Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Art of Practice

I am currently reading a book on running by Danny Dreyer called ChiRunning.  I have only just started this book, but have already come away with at least one great point that applies across the board of skill acquisition:

"Making an activity a practice is a process of self-mastery... One reason to practice a skill is to make that skill easier until it doesn't take effort."

This sums up why we practice better than anything I've ever read.  I truthfully could end this post here and I feel it would be sufficient, however I'll expound.

Whenever we begin to learn a skill, be it a new language, instrument or physical activity it is a difficult task.  There are many new things going on that we have to process and think about getting right that sometimes the  ultimate goal seems incomprehensible.  However, as we continue to work on the skill (a.k.a. practice) the smaller building blocks that we stumbled over before become simpler and simpler to the point that we eventually don't think about them at all.  Naturally, there are always more blocks to come on top of the ones we already laid out, however as the process continues in the same way with new, challenging concepts gradually becoming easier and eventually becoming second nature.  This is the beauty of skill acquisition!

The end result of this process is something we all know when we see it, a sense of ease that a master has when performing his/her skill.  This is what we should all strive for no matter what skill we are learning.  Below I will post a couple clips of the end result in various skill areas.

The most obvious master in the modern age of operatic singing, Luciano Pavarotti.  For that matter, also a master conductor, Herbert von Karajan.

One of the best running backs of all time, Barry Sanders.

One of the best short distance runners around, Usain Bolt.

One example of many masters of language, Richard Simcott.

A brief update on my own journey:  French is progressing along steadily.  I plan to finish up my French studies during the first week of the new year and then I will move on to German!  Vocally things are really starting to solidify for me.  I have recently found my high A and am gaining a lot of stability with it, the next step here is to hone in on the B-flat!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Barefooting It!

Recently I had grown tired of constantly having shin splints while running.  Upon inquiring about this on facebook I was referenced to the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.  After reading the book I was convinced to try barefoot running and see if this could cure what ails me.  I proceed from that book to Jason Robillard's Barefoot Running Handbook which I found in e-book form through the Runner's World Barefoot forum.  Now I am currently reading Barefoot Running Step by Step by Ken Bob Saxton.  As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have the tendency to go nuts when I find a new thing to be interested in.  After a few weeks of trying out various things and reading and trying to internalize what I have read I finally was able to go out on the track today and run 200 m. without experiencing any shin pain.  My only casualty was a small blister on my left foot, which leaves me with more technique things to work out, namely lifting my foot instead of pushing off.  I always appreciate acquiring new skills.

I have noticed that sill acquisition is a kind of crosstraining for the brain.  It seems to me that the more skills we attempt to acquire the better we are at acquiring skills.  My first real experience in conscious skill acquisition was a long time ago when I first set out to learn to play the saxophone.  As time went on I learned skills such as basketball, billiards, darts - mostly physical skills.  I noticed however that a large uptake to my acquisition speed was when I began to learn languages.  It seems that there is something about developing a process of learning on my own that has enabled me to know how to approach other skills now.  There is a saying that the more languages you learn, the easier it is to learn more languages.  I always thought that this was due to common structures, vocabulary and such; however, I am beginning to think that while those things are helpful, the real key is that you know what your process needs to be.

Being a research minded individual I found as many different methods of language acquisition as possible during my initial 10-month cycle.  By going through in a sort of trial and error fashion I learned what worked well for me and what didn't.  Now, I have developed a method for myself that has enabled me from being at an A2 level in French to a solid B2 if not a lower C1 level in a matter of four months!  Applying that to other areas, when I decided to give barefooting a go, I found a couple of highly recommended books and studied them thoroughly then fused a method out of the books to make it my own and now I am looking down the barrel at actually being a runner like my parents were.  I didn't really know where this blog post was going to go, but I feel like the moral here that I want everyone to take away is this:  Develop your own method!  I believe that there is much we can learn from others, however at the end of the day we have to make our skills our own.  This is what separates us as artists and as human beings - our sense of self.