I was talking with my martial arts instructor one day, who happens to be the highest ranked practitioner in the region, when he threw this at me: “If you ever feel like you got a technique, you do not have it.”
“You never feel like you ever have it?” back to my Sensei (Japanese word that is literally translated as “person born before another” and means “teacher”), who makes the difficult look deceivingly silly and always surprises me with how effortlessly he does it.
“When I do, I get worried, because then I know I am probably missing out on where my mistakes are and where I can get better. It is when I am not getting it that I know I am learning something new from the experience, and not repeating what I already know.”
The Secret to Become An Expert
“It’s not about hitting a golf ball 100 times, it’s about hitting each time at the edge of your abilities.”
I love those moments in my martial arts classes when I pull a beautiful technique out of nowhere and I just feel really cool. But no matter how good I feel after, I know that night I was only refining the edges of what I knew (which is always valuable), but not expanding those edges.
It’s those classes when I suck, when I’m totally confused with every technique and nothing seems to go right, that I know I’m pushing at the edges of my abilities and crossing the threshold between what I already know and what I don’t. And no matter how lousy I feel at the end of practice, I know I’ve added new learnings to my experience. Failures were definitely put myself in front of the experience and something new to learn.
The beginner’s mind
This essential key has been emphasized hundreds of years by the Zen buddhists and is clearly expressed in the concept of “Shoshin”, or beginner’s mind: It refers to have an attitude of openness, enthusiasm to do or to have something, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
The beginner’s mind is the set of the following humble qualities:
1) being open and teachable;
2) being willing to go back to square one, i.e. start working on a plan from the beginning because your previous attempt failed and the progress you made is now wasted;
3) giving yourself space to look and feel foolish while learning a new skill.
These qualities will allow you to go further than someone who’s:
1) closed up and only wants to teach but not be taught;
2) is unwilling to give up his preconceived notions to accept new, possibly shattering but more empowering beliefs;
3) is not willing to not look like an expert.
An expert chess master does not think more than a beginning chess player, they just think better.
While thinking better is often the result of experience, experience is often the result of bad judgement. So the next time you are learning something and for some reason you just seem to suck, stop, take a deep breath, and stop feeling bad about looking bad: realize that this is another step in your journey towards mastery.