What does it take to develop a skill? How much time or effort do you have to put into something to master it, or even just to get a good handle on it? One of my pet hates is the idea that such-and-such a person is “naturally” good at something. You hear it all the time. He’s a “natural” hurler, or she’s “gifted” at music, etc. It’s such a common phrase that you probably believe it yourself. Apologies in advance here, but I’ve news for you. I don’t buy it. I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as a certain aptitude for learning, i.e. some people are better able or quicker to learn certain skills. That does happen of course. But, as for this idea that someone is a natural, that they can master a skill or an art with little or no effort. No way Jose!
I’ve been learning Tai Chi (yeah the wave your hands in the air at the park thing!) for over ten years. For nine of those years I would go to my class and religiously promise myself that this would be the week I’d start to train properly (is this familiar to anyone else?). Actually, I’d spend the first half of the class overcoming the shame from not practicing. So we’d be there doing the movements of the form and my teacher would be correcting the same mistakes as I made the previous week and I’d be beating myself up inside for not having done more practice. Significantly he wouldn’t be saying anything, it was just me being critical (and how do you escape your own criticism?) So, that would be the first half of the class. Eventually I would resolve during the second half to start afresh and practice more before the next lesson. And, over the years, I would practice more – sometimes, and to varying degrees. I’d do an hour some days, then forget other days, or something would come along and get in the way. Needless to say, progress was slow. My Tai Chi teacher is great for using analogies. One of his favourites is that of paddling a canoe upstream. In this way you can do a limited amount of paddling (i.e. training) and just maintain your position. Naturally, if you stop paddling, you will slip downstream (deteriorate). What is needed to make progress is to paddle strongly upstream (i.e. put in an effort). And obviously, the more strongly you paddle the further you will travel. You’d think that would be easy to understand. Well, it took me nine years to realise what was needed and make a proper change. What did I do? I started getting up earlier, maybe 30 minutes earlier, and when the house was nice and quite I’d do a minimum 45 minutes training. I now do this maybe 5 days a week – that’s at least 4 hours training per week. And, needless to say, my Tai Chi is beginning to progress the way it could have all those years ago.
Why am I sharing all this? If you’re following this blog, you are obviously into RP and believe it can make a difference in your life and/or your work. Now, I’m like my Tai Chi teacher in this instance. I’m not going to criticize or judge anyone for not putting in more effort at this time. My teacher watched me for nine years gently paddling but not really progressing and was nothing but patient and supportive towards me. I thank him for his patience and I would aspire to do likewise with anyone learning RP. I’m just sharing what I discovered. A small change, that fits into your life and works for you, can make a huge difference. You can progress in RP in a way that you probably don’t realise right now. Pick an RP topic per week to read. Or, say one affective statement per day (or find out what an affective statement is if you have to). Use the six questions the next time there’s a situation in your class. Or go to the next coffee morning or community of practice. Make one change, and watch what happens!