anything But ‘Just’”).  We think we should be able to “just” do it – whatever “it” is, no big deal!!  Unfortunately, there’s usually so many pitfalls lurking behind that tiny little, no-surprise-here-that-it’s-a-4-letter, heinous word than we can imagine!!  And, I would posit that this one cruel little word, “just,” is likely to be the centerpiece in the failure of any attempted skill transference!!!! 

There’s general far more going on than what the Subject Matter Expert thinks is going on when they try to transfer a given skill to a novice (see “The Expert Doesn’t Know What They Know” ) 

Therefore, they often inadvertently simplify a whole complex series of actions or processes (see “My Kiteboarding Ah-Ha Moment”) and gloss over critical distinctions (see “Distinctions” series).

And, this unfortunate setup leads the student to think there’s something inherently wrong with them – they wonder “Why can’t I ‘just’ learn it???” (see “There’s Something Wrong with Me”).

Ultimately, there is titanic-sized failure to gain the skillsets that forward our fondest of life dreams – and that, to me….  is very, very sad – the “Vast Untapped Human Potential” is left unrealized…

Fortunately, there is an antidote to ‘just!!’

Just is Anything BUT “Just”!!

What I’ve discovered over the years of fleshing out this idea of breaking down a skill set into its constituent verb-based parts, is that ‘Just’ is anything but ‘Just.’  How many times have you gone to learn something new or tried to change your behavior in some way, and heard that insidious little word.  “Just….”   

Some examples of stupid sh*t that is difficult, but made to sound super-easy to do:

  • Stick shift driving – “just” let off the clutch and press down on the gas, well yeah, at the same time!!
  • Golf – “just” hit the ball straight
  • Fear of heights – “just” don’t look down!
  • Carpentry – “just” hit the nail with the hammer
  • Waterskiing – “just” keep your legs together while you’re standing up – no problem!!
  • Trying to lose weight – “just” don’t eat so much – wanna’ another piece of this stratospherically tasty chocolate cake??
  • Snow skiing – “just” turn.  Turn!!!!  TURN!!!
  • Bad memories – “just” stop thinking about it! 
  • Kiteboarding – “just” lean back, do a power stroke, and stand up – uh huh!!  Yeah right!!  That’s how I launched myself 10 feet into the air with the greatest of ease – TWICE!! And then quit!!  (see “My Kiteboarding Ah-Ha Moment” post)
  • Snowboarding – I alluded to this in one of my earlier posts, (see “Testing, Testing RSTP Theory – Snowboarding, PART 2a – Using the carpet lift on the bunny slope”).  One would think, and virtually every instructor would lead you to believe, that riding the absurdly non-threatening bunny slope carpet lift is not even worth mentioning to the student.  “Just get on and ride to the top!!” 

The word “Just” implies that what you’re about to do is no big deal – easey-peasey!!  And worse, it hints at the possibility that there’s something a little bit wrong with you for not being able to do something that is clearly sooooo very easy to do!!  For the record, I’m calling, “Bullshi*t!” 

The first time I took a stab at figuring out a better way to transfer skill was related to cleaning up the dishes after cooking a meal.  I had never given dishwashing much thought.  When I was considerably younger, I had worked as a server and dishwasher every night for several months at a nursing home before heading off to college.  I was driven by my desire to get outta’ there every night as fast as I could to get on with critical task of, well…. being a relatively free, single 20 year old!!  I had gotten realllllly good at doing the dishes!!  I was efficient, I was effective!!  I had made distinctions that I didn’t even realize were distinctions (see “Distinguishing Distinctions – A Definition”).

A friend noted to me that, despite her many years of cleaning dishes, she still had no clue how to do it well.  That’s when I realized that there were distinctions; that there were approaches to any task or skill that were good, and there were approaches that were less than “good.”  And, the possibility that maybe there was a methodical way to teach (eg “transfer” in my new language) those distinctions. 

