Column - Strive for perfection through making many mistakes
Published: Friday, August 17, 2012
Updated: Friday, August 17, 2012 02:08
Wouldn’t it be easy if we could be perfect? If I could only plan my time better or shoot the perfect 3-point shot or understand the assigned reading from my psychology class, life would be so much easier.
But does such an easy life exist? I’ve watched the savants of my grade ease in and out of class without breaking a sweat, yet remain Best in Show. How do we enter the kingdom of talented students who quickly understand and perform at the highest level while so many students remain in the servitude of their work?
After reading Daniel Coyle’s "The Talent Code" this summer, my perspective on genius and how talent is developed and trained in this multi-genre era has been morphed from callous caterpillar to bright butterfly.
Professors, teachers, parents and bosses collectively agree that learning a new skill, doing homework and practicing takes time. But in this day and age, who has the time to sit down and apply endless hours to perfect work and practicing?
You don’t have to waste gratuitous amounts of time in order to become accomplished. In fact, all one must do is understand and apply what Coyle calls "deep practicing" to those activities one wishes to better.
Neurologically, during deep practice or any other human activity, thought or feeling, "precisely timed electrical signals travel through a chain of neurons – a circuit of nerve fibers. Myelin is the insulation that wraps these fibers and increases signal strength, speed and accuracy. The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit, and the stronger, faster and more fluent our movements and thoughts become," according to Coyle.
Thus, according to science, in order to better a skill, we need to work with perfection.
Wrong. According to Dr. Douglas Field, director of the Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., "The way to build a good circuit is to fire, attend to mistakes, then fire it again, over and over. Struggle is not an option; it is a biological requirement."
While traveling to talent hot beds around the world, such as the practice field of the Brazil’s national soccer team and Meadowmount School of Music, Coyle found amazing similarities on how youth to adult participants honed their employed skill. The following step-by-step process was observed by Coyle in all of his subjects’ activities:
1.Absorb the whole thing. Do not stop any activity, whether you areplaying baseball or solving complex equations. Follow through.
2. Imitate what the best players do. By listening and watching the champions of your activity, you internally begin to understand and apply to your subject what you want without thinking about it.
3. Break your work into smaller pieces, and slow down the work.
4. Repeat this process over and over again, thus allowing yourself time to comprehend and gain fluidity in your pursuits. Very quickly will you be able to speed up the process, although slow practice and work guarantees universal success.
This process has been applied to the five genres of living: education, business, health and psychology, aging and music.
But you don’t have to take Daniel Coyle’s word for it. I applied these instructions to several of my summer activities, including practicing piano. I have been studying for two years and I have made little progress in technique and playing ability. When starting Beethoven’s "Moonlight Sonata," the most challenging piece I have ever played, I began by sight reading the piece with the alacrity of a sloth and followed through and accepted the wrong notes, rhythms and other technical practices.
From there I broke down the piece into sections and worked slowly with a meticulous eye to detail. I would begin each practice session by reading the entire piece and then critiquing each section. Slowly, and with repetition, I would begin to hear my choppy playing gain fluidity. In three weeks, I was playing his "Moonlight Sonata" up to tempo with perfect finger placement and musicality. Did I mention this was the fastest I had ever learned a piece, or that I only practiced this piece an hour a day?
And if I can successfully perform and reach my goal, why can’t you? Daniel Coyle’s "The Talent Code" can be applied to everyday life. His examples range from how South Korean women took over women’s golf, how to better yourself at chess and how to gain 18 pounds of muscle in two weeks.
In terms of school, we begin each semester with a clean slate. Thus, this year can be our opportunity to break the bad habits of speed-reading or quickly doing our homework the hour before it is due. We will never learn or practice good study habits if we overload ourselves with too many classes or activities and we ultimately let ourselves down – not our parents or professors.
From the athletes to the musicians to the chess champions, everyone is a pupil to the teacher of time. It is no wonder those who are really "talented" at something are also focused on a single goal and, according to a German proverb, "become clever through mistakes."