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Archive for the ‘Flow’ Category

Only Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

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Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. – Vince Lombardi

Click for photo It’s admittedly hypocritical of me to use the word ‘perfect’ in the title of this post when I’ve written in the past about perfection being overrated.  But the word perfect does actually have a place in personal growth so long as you don’t take it too literally.

True perfection isn’t really the point though.  The big idea is that practicing your craft has to be done with a level of respect for how you’ll perform in reality at all times.  No ifs, ands, or buts.

The only way to achieve your maximum performance potential is to train your body and mind to do so over and over… and over.

Let’s assume for a moment that talent is overrated (just like perfection).  Sure, there are people who are naturally better at certain things than others – they have talent, that’s indisputable – but no one can achieve great heights without lots and lots of practice.  As Malcolm Gladwell said in Outliers, you need 10,000 hours of practice to be great.  Or, really, to even have a chance at being great.

Peter Norvig recognized this pattern as well in “Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years”:

Researchers (Bloom (1985), Bryan & Harter (1899), Hayes (1989), Simmon & Chase (1973)) have shown it takes about ten years to develop expertise in any of a wide variety of areas, including chess playing, music composition, telegraph operation, painting, piano playing, swimming, tennis, and research in neuropsychology and topology. The key is deliberative practice: not just doing it again and again, but challenging yourself with a task that is just beyond your current ability, trying it, analyzing your performance while and after doing it, and correcting any mistakes. Then repeat. And repeat again.

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Written by Mike Torres

April 12th, 2010 at 7:07 am

Focus: How Rapt Attention Changes Who We Are

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I’ve recently started reading Rapt by Winifred Gallagher (book number fifteen on my annual goal list of eighteen relevant books).  While the book has a set of good and bad reviews on Amazon, I found the description and the Kindle Sample interesting enough to buy and read it.  It’s no secret I’m interested in learning as much as I can about attention and focus, so anything that could help improve my understanding of the area even a little bit is worth the $10 investment.

So far, I’ve been quite pleased.  The introduction section of this book has one of the most accurate descriptions of focus and attention I’ve read to-date – and given Refocuser’s subject matter, I thought it would be fun to relay what I found to be the key takeaway from Rapt’s introduction: the grand unified theory of positive psychology.

In physics, the notion of a “grand unification theory” or “grand unified theory” is the holy grail of research, and has been for many years.  The idea is to merge all disparate theories into a single theory that describes everything in the universe – gravity, quantum mechanics, relativity, and so on.  It’s clean and simple, and scientists like structure and order.  When it comes to positive psychology, you could say that a similar unifying theory would help crystallize things into something more approachable for everyday people.  There are thousands of interesting studies to draw upon, and thousands more sources to pull from, but because of this explosion of information, it’s hard to grasp onto it.  People speak often of the many of things you can do to increase the quality of your life, but maybe there is actually a single statement or line of thinking that wraps everything up with a bow; something that everything else hangs off of.  This proposal from Rapt is as close as I’ve found:

Your life—who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.

It is pretty simple, isn’t it?  But it has broad implications.  It suggests that your internal experience is entirely forged by your external experience, specifically the things which you choose to apply your attention to.  And that you have control over it.  You can create your experience by learning how to focus your attention on the things that matter the most to you.  Maybe it’s not easy or natural right away, but it’s possible.  I love that thought.

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Written by Mike Torres

October 9th, 2009 at 8:56 am

Introduction to the Flow State (part 2 of 2)

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This post is part of the Introduction to the Flow State series.  Read the first part.

"In the groove", "in the zone", "in the bubble", and "on auto-pilot" are all ways to describe what the Japanese call "muga", and what Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced CHICK-sent-me-high-ee) dubbed "flow" in the 1980s. 

Flow can be defined as a period in time in which one becomes so completely involved in an activity that all other thoughts and emotions – what some consider the "self" – are excluded from consciousness

Raise the stakes and improve your skills

Click for photoWhatever the immediate activity we’re participating in, we need to continually find a way to 1) set clear goals, 2) find ways to measure progress and 3) raise the stakes when we become bored. In order to consistently achieve the flow state, we must continue to increase our skill set as well as the challenge, in order to avoid becoming disinterested, overwhelmed, or apathetic. This means striking a unique balance in which Dr. Csikszentmihalyi and Dr. Susan Jackson label the “C/S Balance” (challenge/skills) in their book “Flow in Sports”. The activity needs to be challenging, but not so challenging that it’s perceived as an impossibility. As your skill level increases, you’ll need to continually increase the level of personal challenge in the activity.

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Written by Mike Torres

March 21st, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Introduction to the Flow State (part 1 of 2)

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This post is part of the Introduction to the Flow State series.  Read the second part.

Click for photo "In the groove", "in the zone", "in the bubble", and "on auto-pilot" are all ways to describe what the Japanese call "muga", and what Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced CHICK-sent-me-high-ee) dubbed "flow" in the 1980s. 

Flow can be defined as a period in time in which one becomes so completely involved in an activity that all other thoughts and emotions – what some consider the "self" – are excluded from consciousness

It’s during this episode that an athlete or artist is in the much desired yet elusive mental state required to push his or her limits in the quest for peak performance. While most people view flow strictly as an afterthought, there are some who deem it as the sole purpose of any type of activity or training due to the fact that it enhances their awareness, improves their mood, and most importantly, enables them to perform at a level of proficiency they wouldn’t otherwise be capable of.

Bruce Lee was an ardent believer in the flow state (he referred to it as wu-hsin, flow’s Cantonese counterpart) and stated, "The consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action" (Tao of Jeet Kune Do, p7).  He believed that "physical stoppage", or the opposite of wu-hsin, could create many problems for a martial artist, as it would almost always result in hesitation and self-doubt.  It’s also said that he planned to use wu-hsin as his alibi should he ever have to legally defend a violent act, by simply stating that he did not do it, "it did it all by itself".

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Written by Mike Torres

March 17th, 2009 at 5:46 pm

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