Before my friend’s comment, I would have said, you “just” dive in and do it, and in no time flat, you have clean dishes and a sparkling kitchen.  Now I know, there is no “just” in doing anything.  There are distinctions made with everything that we do, some more effective and/or efficient than others in achieving a desired outcome.

When I got down to looking at all the distinctions I’d made in something so mundane seeming as washing dishes, I was shocked by how many there actually were.  Here are a few, in only a very loose beginning-to-end order…

  • Batch process at every step along the way
  • Bring everything to the sink area first
  • Put away all the food
  • Warm/hot water matters
  • Stacking like items in the sink while water runs; and from biggest to smallest
  • Presoaking is critical
  • Repeated soaking is necessary – keep filling in with dishes to be soaking while rinsing others
  • Rinse the dishes going into the dishwasher before doing any dishes that need handwashing (typically they need more time to soak because those are usually the things that have the most stuck-on food)
  • Rinse like items, then put them in the dishwasher
  • Hand wash from cleanest to dirtiest
  • Wash like items together
  • Cleanup last, from furthest out location in the kitchen to the closest
  • Presoak anything stuck on the flat surfaces – squeeze water onto them and let it sit while continuing cleaning

A lot of distinctions!!  And there are probably many more.  BUT, and this is a huge but – with what I know about speed-cleaning up a kitchen, my little family of 3 would have Thanksgiving dinner clean up, from start to finish, in 30 minutes!!  Not too shabby!!  There must be something significant to this RSTP thing!!   

See the “The Problem with ‘Just'”

RSTP, SKILL ACQUISITION AND THE FLOW STATE, Part 2: How RSTP addresses each element of the Flow State

If Deliberate Practice (see “RSTP and Deliberate Practice”) is a key component in HOW you acquire a skill set, HOW you get good at something, then the Flow State is how you FEEL while acquiring that skill set.

In Part 1 we took a quickie look at what the Flow State looks like.  In Part 2 we’re going to assess just how well the RSTP addresses each facet of the flow state.  The numbered points are those of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of The Evolving Self, regarding the various features of the flow state .  The comments in blue are mine.

1) Clear goals: an objective is distinctly defined; immediate feedback: one knows instantly how well one is doing.

I discussed both the need for clear goals (point #6) and immediate feedback (point #3) in “RSTP and Deliberate Practice.”  Setting good goals is embedded into the RSTP process!!!  The RSTP contains a feedback loop – each building block of the skill set must be mastered, to a very precise outcome.  The student must then pass a test for unconscious competence before they can move on to subsequent building blocks.  Each subskill has a goal of its own, but the emphasis is on the practice that lends itself to achieving that flow state – you have a very precise goal you’re shooting for with each lesson, getting feedback towards that goal, as you’re focus is very concentrated on the process as you’re working towards that goal.

2) The opportunities for acting decisively are relatively high, and they are matched by one’s perceived ability to act. In other words, personal skills are well suited to given challenges.

The overall structure of every lesson is based on the Gradual Release of Responsibility model (see “Gradual Release of Responsibility”). Therefore, every lesson is built on a foundation of explicit, decisive action that requires the student to practice discrete micro-skills, to the point of mastery. The student starts their instruction with the most basic building blocks of the given skill set and works their way to progressively more difficult, and complex aggregations of the skill set– therefore the ability to act is quickly matched to the individual’s personal skill level.

By w:User:Oliverbeatson (w:File:Challenge vs skill.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By w:User:Oliverbeatson (w:File:Challenge vs skill.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

3) Action and awareness merge; one-pointedness of mind.

RSTP meticulously lays out the micro-skills, the sub-skills that make up, cumulatively, the overall skill set. The student, at various points in each micro-skill lesson, is acting in sync with the instruction causing both action and awareness to be single-mindedly focused on each of those small, discrete micro-skill pieces of the skill transfer sequence.

4) Concentration on the task at hand; irrelevant stimuli disappear from consciousness, worries and concerns are temporarily suspended.

