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Courage and Rest

February 26th, 2011

Like many athletes, I have struggled at times with overtraining. Athletics is largely about “sucking it up” and although that mindset can be hugely valuable, it is also risky. One thing that I have learned and learned the hard way, is that it takes great courage to rest. Our instinct is to do more – run that extra mile, squeeze in that one more tempo or long run, hit the gym one more time even though we are tired and sore. It takes courage, however, to back off and let the body recover. We think we’ll lose fitness, but in reality we actually gain it when resting. There are certain things I keep an eye on to help me know when I can keep the throttle down, when I am at risk of over-doing it, and when I should simply stop and rest- my mood, energy levels, sleep, urine color, training performance, appetite, muscle soreness, etc. When my body is telling me to rest, I rest. So far I’ve been pleased with the results. I’ve been getting stronger and performing better with the kettlebells and at my crossfit workouts. Most importantly, I’ve felt better and more present during the day with my clients and family.

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Learning New Skills

February 17th, 2011

This is an interesting article by Clive Sheppard on how we learn new skills.

I must admit I’ve always thought of the four-step process that sees a learner move from unconscious incompetence through conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally unconscious competence (see the Wikipedia entry) as an amusing play on words and not much more. But I’ve been finding it quite useful recently as a way of explaining the learner’s journey as they develop new skills and I’m finding a very snug fit with Nick Shackleton-Jones’ concept of courses and resources (see my post on this), currently my favourite way of explaining the relationship between formal and informal learning.

In case you haven’t encountered the four steps before, the idea is that the learner starts in a state of unconscious incompetence with regard to a new area of skill. They don’t know what they don’t know. The skill looks straightforward enough. There’s probably not a lot to it.

Of course, when they do get to have a go, they find it’s a lot harder than they thought. They don’t have any of the elaborate schema built up by expert performers over time and they flounder. Now they are in a state of conscious incompetence – they know that they don’t know. At this point, some will turn and run, but assuming the skill is worth having, most will be highly motivated to learn.

Repeated practice with supportive feedback will bring those that persevere to a state of conscious competence. We can perform the skill – just – but because the elements of the skill are still not sufficiently drilled in, our working memory is overloaded with ‘things we mustn’t forget to do’ and we’re sweating to hold it all together.

The reward comes in time. Eventually the skill becomes so deeply embedded that we are hardly aware of what we are doing. We may even be able to carry out the skill in the background, leaving our working memory free to cope with the unexpected or to carry out another task altogether. This is unconscious competence.

So how do courses and resources fit into this? According to Nick’s model, the course (which we can regard as any more or less formal learning intervention) has two purposes: (1) to inspire the learner, to have them care about what needs to be learned, to arouse the emotions, and (2) to instil confidence. So how do these map to the four steps? Well, one of the ways that you generate an emotional reaction is by demonstrating that there really is a learning need. You want the learner to be thinking “This stuff seems to matter. I should probably know how to do it but I don’t.” In other words, the learner is consciously incompetent. That’s what any skill-building course should accomplish early on but so many don’t. If you haven’t put the learner in a situation where their lack of skill becomes obvious to them, then they won’t realise. You have to let them have a go. Starting a course with a load of theory isn’t going to demonstrate need. Far better to engage the learner in a practical activity (case study, scenario, group challenge, simulation, etc.) that puts their skill (or lack of it) to the test – safely, of course, and without embarrassment. When they become frustrated by obstacles to their progress then, believe me, they’ll be willing to learn.

Most skill-building courses, even those that devote too long to the theory, will provide some practice. The trouble is that this is often limited to one or two brief attempts – just enough for the learner to be conscious of their incompetence. This is not a happy state in which to end a course – in effect, the learner is worse off than when they started. When you’re learning any new skill, you need plenty of safe practice. Mistakes should be encouraged, even welcomed. Nobody gets hurt and no-one’s out of pocket. Ideally, no-one’s trying to impress their peers, just to develop their skills. Most courses end with the learner in a state of conscious incompetence, but if the aim of the course really is to instil confidence, then it needs to get the learner well on the path to conscious competence – perhaps not all the way there, but confident enough to progress more independently. Only with confidence can the learner move on from the course to take advantage of the resources, whether these are in the form of content, or support from a coach, buddy, mentor, supervisor or peers.

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About Rolfing

Rolfing® is a system of bodywork based on structural integration, developed by Ida Rolf...

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Based in Bellingham, Rolfing practitioner Brad Jones has an office conveniently located in downtown Bellingham ...

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