The second way to learn is to actively try to get better. We gain a little bit of knowledge, enough to get a feel for the complexity of what it is that we are trying to do. If I’m learning to play golf, at this point I understand that I have to learn to rotate my arms in a particular way, to push the club away from me rather than lifting it, to deal with weight shift, maintaining spine angle, keeping my head behind the ball, not rushing my backswing, following all the way through, finishing high . . .
“Sheesh! That’s a lot to pay attention to, but okay – I want to learn this game, and learn it quickly! So I make a swing. And I have this feeling that I swung too quickly, and I know I did the weight shift wrong, and I hit behind the ball, so I must have done something else wrong, and I don’t know if I finished correctly or not. Did I get all the way through? And look what the ball did! It never got higher than ten feet off the ground, and it’s over in the bushes, I don’t know if I can even find it over there.
“Let me swing again, I’ll do it better this time. Oops! I lost my balance that time, and I’m not sure what happened in the second half of the swing, but the club was doing some really weird things, and I could really tell that I rose up that time. And the ball popped up and went left, but it came down just as quickly.”
How much learning do you think is going on here?
You can eventually sort everything out using this approach, but it’s a little time-consuming. You gradually figure out what matters and what doesn’t. Take a new physical activity, for instance. You don’t know what muscles are required to get the job done initially. But as you go along, your subconscious figures out what muscles don’t need to participate, and it shuts them down.
As long as you are actively paying attention to what happens (unlike the golfer in the previous example), the wheat and the chaff get separated over time. You may go down some wrong paths, but you figure that out before you get too far, and you come back to the fork in the road and follow the other route.
But a certain amount of what happens in this learning process is serendipity. Your subconscious is looking out for you and it does its best to make you happy. Sometimes the best it can do it to try to save you from yourself, but given enough time, your subconscious will often figure out how to do something better. What it can’t do, using this process, is figure out how to be great.
Why? Because the rehearsal process is short. Whether you use a two or six or eight week rehearsal period, it’s a finite length of time. With each play, you’re starting the learning process at zero, but you don’t have the leisure to learn at your own pace. No one is going to delay opening night so that you can improve your performance.
I guess you can figure out that my personal preference is Learning Process #3 . . .