Just- enough and just-in-time instruction (borrowed from the gaming world) feeds the student just the bare bones of what they need in order to execute the next given micro-skill skill transfer segment. In doing so, the RSTP weeds out extraneous details from each skill transfer segment in order to keep the practice manageable. But, at the same time, the lessons are structured to be highly demanding mentally (see point #3 in “RSTP and Deliberate Practice”).  Because the instruction is highly demanding, one MUST concentrate.

5) A sense of potential control

Because the RSTP-structured instruction is not in overwhelmingly large bites, and one only has to attend to each small piece at a time, the students starts out with a sense of control because all they have to deal with is the small, immediate step.  The mind isn’t divided on multiple learning segments, it’s concentrated on one item at a time to the exclusion of all else.  Also, repetition is built in to each segment (see point #2 in “RSTP and Deliberate Practice”), therefore, as the student gains mastery of each micro-skill, they gain greater and greater control overall.

6) Loss of self-consciousness, transcendence of ego boundaries, a sense of growth and of being part of some greater entity.

Focus on the task immediately at hand, at a level that is just difficult enough, but not too difficult as to cause overwhelm, takes up all the bandwidth – one cannot focus on self when all the attention is given to the task that is just right in its balance between skill level and challenge.

7) Altered sense of time, which usually seems to pass faster.

The hyperfocus on one skill transfer segment at a time, until mastery, engages the novice fully, leading to that “altered sense of time.”

8) Experience becomes autotelic: If several of the previous conditions are present, what one does becomes autotelic, or worth doing for its own sake.

And now we’ve come full circle, and we’re back to the idea of Virtuosity – “performing the common uncommonly well.”  “Virtuosity is a practice, a DELIBERATE practice, in elevating the execution of the basics of a skill set to an almost meditative, in-the-moment, Zen-like practice; in finding the joy to be found in the deliberate attending to, and execution of, the fundamentals, over and over again, and then still relishing the quest for an ever more exquisite and elegant execution of those foundational elements; in imbuing those fundamental building blocks with the qualities of beauty and profound satisfaction – to make their never-ending practice an art form in their own right.” (see “Virtuosity and RSTP”).

I have to ask, what more extraordinary experience, what greater thrill could there be, than the mastery of a desired talent, acquired through a deliberate and euphoric attention to the fundamentals, as a highly personal expression of one’s own volitional intent?? 

RSTP, Skill Acquisition and the Flow State, Part 1: What is it?

My first “Flow State” experience happened long before there was a term coined for that euphoric state where you are so immersed in an activity that time and place fade away, and your skills are stretched but equal to the given challenge.

By w:User:Oliverbeatson (w:File:Challenge vs skill.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By w:User:Oliverbeatson (w:File:Challenge vs skill.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

That first taste of that mental and emotional high happened to me in Mrs. Morris’ kindergarten classroom – surrounded by easels and huge building blocks.  I can still recall that sense of momentum, rewarding challenge and mastery over 45 years later!  We were given a self-paced reading program contained in these little booklets – just enough to be demanding but not daunting. I was up to the task – reading, comprehending, marking the answers to the questions, checking my work. One little story, one little booklet after another, soaring – dancing over words, flipping pages, working to completion, hungrily devouring another and another.  It was exhilarating!  And then it was gone.  The teacher moved on to something else and I was left longing for an experience I couldn’t fathom or name.

I wouldn’t understand the phenomenon or how it could potentially be recreated intentionally until decades later, after having read the mind-bending book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  In it he writes:

“Over and over again, as people describe how it feels when they thoroughly enjoy themselves, they mention eight distinct dimensions of experience. These same aspects are reported by Hindu yogis and Japanese teenagers who race motorcycles, by American surgeons and basketball players, by Australian sailors and Navajo shepherds, by champion figure skaters and by chess masters. These are the characteristic dimensions of the flow experience:

