Posts Tagged ‘practice’

Slipping Through, Working Through

August 12th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Last week, it was noted that retrieval of memories is not a neutral process – it’s not a case that we remember something and then file this untouched memory away again.  The present influences our recall of the past, revising pre-existing memories or creating false memories.  The retrieval process is active, not passive.

Now, you would expect that vision is a neutral process; after all, our eyes do the seeing and the brain supplies the meaning.  But the more we understand visual perception, the more the balance shifts towards the brain.  The eyes let the light in and the brain does the rest – it’s more about perception and (as we’ll soon see) perceptions than sensation.  Vision is an active process, not passive.

In biological terms, this is similar to the difference between diffusion and facilitated osmosis, between slipping through and ‘working’ your way through, between effortless and effortful (ignoring the detail, regular osmosis can be passive).  Diffusion and the two types of osmosis are explained in this short video, perhaps more fascinating than entertaining:

The specific trigger for this post was some recent research that indicated that exposure to gossip affected vision as well as judgement.  As noted, vision transcends sensation and perception is, in one sense, just a subset of perceptions (which can be cognitive as well as sensory).  Images with negative information were given preference (by the brain) if this information (gossip) was socially relevant, that is, it allowed users to pass judgement.  Negative but socially irrelevant information (e.g. broke their leg) did not attract preferential treatment.  Can you imagine why we subconsciously direct our visual attention more to those associated with socially negative information?

But there’s a broader issue at play here, with implications for experiential learning and behavioural change.  Perhaps novices operate more as diffusers, ‘allowing’ information in and out with little effort or control and unable to operate strategically.  Gaining experience can be seen as a way to shift from passive to active, to move from externally controlled (or pushed around) to internally controlling (or effectively self managing).

Diffuse or osmotic applies at the cellular level and can be used as ways to describe (in a non-technical sense) vision and memory processing.  In the labyrinthine ‘world’ of experiential learning and behavioural change, can you connect these concepts, and the shift from one to the other, to effortful practice and self management?  Is it ever possible to simply slip through to success or do you always have to work your way through the challenges?

Message More Than Medium

August 3rd, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Almost 50 years ago, Marshall McLuhan introduced the saying ‘The medium is the message’, which noted that the method of message transmission influences how the message is perceived.  This contention has many implications for experiential learning and behavioural change but these are not the focus of this post.  Can you imagine what some of these implications are?

So, when ‘tis nobler writes ‘message more than medium, what exactly does this mean?  What changes if ‘message’ in the title is a verb rather than a noun?  What changes if ‘medium’ in the title is an adjective rather than a noun?  Making sense of the world around you is never as direct or straightforward as your initial interpretations suggest.

The starting point for this cryptic title is in some recent (business-related) research that investigated the effect of information flow on project completion.  In summary, the research indicated that managers who were deliberately redundant in their instructions – building (necessary) repetition into the communication process – were more successful in getting projects completed.  Deliberate redundancy was considered more important than clarity of message.

Imagine how the expertise bias affects the frequency and clarity of communication.  Think of the problems that the basic proposition of this bias creates for learning and behavioural change:

I’ll explain your behaviour on the basis of who you are simply because what you do is, for me, so easy that your performance can’t hold the explanation.

Creating redundancy requires repetition, even if you think repetition is no longer necessary (which most people believe well before that moment arrives).  Repetition is never exact and all of the little variations add more value and understanding.  This is the point made by Nelly and Tim McGraw:

Cause it’s all in my head

I think about it over and over again

Whether the communication source is external or internal, the challenge is to get the message into your head and then keep it there so that you can think about it over and over again.  Of course, redundancy transcends communication; it applies more generally to learning and behavioural change.  Redundancy as, for example, practice of perfect, is one way to make both yourself and your behaviour more robust.

One person’s repetition is (eventually) another person’s redundancy, even when they are the same person!  If you are sending messages to others or to yourself, message (verb) more than medium (adjective).  Messaging and practising more isn’t a redundant strategy – it’s an effective strategy to achieve redundancy.

Right Or Wrong?

June 13th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Last week was simple and easy; actually, it was about simple (that’s hardly simple) and easy (when it becomes harder).  This week is about right or wrong.

There is a moral dimension to many of the decisions you make during experiential learning and behavioural change.  Decisions are made on the basis that they are good rather than bad, right rather than wrong, appropriate rather than inappropriate or fair rather than unfair.  However, it is never as clear-cut as these dichotomies suggest for most of these decisions occupy the grey, fuzzy space between these poles (and, to mangle a metaphor, this is fitting for they are often taken in the heat of the moment).  Moral is more tropical than polar!  ‘tis nobler could also suggest that this can also make them unbearable but that would be a step too far.

The traditional view is that we follow a systematic, methodical process in making these decisions, weighing the costs and benefits and identifying the best thing to do.  There is a range of judgments and decisions in the short film ‘Insomnio’ and it gives you the impression these are (silently) assessed over a period of time until a final decision is made:

But it’s generally not a systematic process.  The evidence indicates that the process we use to reach a ‘moral’ decision is as messy and ill-defined as the content of the question over which we are musing.  ‘How am I doing it?’ is just as difficult to answer as ‘What should I be doing?’  It’s fast rather than measured and it’s frugal rather than rich in its use of available information.

And, as you would expect, the process is not immune from external influences.  A dirtier, immediate environment can see you making ‘dirtier’ decisions while cleaner surroundings can see you making ‘cleaner’ decisions.  The process can be affected by mood and situations – holding a cup of coffee in your hands can see you making ‘warmer’ judgments of others – and there is also a ‘ripple’ effect in which a motivating experience leads to ‘better’ behaviour in the short term.  You have been ‘primed’ to act more morally.

When you consider this ‘moral decision maelstrom’, you appreciate how challenging it is to be consistent in the frequent decisions that you must make within your own ‘world’.  We rarely, and fortunately, need to confront big decisions; rather, it is the endless, little decisions that can chip away at our commitment and erode our self-management.

And this is further complicated by our lack of self awareness, of the things going on in our own head.  ‘Should I have a third chocolate biscuit?’  ‘Would it be OK for me to miss a practice session today?’  These are small questions in isolation – perhaps a messy, inconsistent approach to resolving them doesn’t matter.  But you don’t live your life as a series of discrete and independent events – your life is an aggregation of these events.

There’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer to any specific decision you must make but there is a better or worse pattern that emerges from the sequence of decisions you make.  This is the essence of robust and resilient self-management, indulging in occasional, minor lapses as the exceptions that prove the rule of a more positive and sustainable behavioural pattern.

How Slippery?

June 3rd, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Split Enz sang that they had ‘just spent six months in a leaky boat, looking just to keep afloat’.  Many people spend a lot of time pursuing goals; this pursuit also ‘leaks’ and you have to keep looking (at what you’re doing) to stay on track.

Deviations from the pursuit may last seconds, minutes, days or forever.  You may get back on track very quickly, you might have to work your way back after a significant departure or you might elect to follow another path (something which can be healthy and positive.  It may be that you spend little time on track during the pursuit for you slither and slide from one side to the other in an erratic fashion – too far off to one side, overshoot the track when trying to get back and go off to the other side and so this cycle continues.  If you are trying to control your behaviour through ‘mind control’ alone, things will probably only get worse!

It is reasonable to expect that minor or transient behavioural deviations will occur as nobody is perfect.  The worrying aspect of these little ‘blips’ is that they can turn into bigger ‘BLIPS’, aggravating further, larger deviations rather than initiating a ‘return to normal’.  As April Lavigne sings, “All my life I’ve been good, but now I’m thinking – What the hell”.  If you substitute ‘diet’, ‘exercise’, ‘practice’ or ‘study’ for ‘life’,  you can find yourself confronting the ‘what the hell’ effect:

However, it is equally possible for these little ‘blips’ to trigger compensatory behaviour and a renewed focus on goal attainment.  The evidence for ‘little blip’ effects is contradictory, with empirical support available for both (diametrically opposed) outcomes.  This is understandable when you consider the range of situations, activities, motives and personalities that interact to produce either outcome at different times.

Sometimes, it really is ‘What the hell, why not?’; at other times, it can be ‘What the hell am I doing?’  It is essential to remember that reliable does not mean robotic.  There will be diversions and deviations along the way, for no journey is entirely smooth and straight but this never means that the journey has come to an end.  Self management involves enjoying the highs and coping with the hiccups in order to continue the journey in the right direction.

Experiential learning and behavioural change can be a slippery slope at times; sliding back seems easier than holding your ground.  It’s your journey – you set the direction, you define the next destination and, at all times, you determine how slippery the slope actually is.

‘Dressed’ For Success

May 25th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

In experiential learning and behavioural change, how do you ‘dress’ for success?  The first clue ‘tis nobler can provide is that the answer to this question has nothing to do with clothes.

The second clue can be found in these Sinead O’Connor lyrics (and the title of the song):

Everyone can see what’s going on

They laugh because they know they’re untouchable

Not because what I said was wrong

Whatever it might bring

I will live with my own policies

I will sleep with a clear conscience

I will sleep in peace

The third clue can be found in some recent research that demonstrates a link between perception and perceptions or how, rightly or wrongly, assessments of ability are affected by appearance.  In assessments of identical (and thus ‘mimed’) performances, musicians who were dressed less appropriately were judged more harshly than their more appropriately attired counterparts – there was a link between apparel and perceived ability.

