Practice what you don’t know not what you do know!

IT WAS ONE OF those “ahuh!” moments when all of a sudden the world becomes crystal clear. It just seemed the revelation made so much sense. So much so, I was reluctant to admit I didn’t already know it. Maybe I did. Either I  had forgotten, or it hadn’t registered.

The epiphany was in fact why I hadn’t been making  progress with learning the guitar. But suddenly more than that .Why in some areas of my life I hadn’t made the progress I wanted and believed I was capable of making.

I had taken learning the guitar, to realise a long term goal. A 40 year goal. They don’t get much longer term than that. When I started in my teens it was less for the music, and more about a short cut to fame and chicks. I had appointed a teacher, a recently arrived young guitarist from London, and embarked on taking lessons in his Housing Commission flat.

But before the month was out I had given up, due to distractions from one of my motivations ( I was getting chicks without the ”gee-tar’) . It didn’t prove too disappointing for the newly arrived guitar teacher, as  he went on to write the AFL’s anthem of Up There Cazaly.

Never forgetting I had a date with destiny to faultlessly play House of the Rising Sun, I embarked in 2009, with a newly appointed teacher. I had bought a $150 Yamaha not wanting to shell out too much in case the time line was to blow out another 20 years. After a good 12 months, I began to plateau and feel I wasn’t going anywhere. In fact I reckon I was on a slow escalator backwards.

Despite dutifully and consistently practicing for 20 minutes four times a week. ( not bad for me, although Eric Clapton had no worries from me at that pace!)

I would start of with the scales, some finger exercises, then chord changes, and the last few minutes on what Ross the new guitar teacher showed me last lesson. The problem was that pretty soon the 20 minutes was ‘chockers ‘ with stuff I had previous learned and I found I it was harder and harder to get to the new materiel.

It wasn’t long before my progress was grounding to a slow halt and my frustration was rising in invert proportion.

Then I read it. What was so bleeding obvious, yet blocked by my scotoma.

I read on a guitar teaching blog ( Justinguitar) under Tips for Practice. Practice what you don’t know, not what you do know.

I had of course anchored myself in my comfort zone, and yet felt I was putting in the effort .In truth just spinning my wheels. Not knowing that I was not launching myself into the unknown of learning but going over and over again the simple areas I had mastered. I had created my own Groundhog day.

The guitar in effect was small cheese, in comparison to how unknowingly in the many other areas of my life I had been  practicing what I knew over and over again.I wasn’t leaving the site of the shore.

Author, Geoff Colvin, in his excellent book Talent is Overrated, identifies this  common failure as what really separates world class performance from everybody else.

He maintains that people achieve a standard of  fine but never go past that to be great.

He proposes that success and leadership is a result of nurture not nature. The bitter sweet is that nobody has been born with special talent, not even the likes of Mozart, but that success is the result of hard work and practice. Not just any practice. But Deliberate Practice which targets not what is learned but  focuses on areas which is yet to be mastered.

He identifies our behavior in three  circles- the inner circle as our comfort zone, the middle one as our learning zone and the outer as our panic zone. We should move into the middle but not into the outer, where we are likely to set  ourselves up for failure. Particularly  if it is too much of a stretch.

To him practice should not be fun, and when it is we are not truly progressing.

He also underpins the importance of a mentor or coach to help offset our own scotoma to see the areas which we need to work on.

So if we are wanting more from ourselves or our team we should wrench ourselves out of our comfort area and begin practicing what we don’t know.

Now where is that guitar?

By Keith Millar

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