When I was a child, I went to piano lessons after school. Piano lessons were going on in several rooms throughout the house, and around 15 kids would sit in the main room doing theory while they waited for their turn.
The teacher was a chain-smoking elderly guy who compulsively bit his nails. He always looked like he was 100 years old. But he was awesome! I remember many times leaving frustrated but just sometimes when things went well. I left with a profound sense of achievement. I had played well today.
But I didn’t have the patience back then to move towards mastery.
I quit the piano lessons as I grew. Just didn’t like the way the teacher spat the nail bites on my notebook. And besides practicing was such a burden back then. The songs we needed to learn were unimaginably boring for a young dude like I was. My interests were elsewhere.
In my twenties, I finally bought a guitar and started practicing alone. I enjoy music albeit I mostly do it inside my comfort zone.
Just a few weeks ago the circle finally closed for me. What the nail-biting pianist had tried to teach me came haunting back in the form of polyrhythms.
I found myself trying to figure out this new pattern where the left-hand plays a group of three notes while the right-hand picks four others. Thankfully we have the Youtube. This is what I mean:
Of course, the barrier for a long time was to get the left hand to do something that was out of sync with the right one. My brain just could not make the connection.
Day by day I fought the frustration. This time around I didn’t want to lose that patience!
The trick was to start playing slowly, a few bars every time I passed the guitar standing in the middle of the livingroom. Then, all of a sudden, something just clicked. My fingers knew what to do. The rhythm was there like it had always been in its place.
But why am I telling you this story?
The idea of the fingers just playing without having to think about it crosses into every single walk of life. And it’s not about learning new things like golf or juggling either. It’s also about unlearning things like cigarette smoking.
The brain needs to make that new connection, and the only way is through the frustration. By deploying massive amounts of patience. Conditioning is the key.
The top-level athletes talk about performing at their best without even thinking about it.
Michael Phelps won a race in the Beijing Olympics with his swimming goggles full of water. That’s what I call mastery without thinking about it.
I do a few software testing courses a month, and I’ve met with over 200 people in this setting over the year. What I find curious is that there is always that one dude in a year who writes a feedback as follows.
“This was a waste of my time. I could have come up with the same information by myself in only 30 minutes or so.” I never voice the counter-question, but it lingers in my mind. “So why haven’t you already?”
The circle will close on you eventually. And those breakthroughs always boil down to conditioning and patience. Training never stops.
- To stop smoking is not a decision you make once. It’s something to condition daily until the brain makes that new connection. And then it becomes a habit without thinking.
- To learn those polyrhythms is not a thing you once learned. It’s something to condition daily until the brain makes that new connection. And then it becomes a habit without thinking.
Mastery is not an achievement. It’s something to condition daily until the brain makes that new connection. And then it becomes a habit without thinking.
So shall we start today?