The fourth clue relates to the catchcry for this site.  It is ‘Effort is essential’ rather than ‘Apparel activates ability’.

In many experiential learning and behavioural change contexts, appearance appears to take precedence over substance.  It is as though looking the part is more important than playing the part, perhaps because playing the part takes more sustained effort than the purchase of the costume.  Appearances can be bought but substance must be earned.

And, if you combine these clues, you realise that you can never ‘dress’ for success; you can, however. ‘dress’ to pretend you’re successful.  Isn’t it better to be tired after effortful practice than be attired as a means of avoiding the effort?


Never Natural

May 16th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Let’s start with a brief quote (you can read the full report here):

The commonly held but empirically unsupported notion that some uniquely ‘‘talented’’ individuals can attain superior performance in a given domain without much practice appears to be a destructive myth that could discourage people from investing the necessary efforts to reach expert levels of performance.

It is true that, for certain pursuits, fundamental physical characteristics such as body size and height can overpower the effects of sustained and effortful practice.  But there are always exceptions – just ask Spud Webb or Mugsy Bogues.  Apart from size and height, a review of the evidence indicates that necessary physical adaptations can be achieved through appropriate practice.  For most things, size is not a reason for the sighs that accompany discouragement and despondency!

Does this suggest that the only limiting factor in your experiential learning is the effort you are able to invest and sustain?

Believing that others are ‘better’ because they are ‘naturals’ usually undersells their efforts and certainly sells yourself short.  Natural ability may be a convenient excuse but it is never a constraint.  This is not to suggest that the learning ‘playing field’ is level for all, far from it in fact.  Opportunities, resources and support can be very unevenly distributed but these things, in the same way as ‘natural ability’, don’t determine your learning outcomes.  If you apply yourself, you might find the formula for success:

In your learning journey, you don’t transcribe the formulae for they are implicit in the understanding you develop through experience and reflected in the internal models, patterns and representations you use to perform effectively and efficiently.  These critically important elements do NOT come naturally!

It might be natural to assume that not being a ‘natural’ is an insurmountable obstacle.  But it isn’t an obstacle, it is an illusion.  It is an illusion that can be shattered by effort.

It’s never natural; it’s always effortful.

What Am I Saying?

May 11th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

It is important to think of experiential learning and behavioural change as bottomless – you can never delve too deeply for learning is lifelong and change constantly presents new challenges.  Take a concept like self control that can be ‘dismissed’ superficially and semantically.  After all, it is just controlling yourself!  ‘tis nobler has unpacked self-control in various posts:

“There is an inverse relationship between self control and procrastination – the more you exert self control, the less of a procrastinator you’ll be.  It can also be possible to ‘import’ self control from other aspects of your life and apply it to your learning journey; if it exists somewhere, you can use it here”.

And then ‘tis nobler wrote, “There is evidence that indicates that high discount rates – the ‘now, now, now’ phenomenon – are associated with reduced self control.  Immediate gratification is seen as much more valuable than something more valuable for which you must wait”.  It might help maintain self control by recognising that “Perhaps this evidence indicates that it can also be good to go the other way, exaggerating the cost of temptations in order to maintain self control and (longer term) goal adherence”.

And it is possible to learn self control – “And the point of this post is that there is evidence to indicate that there is a practice effect for self-control.  Implementing self control behaviours, rather than just coping through willpower or suppressing the ‘objects of your desires’, does lead to more effective self control”.

And now we turn to some research that emphasises the role of your inner voice.  Telling yourself what or what not to do is a popular cultural theme and it seems that it can be successful.  The evidence is indirect; suppressing your inner voice by requiring other verbal tasks while completing a primary task in which impulse control is important leads to more impulsive behaviour than when the secondary task is non-verbal.  Your inner voice is lost in the din, and impulsiveness  increases.

Think of the (inner) verbal interference you may experience during experiential learning and behavioural change – I’m not sure I can do this, just a little (lapse) won’t hurt, how is this going to turn out? – and it is little wonder that your inner voice struggles to keep you heading in the right direction for it is drowned out by doubts and short-term decisions.

But your inner voice usually does know the real answers and, like your oldest friend, just trust the voice within:

In self control, it helps to silence the noise in your head so that you can hear what your inner voice is saying.  This is easier said than done but, as noted above, there is a practice effect in self control; try repeating this mantra:

What am I saying?  What am I saying?  What am I saying?  What am I saying?

