Mastery - Day 9 - PATIENCE

Sometimes I find the easiest way to understand something, we should consider the polar opposite.


As a society we see and feel the consequences of impatience every day, either directly in our own lives and if not then almost certainly when we look through the TV schedules and see how many programmes there are dedicated to what happens every minute on our roads.  I lost a friend in my early twenties, killed outright in head on collision.  My own life was undoubtedly saved one lunch time when I worked in London, I was about to step into the road when I was yanked fiercely back on to the pavement, I could almost feel the wing mirror of the bus brush my face as it whizzed by.

Impatience leads to frustration, often anger, and almost certainly very poor decision-making.  When I was a kid it led to me doing a fine job of building model cars and planes, until I came to about 80% completion - then I would start to rush, all my hard work undone at the end… 

That’s not to say a degree of impatience is not good at times, it can be a great driver of exceptional performance, but only when used for short periods of time and in the right circumstances.  Your impatience won't make a queue any shorter, or paint dry any quicker, financial year end will come no sooner and the post arrives, well, when it arrives…

Of course we are talking here about patience in relation to the attainment of mastery of whatever it is you are doing, so this is patience in the context of learning.

There is a cycle to learning:

  • Unconscious Incompetence: We have no idea that we don’t really know what we're doing, until someone tells us, or we find the output is not what we hoped for, this shifts us to the next stage of the cycle.
  • Conscious Incompetence: We are given a task or set our self a challenge and are quite aware that we don't know what we are doing, so we start to learn.
  • Conscious Competence: Having commenced learning, we build skills and gradually become competent at what we are doing but we have to think about what we are doing
  • Unconscious Competence: We are skilled at what we do, so skilled in fact that we no longer have to think about what we are doing - some of us are naturally skilled at certain things, we can do it, sometimes we don't even 'know' how or why we have the ability.

There is a journey to learning, to attaining mastery, it takes time to become competent, and longer to be so proficient that we can be unconscious in our competence - we had to learn how to walk and how to run, and most human beings on earth, providing they have the requisite body parts, walk quite competently without thinking about it.

To attain mastery, to keep learning and perfecting  we need to constantly shift ourselves back to the state of conscious competency - that means we maintain our awareness of what we are doing in the moment, and afterwards we review our progress, we take learning from our experience:
  • That went well - I will do more of that!
  • That wasn't so good - why was that?
  • What can I do differently - how do I calibrate and produce a better result?
The very best sports people go out and perform, they act in the moment allowing their unconscious competence to act.  After the event, they talk to their coaches and watch themselves on video - doing more of what went well and observing what was not so good, they calibrate, practice, let the adjustment become once more natural, so they can perform unconsciously in the moment, the brain has full control of the action.

It is not possible for a baseball batter to consciously calculate where the ball will arrive and how it will be struck, there is simply insufficient time for a conscious decision to be made, it is the same for tennis players when receiving serve. This level of unconscious competence exhibited on the field of play comes from hours and hours of practice and re-examination.

Getting great at anything takes time, and staying great at anything requires us to return to our state of conscious competence, so that we can learn and adjust.

Be patient with yourself on your journey of learning, be compassionate when you fail and learn from the experience, that is the only route to mastery, and it takes time.

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