How to get better at almost anything

4 lessons from sport and music

This short 5 minute video helpfully illustrates what is needed to get better at practically any skill. While the focus is on physical activities such as playing an instrument or throwing a ball, the same principles are assumed to apply to any field of endeavour you might want to get better at.

In a fast changing and increasingly complex world the need to learn new skills and to be able to get better is vital if not essential. Hence practice becomes very important if we are going to improve in any skill and do that with speed and confidence.

To help us understand how our minds work, the speaker helpfully distinguishes between two kinds of brain tissue - the grey matter and white matter. It is the grey matter that does the 'work' in terms of processing information and directing signals and sensory stimuli to the other brain cells. Meanwhile the white matter is made up of mostly fatty tissue and nerve fibres. When we move our bodies then information needs to travel from our brain's grey matter down our spinal cord through a chain of nerve fibres called axons to our muscles.

So what happens to the inner workings of our brains when we practice a skill?....

Podcast #037: Making sense of technology

Learning to flourish in a digital world

Technology impacts and influences our lives in increasingly powerful and profound ways. How do I make sense of technology in a way that truly enhances and enriches my life? This podcast is a continuation of my conversation with author Pete Nicholas on the book he has co-authored with Ed Brooks called "Virtually Human: Flourishing In a Digital World".

In our earlier discussion (Podcast #036: Virtually Human Part 1) we looked at while new technologies hold awesome potential for good there is another side to them. Surprisingly the essence of technology is not technological, but what it truly means to be human. When we engage unthinkingly with the online world there is a danger we begin to become like the technologies we use, relating and thinking without human connection. We fall short of what we were made to be and become virtually human.

So technology is much more than just a tool by which we engage with the world. It also changes us in both subtle and profound ways. Those who uncritically promote technology are keen to tell a story of never ending human flourishing and progress (For an example see the short Facebook video: The Things That Connect Us). However, this is far too simplistic. We need to both affirm the good that technology provides us while at the same time being realistic about its limitations to change basic human nature.

On this podcast we particularly focus on how technology impacts our identity and relationships. Do join us as we discuss:

  • How digital technologies like Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram enable us to re-imagine and re-create who we are. What kind of online identity am I going to create and how much is it in integrity with who I am offline?
  • How Rene Descartes from 1639 has deeply affected our understanding of identity and the way we think of ourselves in the online world. We find ourselves caught between two conflicting narratives of 'be true to yourself' and at the same time 'shape yourself as you have no ultimate identity'.
  • While there is a very positive outworking of this in empowering someone like Malala Yousafzai to have a global voice in influencing and challenging the oppression of women there is another side in terms of raising questions around what ultimately is identity that can lead to loss of a sense of belonging anywhere.
  • How John Calvin from 1589  gives us a framework for understanding identity. We are made for worship - that is to find our ultimate identity and fulfilment in someone, something or some idea. We cannot stop ourselves from worshipping and the implications that has for us.
  • How social media has affected our relationships. There has been huge benefits in being able to connect with people from around the world and find out what friends and family are doing.
  • At the same time, quoting psychologist Sherry Turkle, "we have moved from conversation to connection, from talking to texting, from solitude to isolation, from interdependent to interconnected". (p.104)
  • How big business and huge amounts of investment and research is undertaken to make sure we stay connected to technology as much as possible.
  • The seriousness of these challenges when you consider how many Silicon Valley executives send their children to schools with a no device policy.
  • How technology makes it so easy to separate ourselves from people we don't like or whose views we disagree with. We lose the ability to work through problems we have with others and instead take the path of least resistance by dismissing them from our lives.
  • Why we need to learn how to dialogue with people who hold views different to our own without getting abusive or dismissive or demonising them.

You may also find of interest:

Podcast #025: Is there a difficult person in your life?

Discovering Silence and Solitude

More details on the book are available at the Virtually Human website here.

What questions and comments does our discussion raise for you?

5 ways you may sabotage yourself

A guest post by Connie Clay

I used to enjoy watching Alex Rodriguez, also known as A-Rod, play baseball for the Yankees. And then his wife accused him of adultery. He didn’t deny it. Later, he was accused of using steroids. He initially denied using the steroids, and later admitted that he used them to improve his performance. Now retired from baseball, A-Rod is a successful businessman and says he is a present father.

Do you wonder why people who seem to have accomplished so much do things that will surely have a negative impact on their families and their careers? Why do people engage in self-sabotage?

While most of us don’t have public character implosions, we often engage in behaviors that are not in our best interests. Here are some of the ways that we sabotage ourselves:

  1. We insult ourselves. Our internal dialog can be brutal. We call ourselves lazy, fat, worthless, etc. We say things to ourselves that we would never say to friends or family. The next time you catch yourself saying something unkind to yourself, stop. It’s okay to examine your behavior in a certain instance, but do not label yourself with unkind names or adjectives.
  2. We keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Maybe you wanted to change careers or write a book. You’ve had big goals and dreams for years, but nothing changes. Often, nothing changes because we refuse to change. We won’t get tomorrow’s results with yesterday’s methods. Sometimes, we have to give up the unstructured Saturdays and decide we’re going to spend a few hours writing a book or emailing resumes and updating our LinkedIn profile.
  3. We hang around the wrong people. We become the sum total of the people we spend the most time with. I noticed this when I sat through a painful time share presentation. The sales people, mostly men, were dressed alike. They had similar haircuts. They walked in a similar manner. When we spend time with people who are negative, toxic, or unmotivated, it is difficult to avoid their energy. It envelopes the space. Carefully consider who you spend your time with. Do you want to me more like those folks? If not, maybe you should limit or eliminate your association.
  4. We have too much stuff going on. If you have a dozen pages open on your computer, things slow down. It’s hard to be great at the important things when you have dozens of unimportant things nipping at your heels. Have the courage to say no to new commitments and to remove yourself from organizations and responsibilities that are not a good use of your time.
  5. We don’t treat our priorities like priorities. You’ve probably heard that your calendar and your checkbook reflect your priorities. If time with your family is a priority, are they on your calendar? If returning to school is a priority, is that reflected in how you spend money? Did you know that the word “priority” was not pluralized until the 20th century? Narrow your priorities to three and invest your time, money and energy in them. It’s okay to drop things until you have time to give them attention.

