In-Depth Insights

1. You Can’t Win If You’ve Never Experienced Losing

None of us like losing whether that’s a sporting match, a promotion, or a game of cards but losing shouldn’t be looked at as something inherently negative as losing, despite being frustrating, does have its benefits as you can reflect on why you’ve lost. Perhaps you lost concentration in the game of cards or became tired in the sporting match so you need to work on improving your focus and stamina. 

If, on the other hand, you find yourself almost always winning, improve your performance by seeking out opponents who are better than you, sure you’ll start losing but this is how you learn and grow to become better than before.

Parents and teachers nowadays tend to believe that competition is unhealthy but in actual fact, the correct amount of competition is incredibly beneficial and can equip us with the ability to cope with and overcome obstacles later in life. 

2. Feeling Vulnerable Is Normal When Learning

The learning process involves being willing and ready to face your mistakes and vulnerability because natural talent can only get you so far along the learning path. Feelings of hopelessness (i.e. “I’ll never learn this!”) and exhaustion—whether felt physically or mentally— are both normal however, it’s important not to doubt yourself as this can cause a downward spiral with you berating yourself for every mistake that you make which, in turn, can lead to your goals getting further and further out of reach. The trick is to take a step back each time you make a mistake or something goes wrong so that you can regain clarity of mind and keep the positive energy flowing. You might do this by going for a run, taking some deep breaths, or splashing your face with water.

3. An Incremental Approach Helps You Stay On Track

‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!’ This quote by Zig Ziglar should be remembered when learning as taking an incremental approach helps you stay on track. It’s the reason why only a few people make it big and achieve their goals as the majority of people use the entity approach to learning which ultimately means they get scared off after making one mistake and quit when the going gets tough so they never get to the stage of doing any real learning.

When you see your goal as a fixed entity, you will think of success or failure as dependent on how much of this entity you possess. You’ll think that you only have 1 opportunity to overcome the problem at hand and if you don’t overcome it the first time, you can’t overcome it at all. This is totally untrue. Remember when your parents said ‘try, try, and try again’? Treating your goal with an incremental approach means you gain from the mistakes and shortcomings that you will inevitably face. 

Rise to any challenge, safe in the knowledge that you do have the ability to grasp all skills and concepts so long as you put your mind to it.

4. Practice Leads To Intuition

If you do something often enough it begins to feel like second nature, that’s right - practice makes perfect! In the beginning, chess players have to remember that a bishop is worth 3 pawns and will count the numerical equivalent in their heads but with time, patience, and practice they come to know intuitively. When you have trained your intuition the fun starts as you free up your conscious mind meaning that you don’t have to remember how certain things work and can instead switch your concentration to the finer details of how to outwit your opponent.

5. Treat Disruptions As Opportunities To Grow Your Resilience

It can be highly frustrating when you’re in a state of high concentration only to have that spell shattered by the phone ringing or your co-worker, spouse, or kids asking you a question. If you react by getting annoyed, irritated, angry, or stressed it means you were in the ‘hard zone’ and expected the world to cooperate with your state of mind. If you enter the ‘soft zone’ instead, you allow yourself to keep your concentration and your patience even in less-than-ideal circumstances whilst cultivating resilience.

Practice this by deliberately allowing those annoying distractions into your life - if you can’t concentrate when people are around you, go work in a public place or in your kitchen! If you can’t concentrate when music is playing, put the radio on and get to work - you have to train your concentration to be resilient by putting yourself into these less-than-perfect situations.

6. You Need Efficient Recovery Techniques

You probably perform your best after getting a good night’s sleep but might sacrifice this to squeeze in some more study time. You must resist sacrificing your best recovery technique as not getting enough sleep is known to lead to inefficient, imprecise, and repetitive thinking. 

We can only stay focused on 1 thing for a limited time so by allowing yourself time to rest and recover, you can easily jump back into your concentrated state after. This is why we’re told to take regular breaks when studying, driving, and so forth.

Leading performers have trained themselves to relax in very short moments of inactivity with some superior chess players only needing a 1 minute break in between rounds to get full mental recovery.

You can practice your recoveries by taking up cardiovascular interval training which means performing a series of short high-intensity workouts with regular rests. There is a physiological connection between intense cardio training and quickly releasing stress and mental exhaustion. The more you practice, the longer it will take you to raise your heart rate and the quicker it will take at lowering it hence giving you better endurance and helping you to relax fast.

7. Routines Get You Into The Zone

You might find it difficult to get into the right frame of mind to concentrate, unable to settle down and do what is needed despite the looming deadline, easily distracted and disturbed hence becoming increasingly frustrated. It’s possible to get into ‘peak performance mode’ and enjoy serene concentration by creating and practicing a routine.

Let’s say you’re writing a book. Prior to settling down at your computer, you need to create a 4-5 step routine which precedes this activity. Perhaps you’ll eat a snack, check messages, respond to any that are important, then turn your phone off, make your favorite beverage then go to your desk to do 5 minutes of breathing exercises. You’re now ready to settle down and write that report.

If you follow this routine every day you will create a powerful physiological connection between the routine and the task. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes so that you can easily get into the zone, even using the routine to help you achieve other tasks where you need concentration. 

Eventually, you’ll be able to shorten the routine, perhaps incorporating the breathing exercises into your workout session and just making the hot drink before sitting down at the laptop to get to work on your book - and truly getting to work, no emails, no Facebook, no solitaire! When you’ve mastered the technique you’ll only have to think about a part of your routine to trigger a state of high-performance.

The above is inspired from the bestselling book "The Art of Learning" by Josh Waitzkin

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