Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cycle of Learning

I remember one of the more interesting criticisms I ever received from somebody.  I was thinking about how to improve the ways we pay attention during matches, and how it affects our play.  I received this criticism which has stuck with me.

"All that needs to be done is develop technical ability and have game experience in general, there's no magic philosophizing that needs to be done. You're a joke."

I like this criticism and I remember it because it reminds me of several things.

First off, most people treat mental skills and behaviors as a realm of mysticism and magic.  If you try and analyze, understand, manipulate, or change them, you're accused of wishy-washy thinking.  It's new-age "magic philosophizing."  Just do stuff.  Why waste energy thinking about thinking?  When I remember this, it reminds me--when I talk about these subjects--to couch the subject in the most realistic, grounded language I can.  Otherwise I risk alienating people.  That's pretty important.

Second is that it's very worth avoiding mystical thinking.  "Just because" doesn't work.  There is a reason for things.  Even when it comes to mental behaviors and patterns; we make mental errors for reasons, we experience negative and positive emotions for reasons.  If there isn't a mechanism behind it, then we're running into mysticism.  "It just happens, now shut up."  Not very useful.  When somebody tells me my ideas are poor, this is one of the first places I look to; is there a mechanism we can understand that lets us predict and alter things?  If I'm not focusing on accurate observations, or understanding real mechanisms, my ideas are probably weak.

But the third thing (and this is why I bring up the whole dreary anecdote) I remember is that all skills, at their peak, are unconscious things.  All efforts of conscious understanding must, eventually, move us to internalizing the lessons.  What we learn and believe must become assumptions, hidden rules that we don't even think about.

The fourth thing, following that, is we must become practiced at rooting out our unconscious behaviors.  If they don't serve our purpose, why keep them?  They aren't secret, magical parts of our identity; they are skills and rules that we can improve and change.  So it's a circle, a loop, a continuous process.  There is no destination; you can keep doing it until you actually become perfect and know everything, or you die.

This applies to your skills and knowledge.  It also applies to your emotions.  You can't quite achieve victory, emotionally speaking.  There's not really a reason to.  You will (and should) feel sad when sad things happen, and happy when happy things do.  I claim that my best play comes when I don't pay attention to winning or losing, but then I jump out of my chair with excitement after winning important matches.  I feel disappointed to lose when I try my hardest in important situations.  But if I can't perfectly define my happiness or my disappointment, I can try to refine my perspective on those emotions.  I can become more aware of them and see whether my emotions are appropriate for my situation.  And if they are, I don't have to be afraid of them.  If they aren't, I can recognize I'm being silly and change.  Either way, I win.

On a related note, something similar happens when I write about these kinds of subjects; somebody will tell me that they had similar thoughts, but that by putting them into words, I help them understand the ideas better.

Isn't that strange?  The thoughts are already in somebody's head.  Then I describe the thoughts differently, and the thoughts come into focus, or the person shifts perspective, and the thoughts improve.  They become more real, more useful to the person who has them.  The ideas can then go back to being a more trusted and understood resource, without requiring conscious analysis and effort.  Same thought, different perspective, better experience.  Moreover, that idea becomes perfectly refined, it must happen again, or you will find yourself stagnating.

That is the circle of learning.  Things begin unconsciously.  We turn our focus to them so we can refine the process or the instinct.  Then we let it become unconscious again, where it is most efficiently executed.  And then, with our new skills and thoughts, we reach new places where those skills and behaviors must be refined and refocused anew.  Learning is as much a process of undoing our old instincts and beliefs as it is forging new ones.  If you're going to continue growing (and you will, because perfection is a long time coming) whether in skill or emotion, then it will be destructive and cyclical.

2 comments:

  1. When you speak about best play coming when unconcerned with the result, that is a pivotal piece of knowledge which is inherent in many complicated games and sports, especially a single-player game, given the increased pressure afforded by not having a 'backup' of sorts.

    Coaches spend years and years attempting to learn how to ease pressure on their athletes, and it is insightful to notice this. I think that you would know the meaning of being 'on fire', that state where one consistently performs significantly beyond their level for a certain period of time, i.e. one tournament.

    I've had these moments, and they all happened when I had both the desire to win as well as a counterweight in the focus and determination required to do it. Not that they were in Smash, but I find it unusually very related to fencing. Reading the opponent before they actually act, baiting reactions, finding the right distance (spacing) to make them attack and punish, surprise and a lot more.

    p.s. Friending you on facebook.

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