Outside The Chunks

May 6th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Moving from novice to experienced status involves moving from bits to chunks, from pieces to patterns.  It’s incorrect to think that you just get faster at handling the bits and pieces for it is the ways in which you compile larger, more sophisticated patterns from all of the bits that is a true sign of experiential learning.  Whether you think of ‘bigger picture’, ‘mental model’, ‘forest not trees’, ‘holistic assessments’ or ‘internalised representations’, the process is the same.  As a direct consequence of experience, your way of seeing the world around you changes.

And other things change as well.  You move from serial (from bit to bit to bit) to parallel (multitasking) processing of information, you move from dealing with objects to dealing with meaning and you move from a rudimentary understanding (perhaps comprising just a few of the available bits) to deeper, more valid and validated understanding of how your immediate ‘learning’ world works.  There are implications for memory, workload and processing; ‘tis nobler hopes you get the (bigger) picture.

You move from trying to make sense of the jumble of jigsaw pieces to seeing the completed puzzle.  As importantly, you sense what the current puzzle means for you and how you should respond.  And then the current puzzle changes (something that you may already have anticipated for the availability of patterns gives you the ability to anticipate rather than just react) and you respond in a timely and fluent way.

But all patterns have outliers – novel elements – and limits; they can be both specifically different and generally the same and they are specifically general.  The former represents the balance between novelty and similarity; with increasing experience, the balance tends more and more towards similarity.  The latter indicates that patterns are not necessarily transferable to other activities (compare Michael Jordan’s basketball and baseball careers) and may actually be counterproductive.

Imagine being transported to a place where your patterns are at odds with the world around you and little makes sense.  While things look sort of the same, they are very different in fundamental ways.  And then you find a situation in which your patterns apply and things just ‘click’:

Practice promotes patterns and patterns promote efficiency.  But patterns aren’t a panacea for they might contain the seeds of their own irrelevance – the little bits that don’t fit and that might be overlooked – or they might not be as applicable to other areas as you might think.  And the more you (effectively) apply your patterns in one area, the less applicable they will become to other, unrelated applications.

In experiential learning, you develop the chunks through practice but you can never rely on just applying the chunks.  Chunks will contain novel chinks in your ‘chunk armour’ and, when you take on new challenges, other forms of experiential learning, you’ll have to think outside the chunks you already possess. Think through what the relationships between patterns and performance might be.


April 29th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

This is what the dictionary says about ‘faultless’:

“Without fault, flaw or defect; perfect”

In experiential learning and behavioural change, it is better to adopt a literal definition – fault less – rather than confuse faultless with fault-free.

Performance is not about absolutes but, rather, all of the shades that exist between unlikely, polar extremes (utterly hopeless, utterly perfect).  The same extremes, and their irrelevance to performance, apply to consciousness,  The dictionary defines ‘conscious’ as:

“Aware of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc”

And yet one fundamental aim of experiential learning is to remove ‘conscious’ from the performance equation, to operate below the conscious level.  But this should never be taken to mean that you can also remove awareness and attention from the equation.

There is no such thing as a human autopilot, performance that is free from human (self) intervention.  When operating below conscious level, you may not be aware that you’re aware, but you are aware.  When operating below conscious level, you may attend to your attention but you are attending.  One implication of operating like this after much practice is the inability to describe what you’re actually doing when you’re doing the ‘acting’ for the ‘why’ is being handled subconsciously.  It is possible to describe the ‘how’ but, in the scheme of things, the ‘how’ is relatively unimportant.

But even highly automated behaviours carry the risk of error, for this risk is never set to zero.  It is possible for even the most experienced performers to slip from subconscious to ‘unconscious’ performance.  Not literally, of course, unless they faint but the chance of slipping below minimum levels of (subconscious) awareness is ever-present.  We’ve all heard people say – “What was I thinking?  I’ve done this a million times before.” – as though practice, competence or expertise should provide  immunity from mistakes.  But “it can happen to anyone of us …. cos I made a stupid mistake’:

Faultless isn’t.  Tomorrow, when you’re leaving for school or work, please double-check that you’re wearing trousers!


April 4th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

That’s not a spelling mistake, for this post is about being flex-able, the ability to be flexible (just to prove that ‘tis nobler knows the correct spelling).  And it’s also about control, something that you can either be in or out of.  There is a link between control and flexibility that is worth exploring.

If you believe you are in control of a situation, if you believe you have the ‘power’ to manage the situation, your behaviour is likely to be much more consistent with the demands of the situation.  Perceived control produces real consistency.

Conversely, if you do not believe you are in control of a situation, if you lack the ‘power’ to manage it, your behaviour is more likely to be inconsistent with external demands.  Being out of control creates gaps between what you do and what you need to do.

And this is where flexibility comes in.  When situations change, ‘powerful’ individuals adapt by changing their behaviour to suit the new circumstances.  Without this flexibility, less ‘powerful’ individuals apply the same recipe(s) across different situations; they are always out of step with the world around them.  Regardless of the detail, they tend to trot out the same old story:

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Control should not be confused with rigidity, for control can also allow you to be very different.  Control opens up new possibilities and is central to effective self management within and between situations.

Bend by being in control.  Be in control by bending.  The only constant is change and the only change is to shift from ‘out of’ to ‘in’ control.  And this is achieved through effortful practice.  If you are unable to bend, then ask yourself where the control can be found.  Is it with you or are you being controlled by the situation?

Weakly Woes

April 1st, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Is something always better than nothing?

Is being halfhearted more desirable than not having your heart in it at all?  Does having something of a clue put you in a better position than being completely clueless?  While being strong might be an advantage, is being weak better than having no strength at all?   Is a half-truth any better than a lie?  Is damning with faint praise better than straight criticism?  Is being there better than being absent?  Isn’t a positive statement better than saying nothing?  Isn’t something always better than nothing?  At face value, many people would say that something is better than nothing; after all, nothing can be worse than, well, nothing.

Sometimes, though, something isn’t better than nothing, an outcome that might be described as weakly woes.  ‘tis nobler thinks you should do lots and lots of practice because that will make you better – while defensible, this often-trotted out argument can be seen as weak at the individual level for many reasons.

And what happens is that this weakness attracts the attention of each individual and it is a short step between attraction and dismissal.  A weak argument in support of a positive objective is rejected and the objective becomes less likely to be achieved.  Flimsy fuels failure.  Think of this in the same way as the relationship between babies and bathwater.  In the absence of externally-supplied but weak arguments, individuals may supply their own, stronger information.  Perhaps it’s just not possible to be weakly convincing!

It may be that you always need a song beneath the song, as Maria Taylor sings:

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A weak message can appear to send the right message and yet still produce the wrong reaction.  A weak message can be worse than silence.  Like songs, messages and motives require substance.  Without substance, they are nothing but words.  Even when you think that your messages and motives are self-evident, being shallow, in every sense, can backfire.

In your learning and change, it is always better to have a song beneath the song.

Doubtless Doubt Some

March 28th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

In ‘Double Doubt’ , ‘tis nobler wrote:

Wherever there’s a way to learn, there’s a will to doubt.  Be in no doubt that doubt has a large opportunity cost, particularly from the things that doubt prevents you from doing.  It’s not possible to simply dismiss your doubts; however, doubling up on your doubts could be a solution.  If you have doubts about your learning and/or abilities, then why not doubt your doubts?

Research has suggested that it’s better to question your doubts – be doubtful about them – and, through this internal interrogation, turn the certainty that you cannot into a possibility that you can.  Think of this as untying the ‘not’ and discarding it.

Doubtless, doubting less by doubting your doubts is important.  It remains a question of balance – being doubt-full may be just as worrisome as being doubt-free, for doubt can also have a positive effect on performance.  But, as with all aspects of the learning and change landscape, it’s not a straightforward and simple relationship.  Beyond any shadow of a doubt, you’ll have to find your own way.

Introducing doubts can benefit performance on simple tasks or more complex tasks that have become automated through substantial practice.  There is no clear explanation for this, although motivation plays a central role.  The arrival of doubt could prevent complacency, increase task focus or reduce the likelihood of distractions.  If tasks are not simple or automated, doubt could increase conscious/intentional effort and this type of manual control is resource-intensive; performance is not enhanced as all effort is directed at just maintaining performance.

If doubt strangles your effort or enjoyment, it can be the bane of your life.  However, some doubt, doubts that you can either doubt or manage, might be a blessing.  And, when faced with bane or blessing, you should follow Tanya Davis’s  advice – ‘Please Bless’:

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Doubt less in order to do, then doubt some in order to do well.  Doubt your doubts but never doubt your capacity to use your remaining doubts to do better.  Are you in any doubt?


March 21st, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

The theme today is joining.  The contention today is that the only real way to join in is to join the pieces together.  The reality today, and every day, is that the only way to join the pieces together is by making the sustained effort to complete the learning or change jigsaw yourself.

Of course, you might pretend that all the pieces have fallen into place; what you see as a completed picture will be viewed by others, especially by those you are trying to join, as a pile of pieces with many gaps and few connections.  What does it mean if ‘tis nobler suggests that eligibility requires effort?