  1. Clear goals: an objective is distinctly defined; immediate feedback: one knows instantly how well one is doing.
  2. The opportunities for acting decisively are relatively high, and they are matched by one’s perceived ability to act. In other words, personal skills are well suited to given challenges.
  3. Action and awareness merge; one-pointedness of mind.
  4. Concentration on the task at hand; irrelevant stimuli disappear from consciousness, worries and concerns are temporarily suspended.
  5. A sense of potential control.
  6. Loss of self-consciousness, transcendence of ego boundaries, a sense of growth and of being part of some greater entity.
  7. Altered sense of time, which usually seems to pass faster.
  8. Experience becomes autotelic: If several of the previous conditions are present, what one does becomes autotelic, or worth doing for its own sake.“

The Evolving Self – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 178-179

Those are the grown-up words used to describe the experience I had had so very many years ago, in my very first classroom.  And, here I now stand, several decades later, armed with RSTP and the ability to structure skill acquisition DELIBERATELY, INTENTIONALLY in such a way as to naturally elicit that delightfully ecstatic state for myself, and hopefully very soon, for others as well. 

In Part 2, I’ll be laying out just how RSTP addresses each facet of the flow state (see “RSTP, SKILL ACQUISITION AND THE FLOW STATE, Part 2”).

Virtuosity and RSTP

Deliberate practice (see “RSTP and Deliberate Practice”) of the fundamentals needn’t be a nightmarish, tedious affair.  Plinking endlessly away at the piano keys, running tirelessly up and down through the scales and churning through the various chords is desperately uninspired when framed as the boring stuff that we must trudge through until we finally get to experience the momentary end-goal joy of playing a “real” piece of music.   What if, instead, we incorporated the concept of “virtuosity” into our practice?   A concept borrowed from gymnastics, virtuosity is defined as “performing the common uncommonly well,” in an article, Fundamentals, Virtuosity, and Master: An Open Letter to CrossFit Trainers CrossFit Journal, August 2005 by Greg Glassman http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/Virtuosity.pdf.

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal” – Earl Nightingale

It takes great care, and a deep love, to elevate the seemingly mundane.  Michael Jordan didn’t just occasionally practice free throw shots.  Martha Stewart doesn’t just slap a roast on the dinner table.  Tiger Woods doesn’t just go out and knock some balls around.

Virtuosity is a practice, a DELIBERATE practice, in elevating the execution of the basics of a skill set to an almost meditative, in-the-moment, Zen-like practice; in finding the joy to be found in the deliberate attending to, and execution of, the fundamentals, over and over again, and then still relishing the quest for an ever more exquisite and elegant execution of those foundational elements; in imbuing those fundamental building blocks with the qualities of beauty and profound satisfaction – to make their never-ending practice an art form in their own right.

Because virtuosity dictates that the practice not be a means to an eventual and short-lived end, that it be an expressive end in itself, THE PRACTICE BECOMES AN EXTRAORDINARY EXPRESSION OF WHO YOU HAVE CHOSEN TO BE, AS A PERSON – for YOU have CHOSEN to be…  not a dilettante, but, A MASTER!!!!

The Rapid Skill Transfer Protocol, by its very design, emphasizes the deep, deliberate practice of each of every one of the tiny, fundamental subskills that grants profound satisfaction of progress in the moment as well as the sense of ultimate mastery in the end.

RSTP and Deliberate Practice

Yesterday, I was reading back through the volumes of notes I’ve taken over the years that have informed the development of a Rapid Skill Transfer Protocol.  I saw that some of the ideas were discarded long ago.  Then, I came across a summary of a foundational piece of my thinking back in those early, formative days.  I rediscovered an article by Cal Newport, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, The Grandmaster in the Corner Office:  What the Study of Chess Experts Teaches Us about Building a Remarkable Life.  In it, he summarizes the work of Geoffrey Colvin’s book, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (see “Resources” page).  Colvin’s book greatly influenced the direction I would ultimately take with RSTP.   

Since the notes were from way back in July of 2012, I got to wondering how my thinking had evolved over the last 4 years, if RSTP had grown enough to address the Deliberate Practice requirements laid out in the summary of Colvin’s work.  Deliberate Practice is a key component in HOW you acquire a skill set, HOW you get good at something.  Here’s my take on how RSTP address each of these points (the numbered points are those of Newport’s, the comments in blue are mine).

