Thursday, May 12, 2016

Experiences and Learning

Here we are at the culmination of eight or nine months of (nearly) weekly blogging. As many of you might not know, Economics of Reality is, in fact, my second foray into blogging. What started as an experiment early this last fall semester was actually a continuation, or should I say, discontinuation, of a blogging series I wrote early in this last fall semester for a class. The project was extended under a similar, but non-graded, circumstance through this group discussion which began as three people but was immediately reduced to two. This particular series began as a fresh graduate trying to capitalize on a skill only relatively recently acquired. Now that this blog may (but may not) be coming to a close with the ending of the school year, I can look back on past work and really question what I learned, gained, and improved on from this experience.

I’ve narrowed my list of new knowledge to the three most important lessons (in no particular order): Deconstructing, examining, and thinking critically about processes; breaking away from rituals, experimenting to find a better way, and then practicing deliberately; and that writing ability, along with most other skills, are not handed to you and require practice and continuous self-examination to achieve improved results.
First, discovering the value of process requires the examination of its parts. For writing, these pieces are topic discovery, prewriting, writing, and editing. But what do those look like? Same goes for skill acquisition. When I’m learning something, I first read a few books on it. For the first book, I read slowly and I take notes on the practical aspects. I do a web search on any words or concepts I don’t understand. I make connections with previous books; sometimes between somewhat different subjects such as management and psychology. The next books naturally go faster since I have a good grasp on the topic by then. I may also read articles online relating to the topic (an RSS feed is great for this). With the specific knowledge committed to memory, I can continue making connections with books I read afterwards.

Now that I’ve considered the process, I can begin to improve it.  What might I do? I can see that I should spend more time applying the new information in the real-life situations. And now that I’ve discovered that, I can think of strategies and processes to improve on that aspect as well. For example, how might I turn these subjects into play so they might be more enjoyable to practice?

Second, I learned from this experience that the improvement of technique often requires experimentation. This can mean breaking away from ritualistic processes in writing, working, simple tasks, and entertainment. Rituals can be so comforting and reliable in part because we’re become experts in our ritualistic behaviors and can complete things quicker with reduced anxiety. My daily ritual, for example, is a comforting and reliable one. I get plenty of reading done, and I’m able to make a smooth transition from sleeping to working. I wake up to an alarm at 8:30, open the blinds, get my coffee brewing, make my bed, organize my desk, check my phone/emails, fill a cup of coffee, grab my current book off the shelf, sit down in my desk chair, and read until noon when I have lunch. After an hour for that, I open up my laptop and get some work done until I, well, just sort of stop. The rest of the evening is free until around 12:30 when I go to bed.

That’s all well and good, but rituals can also be a hindrance if relied on too much. They might go from comforting to comfort zone, from productive to leisurely, and from flexible to rigid. Getting attached to a ritual that is no longer serving its purpose can become a distraction or an inhibiter. Maybe reading isn’t the best use of my mornings. Since it’s during the time of day when I’m most motivated, I could be better off tackling higher priorities then instead of later. I run into this problem all the time. I'm much more likely to make important phone calls in the morning, but since I use that time to read, I don’t always do so. I hate making phone calls, so sticking with my reading ritual becomes nothing more than an excuse to stay in my comfort zone.

Finally, something I gained a great deal of experience from was the writing itself. It’s hard for me to say exactly what I’ve learned since there’s been too much learned to talk about. There’s certain subtle differences in my style that hardly applies to other people, but for me personally, it’s an essential development. Two of the most stressed aspects of this experience, deliberate practice and mindset, have allowed me to see learning in a new light; every blog post I write and everything I do contributes to a lifelong learning process. There’s some profound implications there. And through practice and self-examination, I’ve gained a great deal of confidence to write with personality, style, and emotion and have learned to stand by my beliefs, opinions, and level of expertise, albeit with open-mindedness. I haven’t written enough yet for some of these aspects to show, but I’ve made some important first steps in that direction.

This group discussion has been a humbling experience. I used to think that performing well meant waiting for high-performance rather than working for it. In writing, I was always expecting to discover the perfect topic or for one piece to just turn out better than all others. Being fixed minded, that’s all I could really hope for. Having now fully realized how essential practice is to the improvement of performance, I no longer see that as the case. My best work may lie ahead provided I put in the proper effort and work hard to get better. Perhaps that means I’ll start fresh with a new blog now or continue writing outside of blogging for a while. When the time is right, and I’m ready to commit myself once again to writing, I will blog again.

1 comment:

  1. You get up at 8:30? I wonder if you've experimented with that. Once you start full time work, the time you get up will largely be determined by the job. One summer when I was in college I worked near the World Trade Center, close to ground zero. The commute was about an hour. I was supposed to be at the office around 8 AM. You can work through the rest. I know kids your age like to sleep in. Now I admire that capacity, because I can't do it myself. But it should be for the weekends. If you need eight hours then going to bed at 11 makes sense. You might consider experimenting with that change to your schedule.

    Your post was very arm's length - analytic but without a sense of passion. You might ask what it would take get more passion into the writing and what sort of experiments would produce that.