There are two fundamental skills that one must have in order to thrive. The first, distinguishing truth from falsehood, we have already talked about some:
... and will talk about more in the future. The second is the skill of learning new skills.
Skills are the path to pretty much anything you want which is at all possible. When you know what to learn (by distinguishing truth from falsehood), and you know how to learn, you always have a way to work towards your goals.
Learning important things is hard, because if learning a thing is easy, everyone already knows how to do it, so it's not that important. We distinguish ourselves from others by learning hard skills. And when we say "hard skills", we mean "hard to learn", because any skill becomes easier to perform the better one learns to perform it.
So how does learning work?
- There are three distinct types of learning: Education, Practice, and Training.
- They don't substitute for each other; learning requires all three.
- Although they do overlap some, they are stages, and they need to happen in order.
- Learning a skill can be one big Education-Practice-Training sequence, but it usually also has lots of little ones inside it.
Now, everyone here knows that:
- EDUCATION is the process of transferring knowledge from an external source into you. (The source can be a book, another person, a video, just going out and looking at something directly, performing science experiments, whatever.) Knowledge of a subject is not performance of a skill, but no one can perform a skill unless they first know what they are supposed to be doing.
So what are practice and training, and how are they different?
PRACTICE is the act of attempting to perform a skill, observing the results of the attempt, and correcting the performance according to the observation. This try-observe-correct-try cycle is called a feedback loop. It is the presence of this feedback loop which distinguishes practice from education. Generally the faster this loop can be run, the more cycles you can complete, and the more effective your practice time will be at improving your skill.
TRAINING is the process of inducing a stress to stimulate an adaptive response. (If this doesn't sound familiar to you, then do you even lift, bro?) When a skill can be performed correctly and reliably in practice, a stress is introduced into that performance to induce an adaptation to that stress. (If you can perform a squat correctly with an empty bar, add some weight to it. If you can reliably hit 10 out of 10 shots from prone at 300 yards, do it against a 60 second time limit.)
The difference between practice and training is that practice uses a feedback loop to teach an action, while training uses an induced stress to modify the performance of an already-practiced action.
So, when we want to learn properly, we:
- First educate ourselves so we know what a performance of the action should look like.
- Then we practice the action, focusing on using feedback (the quicker the better) to make the action correct, not on the difficultly or challenge of the practice task.
- Last, when we can do the action reliably and correctly, we train by adding some stress to that performance in order to be able to do it under those conditions: faster, heavier, under less favorable conditions, while balancing a ball on your nose, whatever. Just remember that adapting to one stress adapts you to that stress, not necessarily others.
- This is the cycle. We run big cycles of this, and smaller cycles inside that. But practice must be informed by education, and training must be enabled by practice.
So what happens to people who don't do this?
- Your kid brother who tried to "learn MMA" by putting on some boxing gloves and duking it out in the backyard with his friends was training without practice or education. He got faster and smoother at doing the wrong thing, perhaps, but can't really fight.
- If he hung a heavy bag and hit that a bunch first, before he progressed to brawling, then he was practicing without education, and things were much the same.
- The guy who thinks he can fight because he watches a whole bunch of professional MMA matches and knows what all the moves are is educated without being practiced or trained, and can't punch his way out of a wet paper bag.
- That strip mall karate school guy who can do elabourate forms but can't fight is educated and practiced, but not trained. He has not introduced stress into his learning process, so his skill performance falls apart under stress.
- That wannabe tough guy who starts fighting smoker matches when has only been boxing for four months is training without enough practice. He knows what a good punch looks like, what good footwork looks like, but it all falls apart in the ring, because he hasn't practiced it enough, and the level of stress he is inducing is too high, too fast.
So how do we learn?
- Pursue the steps in order.
- Any time you are learning, know which one you are doing: educating yourself, practicing, or training.
- Focus on what is needed for the step you are doing:
- When educating yourself, focus on gaining a mental understanding of the proper way to do things. It doesn't matter that you can't do it yet.
- When practicing, focus on creating a tight feedback loop so you can correct your technique. The quicker and better your feedback, the more effective your practice will be. Do not induce stress by trying to make things more "realistic" or by "practicing a harder thing". You are trying to be correct, not fast, smooth, or awesome.
- When training, focus on adapting what you already know to a new level of pressure. Do not try new shit you haven't practiced first.
- Don't make the "coward error" of educating forever to avoid practice, or practicing forever to avoid training. You will never learn.
- Don't make the "showoff error" of jumping right to practice without education, or training right away without practice. You will think you look awesome, but you will continue to suck.
- When you change what you are doing, jump back to a previous stage. Never try to learn something new under stress if you can avoid it.
Think about what you are doing, and you will get better faster.