1. It’s designed to improve performance. “The essence of deliberate practice is continually stretching an individual just beyond his or her current abilities. That may sound obvious, but most of us don’t do it in the activities we think of as practice.”

Each RSTP skill transfer sequence is built from small, bite-sized, incremental steps, arranged methodically in a logical progression that stretch the individual’s ability just beyond their current abilities, every step of the way until an entire skill sequence is mastered.

2. It’s repeated a lot. “High repetition is the most important difference between deliberate practice of a task and performing the task for real, when it counts.”

Targeted repetition is built into the very fabric of the RSTP.  The fundamental approach to the RSTP is to isolate each lesson, based on a single-verb action (eg depress, lift, glide, etc), then repeat that action, in a very precise manner, a sufficient number of times to drive it through an individual’s attention capacity bottleneck into their unconscious competence (see “Consciousness Spectrum” ).  Those individual sub-skills are then methodically aggregated and practiced, step-by-step, until the entire skill set is built into their unconscious competence.

3. Feedback on results is continuously available. “You may think that your rehearsal of a job interview was flawless, but your opinion isn’t what counts.”

The RSTP contains a feedback loop – each building block of the skill set must be mastered, to a very precise outcome.  The student must then pass a test for unconscious competence before they can move on to subsequent building blocks.  The RSTP emphasizes virtuosity, a concept borrowed from gymnastics and is defined as “performing the common uncommonly well,” in an article, Fundamentals, Virtuosity, and Master: An Open Letter to CrossFit Trainers CrossFit Journal, August 2005 by Greg Glassman  (see “Virtuosity and RSTP”).  With RSTP, it’s not even possible progress to the “fancy moves” of a skill set, you can’t even advance to the next basic moves, until you’re performing the common, the fundamentals of the fundamentals, of that skill set so uncommonly well as to have them deeply embedded into your unconscious competence, until they’re hardwired into your nervous system.

4. It’s highly demanding mentally. “Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it ‘deliberate,’ as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.”

In traditional skill-transference approaches (see “The Problems with Traditional Skill Transference”), multiple skill segments are often glommed together into one practice lesson, overwhelming and discouraging the student.  RSTP, on the other hand, is deliberate in that it forces the student to focus solely on one micro-skill at a time, in isolation of all others, until it’s mastered.  Because each lesson is comprised of just a single, bite-sized piece of skill transfer, the student gets the sense that it’s demanding (as is learning anything new!!), but not overwhelmingly so, making success a high probability!

As an aside, the really cool thing is that, because of the way RSTP builds the lessons, it places the practice smack dab in the Goldilock’s Zone for eliciting a Flow State in the student – not too easy, not too difficult, but juuuussst right – it navigates the fine balance between the degree of challenge for the student and the level of their capability – and it’s built right into RSTP (lol, in truth, this was just a happy accident!!) (see “RSTP and the Flow State”)

Challenge_vs_skill.svg

By w:User:Oliverbeatson (w:File:Challenge vs skill.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

5. It’s hard. “Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands.”

Deliberate practice actually demands that we do things that are hard, uncomfortable, lying distinctly somewhere outside of our comfort zone.  RSTP makes sure the practice is hard, but just the right amount of hard – the kind that forces the student to focus – again, falling into conditions ideal for eliciting a Flow State, but not so much so as to land them in the worry or anxiety territory. 

6. It requires (good) goals. “The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.”

Setting good goals is embedded into the RSTP process!!!  Each subskill has a goal of its own, but the emphasis is on the practice – which also lends to that Flow State – you have a very precise goal you’re shooting for with each lesson, getting feedback towards that goal, and you’re very concentrated on the process as you’re working towards that goal.

So, what’s the conclusion?  Does the RSTP incorporate the basic tenants of deliberate practice?  As far as I can see, DELIBERATE PRACTICE IS BAKED IN TO THE GOODS!!!  RSTP NAILS IT!  Happy, happy assessment!!

My Kiteboarding Ah-Ha Moment

I had paid the big bucks, something like $600, for the 3 day long weekend of instruction, from one of the best kiteboarding schools, taught by a great group of guys, in one of the best places to learn, in the country.

Kite

We started off learning the basics of kiteboarding in the classroom in town – the equipment, some terminology, safety concerns, and key concepts like the “wind window.”  Oh, “And, please don’t forget to sign your release from liability waiver before we head out to the van.” 🙂

We drove out to Grand Traverse Bay situated to the north of Traverse City, Michigan.  The water is beautiful – clear and blue.  There is no current to contend with.  Along the eastern shore there’s an enormously long and wide sandy shallows.  And, the wind blows fairly consistently and constantly. All perfect conditions for the kiteboarding newb!

On the white, sandy beach we learned how to set up our equipment, and each got some time flying a trainer kite.  We put on our harnesses and ventured out into the water to practice flying a larger kite.  We pushed the board under the water and tucked our feet into the bindings while simultaneously maneuvering the kite.

My moment-of-terror came when I realized that it was time to do the unimaginable.  I was now expected to execute way-too-many complicated steps simultaneously and sequentially, in a very precise order, while also adjusting for conditions of wind and water,  none of which I had down, individually, with any level of competence, all while attempting a dangerous maneuver.

My mind couldn’t conceive, and my body had no muscle memory for it, but I was supposed to, in less-than-an-instant:

  • Float upright in the water, facing and maintaining a direction in the water in relationship to the kite in relationship to the hard-to-ascertain and ever-shifting wind window
  • Feel and fly the kite, some 75’ above my head while floating, in the correct direction, within the wind window (fly, float, wind window – yup, got it!!)
  • Time the start of my power stroke, to pull myself out of the water
  • Know how to and execute a precise power stroke within the wind window (between two certain points – no less, no more, or else…)
  • Keep various parts of my body in a particular position in the water, which I then had to uncurl and stand upright while simultaneously controlling the kite to adjust for the wind, and hit two different points than on the power stroke
  • Then I needed to know what to do upon emerging from the drag of my water my body in the water
  • Then I had to fly the kite for the conditions that then existed after exiting the water
  • And if I made it that far, I was then expected control the angle of board against the water in order to move through the water

What I did do was come back too far from my initial power stroke, launch myself 10 feet into the air in the opposite direction of the one I had intended to go, and did a superman pose as I hit the water.  I drug myself out of the water to see the horrified looks on the faces of my husband, 17 year old daughter, and just about every instructor and student in the class.

And my “Ah-Ha” moment??  That came when I realized what a perfect example all of this was for how poorly instruction and skill transfer is and has been done, how the practice of skill transfer hasn’t evolved in any significant way, from an art to a science, and how even those who are at the top of their game, are doing it so poorly, because of the lack of a precise, methodical approach to skill transfer.

I realized that there was absolutely no way for us students to have successfully learned how to kiteboard, through no fault of the student or instructors.  It was here that the early seeds of RSTP really began to grow in my mind (see “Rapid Skill Transfer Protocol™ (RSTP™) and Skillsopedia™ – The Quest Begins”).  Later I would uncover “The Problems with Traditional Skill Transference.”  All I knew at the time was….

  • The students and instructors were trying to accomplish far too much in too short a period of time.
  • There was not enough time to learn any single piece to the point of unconscious competence, much less successfully methodically aggregate the pieces to the point of unconscious competence at each aggregation point along the way – in order to aggregate the entire skill sequence into the student’s unconscious competence.
  • Multiple skill segments were expected to be executed in a complex pattern of simultaneous, sequential and complex movements – asking for the impossible!!

And now I know, RSTP is the solution for methodically laying down skill sets so that they can be reliably reproduced and acquired by the novice.

And the day I know I’ve proved that is the day that I find myself skimming across the shimmering waters, doing something most would consider to be very dangerous, but that has been taught in such a precise way as to eliminate most of the risks involved – for me kiteboarding is the ultimate validation test for RSTP (see “Kiteboarding as the Ultimate RSTP Validation Test”)