What do you need to stop doing?

Connie Clay will show you how to create harmony between your personal commitments and your professional goals. Connie raised a family while managing a busy career. Connie will give you tools and strategies to lovingly care for your family and advance professionally without feeling like you are neglecting one or the other.

You can find out more about Connie here.

This article first appeared on her blog and can be accessed here.

How to grow through your imagination

Meaningful growth and development does not come automatically. To grow means to create a future that is greater and in some way better than your past. Growth is a sign of health. It is a sign of life. All living things grow.

Creating a future that is greater than your past is essentially an act of your imagination. You have to be willing to go there. That for most people is easier said than done. If growth is about creating a future greater than your past, then the first step is having the faith to believe a greater future is possible. You don't need to see the whole path, but you can have faith to take the next step. And the next step. And the one after that again and again. (Also see The Law of Process).

 

Creating that vision of the future is an act of faith, drawing on your imagination.

In other words then it is in the quality not the quantity of our thinking in our information saturated world that all future potential lies.

As Einstein put it, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." So to create a better future we have through our imagination to change the quality of our thinking.

I've been struck how the opening verses of Genesis in the Old Testament imply this with the story of creation. God spoke - or, put it another way, He expressed a thought - and it was so from light to the heavens to dry land to the celestial bodies to the fish of the sea and animals. While you and I are certainly not God, we are God-like in that we are created in His image. Even with all our weaknesses and failings, it is staggering what we are capable of through the quality of our thinking.

Everything is created twice - first in the mind and then in the physical world. As human beings made in the image of God we see the outworking of that everywhere around us. Just look around the room you are sitting in right now. Everything, apart from the people and plants in your room was once a thought in the mind of another human being - from the chair you are sitting on to the paper clip on your desk to the computer you are reading this from.

On one level so obvious, but on another level quite amazing. Changing the quality of our thinking can have astounding results in our lives and in the world around us. The quality of our lives is intimately woven into the quality of our thinking.

Here is how the writer C. S. Lewis puts it:........

Lessons on giving from Bill and Melinda Gates

They are the richest couple in the world with a fortune currently estimated at $90 billion. Since 1994 they have donated $35 billion to charity. The Gates Foundation that was launched in 2000 is the world's largest charity with over $40 billion in funds.  But the following 25 minute TED talk by Bill and Melinda Gates is a fascinating insight into what it personally means to develop a healthy attitude to giving.

Granted that none of us has access to the resources and expertise that the Gates have, but what is particularly interesting  to learn from them is how they have deliberately and intentionally thought through how they should use what they have been given. It has now become for them a life time's work of service to the world. Rather than retiring and living a life of luxury they have chosen to focus on some of the world's greatest and most deeply entrenched problems, particularly global poverty and inequality.

The primary aims of their foundation are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in the United States, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. But it started with a trip to Africa when they were an engaged couple which opened their eyes to extreme poverty and their responsibility to make a difference. They could have chosen to ignore what they saw, but instead they have deliberately gone after some of the hardest practical problems in the world......

How do you come across?

The law of the picture

It's a painful realisation when it comes, but the truth is that with one noticeable exception the world consists of other people! It is so easy to be so preoccupied with ourselves that we forget this simple, but important truth. It is human nature to automatically assume the way I see something is the way it is, rather than there may be at least one other perspective. Getting married often brings that truth home!

So how do you come across? How do others see you? What kind of example do you set? That picture you present to the world is what will govern your leadership and influence. Just having good intentions is not enough.

The pictures below are more illustrative of paradigms and paradigm shifts (for more on that see here), but they also illustrate the issue of differing perspectives. We look at ourselves one way and others can see us in a completely different way.

foto1_gestalt_A-percepção-aplicada-no-nosso-dia-a-dia

So how do you come across? How do others see you? What kind of example do you set?

These are the kinds of questions that come from John Maxwell's 13th law of leadership - people do what people see. Another way to put that is, "I can't hear what you are saying, because who you are is speaking too loudly." What we say is on audio, but who we are is on video. In organisations and companies when there is an obvious disconnect between what is publicly espoused and what is actually lived out, there is the potential for cynicism and disillusionment. The greatest leaders are aware of this and ruthless with themselves and their organisation to ensure that gap is as small as possible.

The story is told of a woman coming with her husband to Mahatma Gandhi, saying "Tell my husband to give up sugar as it is not good for his health." Gandhi is reported as replying, "Come back to me  in a week." The couple duly returned a week later and Gandhi said, to the man, "You must give up sugar, It is not good for you." They were somewhat puzzled and asked, "Why did you take a week to tell us that?" Gandhi is reported to have candidly replied, "I stopped taking sugar a week ago myself!"

Here are 4 implications of the The Law of The Picture that people do what people see: