Skill Pushes and a Looming Problem: Strategies

I have a few ideas on how to juggle the problem of multiple skill pushes:

The Cast Method - making sure everything is exactly the same, or minimal, while ratcheting up a skill. For example, increasing rowing from 20 minutes to 30 minutes while keeping everything the same. This method is usually based in fear for me because I don’t want my whole routine to fall a part (like it has in the past). Another better method MIGHT be…

Sandbagging - I initially viewed this method to implement habits, but I think it could be used as a safe diagnostic tool to discover where the breaking point is. Take two or more skills, push them, and as soon as things start to get wobbly, drop back all skills to normal levels except one. I believe that this will also solidify that one skill’s advanced practice.

Fracturing - Cycling practice. When I had a daily practice of 1 hour of cardio at the gym, I usually did an hour of recumbent cycling. But it was pretty boring. It was actually easier to break it up and do half on the cycle and half on the treadmill, or into 3 with the last 1/3 on the elliptical. I feel this would really work well with practice that involves an extension of time.

Gamification - NanoWriMo, the Flash diet, I feel this is fantastic for 30 day challenges. I actually think it’s better for pushing skills than it is for making skills habits. 

Ritual - I keep meaning to write a massive post on rituals. The idea for me is that these small things ease the transition between the normal day and the place in the mind where difficult things happen. For example, when I was trying to establish a non-bracketed habit of recording my food, I made tea. I got to the point where I really enjoyed the process, and so I enjoyed the quiet time before bed where I recorded.

I did the same with writing for a while, and it’s something I still need to fiddle around with. Personally I think Ritual is like a proto- or ur-game or motivation - it just helps to lower that starting threshold, whether it’s starting or pushing a habit.

Changing multiple skill variables to maintain equilibrium- I mentioned one example of this already - my 8 week HIIT cycle, where it folded really well into my already established rowing habit. I think it worked because though it was more intense it wasn’t longer - equilibrium was maintained so there was no real load to the system. I think I have more problems increasing my base time. I like the idea of this best.

The Dragon Ball Z Kung Fu Method - Artificially intensifying practice in order to then lower it to higher base levels, but nowhere near the levels set during the initial push. 

In the cartoon DBZ and in many legendary “iron” kung fu trainings a practitioner would weigh himself down, or in the anime, train at weighted artificial gravity. After getting thoroughly used to the weight, they’d take the vest off and then would be able to fly, have preternaturally fast reflexes, or be incredibly light on their feet.

When I did NaNoWriMo, where some days required 13,000 words, going back to my normal writing quotas was incredibly easy. But I haven’t deliberately done this technique very much, so it would be interesting to practice this.

Where does this leave us?

So while my normal “Cast Methodology” relies on a natural growth in willpower to lift the extra load, gamification and ritual seem to lighten the new weight. Sandbagging and the DBZ Method both use comparisons in feeling and temporariness to advance practice. Changing variables and fracturing appear to cause as little load as possible. 

And fracturing also uses the feeling of doing multiple things to fool the mind into thinking things are going faster - it’s like hanging out with a friend. You go to one place for an hour, and it may be tedious, but go to three places in that hour and it feels like you’ve done a lot more and you know that person more. Depth of experience or relationship in this case acts as a stand in for depth of practice.

I still don’t know what skills I plan on moving forward, but this at least gives me a bit more clarity on my options.

photocred: chess by Ruocaled, ritual by rahul rekapalli, shaolin by Sven Laqua

Skill Pushes and a Looming Problem: A Rudimentary Skill Push Scale

Based on previous behaviors in this project, it appears that Skill Pushes come in several flavors or vectors:

-Classes
-Time (meditating for 10 minutes to 30 minutes)
-Reps (flossing one tooth to flossing all of them) 
-Deliberate practice (focusing on problem areas and working them)
-30 Day Challenges (like my no bread challenge or NaNoWriMo, or even the 8 week HIIT thing I recently completed - “30 Day″ is just a catch all)

When I think about it it becomes pretty clear that there is a difference in difficulty or weight with these pushes. Assuming Tiny SkillPushes ™, from lowest system load to highest I’d organize them like this:

1) Reps
2) Time
3) Classes
4) Deliberate practice
5) 30 Day Challenges

Why? When I think of increasing my meditation by 5 minutes versus doing 5 more pulls on the rower, I’d pick the latter. The same is the case with adding another glass of water in the morning or going from flossing 1 tooth to all of them. I think it just has something to do with the active nature of added reps versus just ENDURING more time. Enduring is just more painful (to me).

Those two are definitely easier than classes, where you have to do all sorts of other things like interact with people and do homework. And that is preferable to deliberate practice where you have to essentially come up with your own class. There is a big difference between doing a module where you give over some agency to a program, versus poking and prodding to find what your weaknesses are. When I used to play the violin I used to absolutely hate doing this, and it’s probably why I never got really good at it despite having played for over a decade. 

Lastly, I find 30 Day Challenges to be a huge drain on the entirety of the system. When I do NaNoWriMo, I usually reduce other behaviors to minimums, though it’s getting easier. Also challenges are challenging and are not tiny pushes by their very nature.

As an aside, classes used to be incredibly difficult for me. But incorporated as part of an established habit, I sort’ve go on autopilot. Homework? No problem, because I no longer do everything at the last minute. I automatically start doing something, so simply processing what another person tells me to do (rather than trying to figure out where my effort has to go myself) is exponentially easier. It’s also an important reason why all this self-help stuff should be incorporated together as part of a whole system.  

But why was my 8 week HIIT program so easy? I think it’s because I was mixing variables. It was a part of an established routine which is based on time - 30 minutes. The HIIT was more intense, but it was for a shorter time.

I think skill pushes can mix and match these variables. If I were to go to a meditation retreat I would consider that a “Challenge” - but it would be a challenge because it’s increasing time of practice to several hours a day. At the same time, I’m presumably not doing ANY of my other routines while on retreat. It’s also not forever, while things like flossing would be an increase for GOOD. Though presumably a retreat would make a time push from 30 minutes to an hour look like nothing.

photocred: scales by Hans Splinter, violin by Jason Hollinger, doodle by Allie

Depletion and Why I Missed Day 547

On Day 546 I did Tabatas after not doing them for a while. I did not adequately understand the impact that would have on my daily habits.

The rest of that day after recording, depletion hit me. It hit me physically, but it no doubt affected me as a hit to my willpower - several studies have linked glucose depletion with willpower depletion.

The next day (547) I was utterly sore and tired. Nothing got done.

This was to be expected  - the “physics” of this system seems clearer and clearer. What’s necessary is to plan in advance and prep what a course should have been. 

And really the main problem was my first habit in my regiment - writing. Writing takes a lot of will for me to do in this phase of mastery. That should have been something I should have planned to do very minimally. But right now, I don’t have minimums clearly stated as I did before (e.g. 50 words).

A few days ago I wrote to my Dad, who is trying to start a new healthy eating habit. At his request, I sent him a few solid suggestions on what to do to stick to it. The relevant ones were Recording, TinyHabits, Implementation Intention, and Mental Contrasting.

What I’ve realized is that I don’t really strictly do these, and I should. In order to continue progress, I need very clear daily minimals - TinyHabits. I need to know in advance what’s going to mess me up in order to plan around it - that’s Implementation Intention. I don’t have a solid if-then protocol of when I’m going to do anything, which is Implementation Intention. And not having that results in a slapdash daily regiment (I have a tendency nowadays to record more towards the end of the day after a huge break, which doesn’t help in solidifying my recording habit). 

I think the problem is that I think that these habits are all done - I got to superhabit level on all of these. But with the introduction of mastery - pushing habits to new levels - it’s essentially introduced turbulence to each of them. I have to start thinking of them as new in that vector.

Another element in the mastery vector that’s missing is mid-range goals. The idea is to push a behavior so that it’s solidly at the next shelf, rest it, and work out another behavior. So 2 pushups became 3x8, that transformed into harder variations, and finally now I’ve shelved it at 2 typewriter pushups. Having a very clear knowledge of what the next level is allows me to naturally work for it.

What’s happening in meditation is a perfect example of doing it wrong. I made all sorts of progress and now I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m meditating every day, it is sometimes good, it’s sometimes bad, but I don’t have direction.

These are serious deficiencies that lead to a hamster wheel state I absolutely hate: The feeling of having toiled and worked over long periods of time and not having concretely accomplished anything.

Timothy Ferris, Rapid Skill Mastery, and My Writing Habit

Timothy Ferriss talks here about how to become world class in any skill within 6-12 months.

It’s a great talk and it touches on a lot of things I’m about - minimalism, and optimizing progress. And it talks about complex skills that are composed of a number of smaller skills. Conglomerate skills that have a tendency to easily frustrate people because there’s not something you can latch onto. Cooking was one such skill for Ferriss, and the reason why he called his book on mastery The 4-Hour Chef.

His methodology is DiSSS.
Deconstruction, Selection, Sequencing, and Stakes

Deconstruct a complicated task, focusing in the first 5 sessions to avoid basic mistakes people make in the task. Select the minimal skill that the majority of the larger skill relies upon (the Pareto Principle), question sequencing with the knowledge that in many cases doing things out of order might be better, and up the stakes to increase behavioral change through motivational factors. He adds that repetition of deconstructed skills when it’s not for real (learning how to sautee with coffee beans on a carpeted floor) is key, as is the belief that it can be done, questioning best practices, and focusing on removal and minimalism.

My question: how do I apply this to writing?

After brainstorming and thinking a lot, here’s my protocol based on my key weaknesses when writing any given article:

Week 1
Research. I have a tendency to get bogged down, so I’m going to practice quickly researching articles. What do restaurants have on their menus? When were places opened. In a lot of cases it may just involve cutting and pasting in a list. I should avoid getting bogged down in research and general internet distractions.

Week 2
The majority of articles are good because of transitions which meld research fragments and personal descriptions to a storyline. On my writing blog I’ve already researched an analyzed a number of transitions. So I’ll just choose transitions that work between the research points - this is also sequenced out of order, per Ferriss’s advice. 

Week 3
Actually writing the middle adding personal descriptions to the research and the transitions.

Week 4
Doing the same for endings. 

Week 5
Editing

The idea with all this is that beginnings are actually not really key. I can take a lot of articles and write them from different high points in the action. But the other things are, in my opinion, key points starting from research and descending.

My plan is to ATTEMPT to do this similar to a newbie mission - 2 articles in one hour, for 2 hours. Depending on how fast I get, I want to expand that to 3 per hour for 3 hours. The key is to do this quickly yet well, working on broken up skills in order to gain familiarity and to be able to execute each part with no hesitation because I’ve done it so many times.

I believe that I will be able to pare this methodology with habituation, which is why I’m not including the Stakes aspect to this. I might be wrong, I might need it, but we’ll see. This skill pushing will constitute completion of the instance of habit exercise, i.e. a “check” for having completed my habit of writing for the day.

This might not work. I might have to do each task until it becomes the new ratchet point, and I have NO idea how long that will take. Do I need to do each part longer? Is this the growth phase, and after this 5 week cycle will I have to come up with a new daily minimum? Probably. Do I need to record the writing habit again until the daily minimum becomes a superhabit? Will Ferriss’s skill mastery methodology trump my own habit heavy methodology? I have no idea…but I’ll find out.

Strategies Towards Skill Mastery

photocred: Alexandre Keledjian

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with Skill Mastery.

I have no problem creating a habit. But moving forward with skills is another story. 

It all started when my mom talked to me about why I didn’t try mastering one skill and then just moving on. It stayed with me….why aren’t I doing that? And what should I be doing? Should I be focusing on one thing or should I be expanding to encompass the full complement of what I think of as basic habits?

On one hand, basic habits back each other up. Writing and marketing are great complements, as are eating right and exercising. Some habits just need that - habits with no skill mastery. But on the other hand I can’t shake the sense that I’m not progressing enough. I see a friend who got into weight lifting and is now ripped. Another who is into writing and is now publishing a lot.

My conclusion is that I need more than one habit. The point of this project isn’t to do one thing and then move on. It’s to do many things at once - so how can I strategize to move forward in skills.

I’ve talked about this in a recent post, but I believe it’s about strictly maintaining all habits to daily minimums and dialing up one skill. I envision it as a line of attack…like Go, skill mastery, habit acquisition, and regimentation involves multiple fronts and battles.

Strictness is important - regimentation becomes incredibly hard when Endurance and Willpower are leaking out, even in tasks that are easier or addictive. I enjoy meditating, and I often do more, but when I get to my skill I want to really improve - in this case, writing - I don’t have the energy.

So here’s my overall daily minimals:
Fixed Meditation: One bout of single pointedness
Bodyweights: 2 typewriter pushups or bridges
Dynamic Meditation: 20 minutes
Marketing: 1 action-oriented task