In his autobiography, Groucho Marx recounts the story of sending this telegram:


And yet many people try to do the opposite – become members of clubs for which they are ineligible.  Still, you might dismiss this sentiment as just another humorous aside; after all, Groucho Marx was a very funny man:

But there is a real issue of eligibility, pretence and passwords here for experiential learning and behavioural change.  While learning and change may be accompanied by the trappings required or desired for effort – the equipment, the gear, the resources, the kit -, such trappings are not capable of replacing effort.  You can’t pretend and you can’t pretend to practise.  Pretending or the use of passwords don’t qualify as effort for they are attempts to take shortcuts in preparation; it is simply not possible to hide the shortcomings in your inexperienced performance.  A preference for shortcuts will always see you coming up short!

In a recent study that examined one form of pretending, that of older people trying to look younger, results indicated the negative assessments of younger people – those in the ‘club’ they were trying to join – towards this type of behaviour.  Do you think similar findings would apply if the issue was experience rather than age?

There are many forms of pretending in learning and change and yet there is probably only one person being fooled by these masquerades.  ‘tis nobler does not need to tell you who that is.  Find your own way to being yourself, for this is the surest way to be better.

Rites And Responsibilities

March 16th, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

This post is motivated by a particular event yesterday that demonstrates that learning ‘rites’ collapse when reasonable responsibilities expected to be met by others are absent.  Rites, rituals, ceremonies, procedures, training and education have a number of things in common.  They are often (closed) sets of behaviours.  These sets are established, systematised, prescribed and repeated.  They benefit greatly from practice.  They are consistent, predictable and appreciated, if not always entirely understood.

Can you see the links with experiential learning?  It might be easier if you replace these various acts with the concept of routines.  Simple sets of behaviours become more complex yet more efficient routines, when bits become bytes and bytes become kilobytes.  Such routines are derived from experience, which allows you to understand and then anticipate the world around your task.  Gaps in this world and/or gaps in your collective routines are offset by expectancies for you have learned through experience that some things are more likely than others.

And this is where the external responsibilities come in, for they support your routines in standardised, predictable ways and set the probability of some features of some gaps at close to 1.  They are consistent, predictable and appreciated, if not always entirely understood.  And here’s the story – if anybody from Microsoft is reading this, please meet this reasonable usability responsibility.  ‘tis nobler will be brief:

To encrypt, ‘tis nobler entered and confirmed 19 character password for a PowerPoint file, then saved and closed it.  To check, ’tis nobler entered the 19 character password to open ppt file – success!  ’tis nobler entered and confirmed the same 19 character password for a Word file, then saved and closed the file.  ’tis nobler entered the 19 character password to open doc file – error!  What is going on?

Now here are the clues – ‘tis nobler watches the keyboard while setting up passwords to avoid errors and the PC speakers were turned off.  Hhmmm, if ‘tis nobler couldn’t hack the process, the document would be lost forever.  ’tis nobler wondered about the ‘save’ process for .doc(x) files after encrypting – wasn’t it odd that the ‘Save’ dialog box appeared for an already saved file.  ‘tis nobler decided to try the same process on another .doc file in case the ‘problem’ was revealed.  The only difference was that speakers were turned on and after ’tis nobler had entered 16 characters, the PC goes ding, ding, ding.

That’s right, you can enter more than 16 characters for a password  in PPT but no more than 16 in Word.  All this time, ’tis nobler was wondering why the password wasn’t working ….. when it was three characters too long.  No error messages – Word can only accept passwords of 16 characters or less – so, unless you watch and count the circles and/or have speakers turned on for the auditory warning, you’re left in the dark.  Stupid, stupid Microsoft!!!

My rites will only work if you meet your reasonable responsibilities.  Don’t forego responsibilities and leave me wondering  – “I made you suffer, I caused you pain, I played a secret game ….”

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A Patient Heart

March 14th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

The very first line in the song ‘Patient Heart’  by Sean Flinn and the Royal We is:

The long road makes for a patient heart.

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And the implications of that line are the subject of this post.  What do you think it means?  These few simple words allow you to burrow down in several directions.

Regardless of other issues, the experiential learning or behavioural change road will always be long.  However, it may often be the case that the traveller on this road does not have a patient heart.  ’tis nobler suggests there are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, the road is not seen as long and therefore the traveller presumes that the journey will soon be over.  Why should you be patient until you arrive when you will arrive before you need to be patient?

Secondly, patience is seen as simply not required for it is presumed to be more important to travel with passion than it is to travel with patience.  But it is incorrect to assume that passion and patience are mutually exclusive; one must not preclude the other.

A recent study made the useful distinction between harmonious and obsessive passion.  The former led to a stronger focus on mastery goals, goals that are associated with deeper engagement and perseverance, and a greater commitment to deliberate practice.  When passion became obsessive, passion rather than practice became the end; avoiding failure overrode striving for mastery.  As a consequence, task performance suffered.

Excellence is never achieved through exhortation.

You may have noticed another line in ‘Patient Heart’:

You get far enough away, you’ll be back to the start.

This echoes the T S Eliot quote presented in the ‘About’ section.  Harmonious passion and patience are both required to ‘know something for the first time’.  Be passionate in the right way and be patient in many ways.  Be passionate about having a patient heart.

Milestones May Be Millstones

March 7th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Cotton Jones  sing these words:

C’mon baby let the river roll on.

And the title of the song is also particularly apt – ‘Somehow to keep it going’.

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In ‘Do Or Blue’, ‘tis nobler explored the evidence supporting the value of resisting idleness.

How do these statements tie together?  A common underlying theme is the value of continuing – rolling on, keeping it going, doing rather than idling.  Being engaged is better than being in neutral.

So what happens when you achieve a milestone in your learning journey?  It can and should be a time for reflection on the effort to this point and an acknowledgement of positive change, for you will have changed from something to something ‘better’.  But ‘better’ is always a relative term, so you had better continue rather than cease.

There is evidence that indicates that milestones can be millstones.  Celebrating a partial success may supplant continued learning, with the milestone becoming the end of the journey rather than just another indication of the ‘distance’ you have travelled.  A detail replaces the many details and the journey is derailed by being content to only look back.

Milestones are like doors.  You have to move in order to reach them but the purpose is never to reach them and then relax.  ‘tis nobler is sure you are aware of the real purpose of reaching the next door.

It’s to go through it, and then continue on.  If you stop at any door along the way, you’ll never know what’s on the other side.  You must always find a way to somehow keep it going!

No Automatic Immunity

February 25th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Following on from the previous post, you might assume that the achievement of automaticity provides immunity from error.  After all, automaticity is acquired through extensive experience and is effortless (possibly resourceless as well) performance that, for most things, is a consequence of learning (some fundamental, ‘automatised’ perceptual and cognitive processes are hard-wired in our heads).  Perhaps the most important elements of this shift from manual to automatic control is that the latter is both unintentional and stimulus–driven (that is, the presence of a learned trigger is sufficient for automatic behaviour to be initiated, even when the actor is not consciously aware of its presence).

But there’s never automatic immunity from automaticity.  And the explanation is similar to the difference between assumption and expectancy.  Assumptions may be divorced from experience and disconnected from the situation whereas expectancies are derived from experience and applied automatically to situations.

Even automaticity does not allow you to disconnect from your performance; it makes performance more effective and much more efficient but it never makes you foolproof.

Assuming that your experience, your expertise or your personality somehow makes you foolproof is simply wrong unless you interpret ‘being foolproof’ as ‘proof of being a fool’.

Distracted or disconnected decimates the benefits of automaticity.  You cannot participate without attending, in the sense of paying attention.  There is a distinction, however, between being present and attending; if you’re present without attending, you could find yourself in difficulty.  If you attend, you are always present although automaticity allows you to ‘loiter in the background’.

Perhaps the best analogy for this post is with pyrite; you know, the yellowish iron sulphide that looks very similar to gold and is often referred to as fool’s gold:

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There is no automatic immunity, even experts are not foolproof and the concept of perfection is pyrite!

To Do, Not To Do

February 14th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Aristotle said:

“What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.”

Willpower and self control are recurring themes in experiential learning and behavioural change, vital building blocks in systemic performance.  But their portrayal in programs does leave a lot to be desired, often reducing to simple encouragement to ‘do better’ or ‘try harder’.  There is a great to-do about ‘to do’ and ‘not to do’.

In ‘Ends can end the means’, ‘tis nobler wrote:

Learning can never be about dogmatic willpower, for what could be an exciting future will progressively narrow to a constantly receding pinpoint of light.   Don’t let your attachment to goals prevent you from reaching them!

Summary: willpower is never enough!

In ‘This too shall pass’, ‘tis nobler wrote:

All of this is based on the traditional view that willpower is a finite resource that eventually runs out.  The only way to get it back is to take a break and return refreshed.  Just as there is a limit to the number of push-ups you can do at any one time, there is a limit to the amount of willpower you can apply.  But some recent research suggests that this may not be the case and that, perhaps, the limits to willpower are believed (or learned) rather than actual.  What changes if you realise that limited willpower is a self-fulfilling prophesy rather than a fact?  Are you able to turn this around by learning that your willpower is not limited, that it is possible to keep going and going?

Summary:  limited willpower may just be in your head and it is possible for unlimited willpower to be there instead!

In ‘The manager manages the manager’ and ‘Don’t do that, d’oh’, the ineffectiveness of suppression, of thoughts and behaviour, was noted.  You always remember that which you are consciously trying to forget while just trying to stop doing something leads to you doing it more often.

Summary:  to suppress is to pretend you’re in control.

