Friday, 10 March 2017

Back on form

Around a year and a half ago I got some bad news.
I had recently injured my back and I couldn’t walk for nearly three weeks. It took me a long time to recover and eventually return to work but by this time I had been off for the best part of two months and questions as to whether I was up to the job anymore were quite rightly being asked - not least by myself.
I had to know what I was up against so I had an MRI scan that sadly revealed a congenital degeneration of the vertebral discs throughout my spine. To all intents and purposes they were slowly dying.
A rather damning letter told me that I couldn’t play any of the sports I loved anymore and due to the apparent severity of the condition I didn’t even know if I’d be able to continue working here Tonbridge after it was diagnosed. 
Upon arriving for my appointment with the consultant following on from the scan I was even presented with a wheelchair - which I politely declined.
That was when I started to ask questions. They were seemingly dumbfounded that I had arrived under my own steam, from work no less and having taught a spin class that morning. If I was able to do all these things the MRI said I shouldn’t be able to then how could it possibly be as bad as they thought it was?
Long story short I educated myself. I went from seeking the best way to increase my strength in the gym or trim my body fat down to learning about the spine and how it worked.
Not only did I read everything I could find (and Google everything I couldn’t) but I practiced training my spine, experimented with how it moved and (more painfully) how it didn’t!
Now a year and some odd months later I have had the first major setback with my back.
That happened on a Friday and put everyone in a panic thinking it was all going off again. Everyone but me I think. I was quite calm this time around.
I knew what to do this time and it took till Sunday afternoon to convince my spine to move correctly again. The following Monday I took all my classes with full participation.
What I have come to realise is that I learnt more than just how the spine works during that time. I learned the art of deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice is when you don’t just show up. It’s when you absorb yourself in something, become aware of every variable and the adjustments you must make in order to improve yourself. It’s what separates the great sportsmen, musicians, artists and scientists from the almost made it’s. The Chelsea’s from the Arsenal’s if you like.  
Sometimes it’s called natural talent – but I’m sorry it’s not. Whether that gifted 9 year old knows it or not they will have gained an understanding through the process of conscious trial and error – deliberate practice. They might not fully understand why they are getting it right but they’ve found countless ways to get it wrong.
There is a vast difference between knowing that you’re good at something and knowing why you’re good at it! It’s like turning up to class knowing you’re good at maths but repeatedly getting one question wrong and then trying to solve it the same way again and again. You wouldn’t do that but for some reason we don’t always take the same approach to other subjects.
Interestingly, I find this flaw most apparent in the practice of skills involving movement of the human body.
This I believe is because it can be at one time by far the most complex and difficult piece of equipment to control and yet the most simple, almost thoughtlessly easy at another. If you’re moving correctly it is seamless and effortless and if you’re not performing even the most basic skill can feel nigh on impossible.
There is a theory called the 10,000 hours that some of you may have heard of already.  This simply puts a figure on the number of hours required to master a particular skill...apparently.
But I can believe it based on the time it has taken me to get just a fraction of the way to where I’d like to get to with regards to my understanding of the body as a whole.
Now unless you can dedicate 5.5 hours a day to something over the next five years you won’t master anything entirely any time soon – but you can certainly start or maybe even finish mastering something.
Maybe you’ve been playing a sport or an instrument since you were young, maybe you’ll learn to master the language you’ve spoken since the very start and go on to write an incredible book, become a world-renowned speaker.    
You can achieve anything you want to achieve.
But you have to apply yourself. You have to practice deliberately.
You have to want to know something down to its very essence.
Now for me it took for it to become a matter of necessity before I learnt this invaluable approach to learning (and as it turns out life as a whole). Don’t wait for it to get to that stage for you. Don’t wait until exam time – don’t wait until you HAVE to know it. Enjoy the process and the rewards will be that much more fulfilling.
Do not practice until you get something right – practice until you can’t get it wrong.
Patrick Latter.

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