How do you get good at something?
Hold on. Let’s get back to that in a bit.
I reached the point, a few months back, where things just stopped making sense to me in terms of the direction I was going with my career in the fitness industry (if you could call it that). I was restless and felt stagnant. I needed to step back and take stock of what was going on with me, internally.
At the time, I was affiliated with some coaching groups that required me to be on Facebook often. In my gut, this started to make me feel uneasy, as I felt like I was wasting too much time dancing through echo chambers and getting in arguments that, at their core, weren’t constructive. Even before I sat down to quantify how much time I was wasting and how many distractions I was fielding from day-to-day, I just knew that something wasn’t right. In particular, I felt this odd “background anxiety”… as if I had to compulsively check my notifications and emails all the time.
With technology as robust as it is, this is the new norm: constant connectivity.
Granted, there are plenty of great articles that can be found via Facebook, but in my situation, I was gaining nothing that amounted to growth by arguing incessantly with people on topics that I actually have formal training in. It amounted to nothing more than a futile dick-measuring contest that I would have daily.
To what end?
I mean, was this helping me to get better at anything? If I’m constantly correcting people, for example, on basic motivational theories that I already know, then what good is that doing me? And more bluntly: Why does the onus fall on me to provide education to people for free, via social media?
The answer to the last question, as it turns out: IT DOESN’T.
Upon examination, I wasn’t doing anything to further my academic growth, and I wasn’t physically doing things that I needed to facilitate mastery. One of the goals I have, post massage school, is to develop a robust Mastery of the art. This is not something that can be done by arguing with people on Facebook, or by even reading books. This, much like leadership, coaching, training, and even exercise programming, requires DOING.
One of the fundamental problems that I’ve had with Academia is that there are plenty of people who leave high school, begin their field of study, and move right into PhD-level work/teaching students. The problem is that they’re teaching things that they never actually did themselves. Leadership and management is one area where this comes to mind. Sure, there is plenty you can learn in textbooks, but until you’re actually thrown to the dogs and leave real people in real life situations, you can’t get the full experience. As the cliche goes, there are things that you can’t find in textbooks.
Like it or not, experience does count for something, and practice is important.
Am I saying that everyone needs to join the military, be unlucky enough to swear in right before 9/11, and spend the next 13 years in a hodgepodge of random, challenging, and downright insane leadership situations if they want to be a good leader/manager?
But, well, it doesn’t really hurt.
Which leads me, once again, to ask: How do you get good at something?
There are many factors here, but actually doing it is a very important part of the process. And doing it with deliberate, intense focus is of critical importance.
While I was in the midst of this existential crisis, I stumbled upon a book called Deep Work, by Cal Newport. Newport is a Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University who has no social media accounts and didn’t even have a smartphone until a few years ago, when his wife demanded he get a better phone after their first child was born. In his book, Newport argues that this culture of connectivity can actually prevent us from being able to focus and do what he calls “deep work”. Because distraction is a very real thing, even subconsciously, having too much stuff going on can prevent us from really getting deep into our work whether that’s some kind of craftsmanship, computer programming, or even personal training.
Knowing that my long-term goal was to attain Mastery as a Manual Therapist, it followed that the best way to do that would be to get as much hands-on experience, while simultaneously shoring up any knowledge deficiencies I had identified (pain science and ligament anatomy come to mind). While I can’t speak for everyone, after reading Newport’s book, I surmised that the best way to do this was to have complete uninterrupted focus time where I was disconnected from everything.
I’ve been doing this now for a week, and it has been interesting, to say the least.
In subsequent articles, I’ll outline exactly what I did to step away, as well as some of the apps and tools I’m using to restrict my social media and internet use and force me to focus deeply. I’ll also outline my general mindset during this process, as this has not been an easy thing to do.
One of the things you notice, right away, is how much you spend screwing around.
For the first few days, I had so much free time but I didn’t know what to do with myself. Also, I’ve had to learn to focus again, as well as to be present. This hasn’t been 100% comfortable, but I’m sure this will be worth it in the end.
Once again, I’m not saying I speak for everyone, and some people’s jobs simply won’t allow this. However, if you are feeling uneasy about your current path, and feel as though you may be unfocused and wasting time, perhaps this is something you should take a look at. A combination of self-awareness and brutal honesty was what it took for me to get along this path, and realize that this is the way forward for me if I was to make any progress both in manual therapy, and in coaching.
Is there something you want to get better at?