And we shouldn’t forget the issue of ‘baggage’, that there is an inverse relationship between self control and procrastination – the more you exert self control, the less of a procrastinator you’ll be.  It can also be possible to ‘import’ self control from other aspects of your life and apply it to your learning journey; if it exists somewhere, you can use it here.

Luckily, we can rely on Aristotle to tie up some of the many loose ends; he said:

“For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing.”

And the point of this post is that there is evidence to indicate that there is a practice effect for self-control.  Implementing self control behaviours, rather than just coping through willpower or suppressing the ‘objects of your desires’, does lead to more effective self control.

If you have to learn self control before you can control yourself, you learn self control by controlling yourself.  And if, through effortful practice, you equip yourself as well as you can, everything looks sharper, more colourful, crisper and more meaningful:

Think of self control as a skill that responds to practice rather than a practice that requires finite willpower or a strong personality.  It’s never beyond you for you just need to make the effort to learn.

Say, Do, Be

December 8th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

Saying is usually easy.  “I’m sorry.”  “I didn’t mean it.”  “It won’t happen again.”  “You can trust me.”  “Just give me one more chance.”  “I’m going to be honest with you.”  Life is full of statements that are designed to achieve some short-term advantage, an advantage that is often not disclosed by what is said.  If things get a bit awkward after any of these things are said, you can always rely on this:

“I never said that.”

Saying is usually easy, doing is usually more demanding.  Doing can be a challenge, doing demands effort and effort is required to meet the demands.  After much doing, the being begins.  Doing develops, doing transforms and doing has the power to make you into something new.  Doing is the essence of experiential learning.

And being – new, better, more skilled, more resilient, more understanding – flows from the doing.

Let’s illuminate this say-do-be relationship with a concrete example – gratitude.  It’s easy to say thanks; it’s easy to say that you’re grateful.  How difficult or demanding is it to ‘do’ or ‘be’ grateful?  A very recent review of the scientific literature on gratitude concluded that truly ‘doing’ or ‘being’ grateful was a morally and intellectually demanding exercise.  Saying is easy; doing and being are much harder.  Doing and being require effortful engagement, regular reflection and sustained discipline.

And ‘tis nobler now hopes that the relevance of the daily practice of gratitude to experiential learning and behavioural change is apparent, both in process and content.  Listen to this Eric Clapton song – ‘You were there’ – and assess how far beyond the saying his gratitude goes and how deeply he feels it.

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The say-do-be relationship defines many aspects of experiential learning and you must find your own way, choosing between what’s easy and inconsequential or more challenging and worthwhile.  And don’t forget that repetition is vital for experiential learning – perhaps you need to say, do, be, do, be, do!  ’tis nobler is certain that you are grateful that you didn’t write the previous sentence!

Advocating Uncertainty

November 17th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

There is a gap between knowing and understanding, just as there is between understanding and doing (well).  These gaps are reduced through experiential effort.  But there is a view that you can avoid the effort by strenuous advocacy of your current position:

“There is nothing left for me to learn.”  “I am already a good driver/lawyer/photographer …”  “I can’t see the point of more practice.”  “You just don’t understand things as well as I do.”  “With respect, you are completely wrong about that.”  “You don’t know what you’re talking about.  Just listen to what I have to say.”

And so it goes.  The words go round and around and around, without moving anywhere, without making any progress.  There is more effort expended on defending the status quo than effort expended on transcending the status quo.  You might think that this reflects certainty and conviction – after all, aren’t those who speak the loudest those that are most convinced of their statements?  In fact, there is evidence that the opposite is true.

Strenuous advocacy can be a reflection of personal uncertainty.  In these circumstances, such ‘shouting’ is designed to reduce doubts – a sort of “I must be right because I am stressing my ‘rightness’ so forcefully.”  Trying to reduce your doubts by committing more strongly to that which you doubt has an even stronger influence on those topics/skills/behaviours that you deem more important.  If it’s more important to you, you’ll ‘shout’ more often and more loudly.

And we wonder why politicians shout at one another.

There will be many occasions in your learning journey where you might feel like ‘shouting’.  Circumstances, the behaviour of other people or the need to ‘win’ in the short term can all combine in ways that make one reaction apparently inevitable – you know you make me wanna shout:

Regardless of the circumstances, you always have a choice of whether to shout or not.  There will be times, many times, when you are unsure about how to proceed but this is an inherent quality of exploration.  And the journey is about exploration, not arrival at a pre-determined destination.

Shouting’ is a way to reduce your doubts by entrenching your current position.  You ‘shout’ because your eyes, ears and mind are closed.  ‘Shouting’ is the antithesis of learning – embrace the uncertainties and work your way through them rather than ‘shout’ as a way of convincing yourself that they do not exist.