In many ways our brains are like computers. We work with data, with external information, we process it and compute a result. With computers it’s pretty easy to see when something goes wrong. There is almost always immediate feedback. If your code doesn’t work – your website won’t display, or your app will crash, a menu will look incredibly weird, in other words – you know when you’ve done something wrong. It’s easy to know when something needs fixing.
Our brains though are much more like an organic computer. It grows not when you fill a new slot with a memory card, but gradually, like a plant. Things don’t just get added on, they need to be incorporated, worked in, welcomed. They need to become one with everything that is already there, each new process you learn must be integrated with every other process that’s already there. Consolidation of memory could take days, weeks, months or even years. Yes- years. You already know that when something has happened to you earlier on in your life, you keep going over it years later, constantly re-evaluating it, weighing its importance, trying to find out what it actually means. This is the process of learning. A continual coding and re-encoding of what is going on. A constant refinement of understanding, taking new information in, but also letting go of unnecessary, bad habits that might be hampering your work.
So what does this mean for you and your practice? To me this is easily one of the most important concepts you could ever come across. It’s a very simple idea, but it has immense implications. What you do today will show up in your work a few months down the line. Yep, that’s right. The thing that you’ve been working on for a few days, maybe a week, you’ve started to slow down a bit, to slack off, you’re not really seeing any improvement, you’re losing faith, you think it won’t work, you’ll never learn. You start watching movies while you practice, you’re talking to people, you’re getting bored, you see no point in persevering, you forget why you’re doing what you’re doing and you move on to something more interesting. BAM. You just got caught in the trap. A few months later you’re doing something that requires the skill that you were working on previously – you find that you’re better than you were when you were learning it, miraculously your skill has improved while you were doing nothing about it… but there are problems with it. You can see some issues in execution that definitely need ironing out. You’re happy that you’ve improved, but you’re not sure how or why…It’s better than before, but it’s not great and yet again you don’t know why this happens, you don’t understand why you improved when you did nothing, whereas when you were practicing you seemed to stay at the same skill level. You’ve no idea what to do now, but reluctantly you decide to try and practice some more. And again – the vicious cycle starts. You do it for a day, you start getting bored, you turn on the tv, you forget why you were doing it… bla bla bla…
This is the lag effect. The idea that your brain needs time to grow and integrate what you’re learning. It’s not instantaneous, it’s not predictable. No one can say exactly how long it will take you to accomplish a certain thing, but here is the key to doing it the fastest possible way – do it right the first time. Yes, that’s it. So what does right mean? It means doing it with full attention, for as long as you can sustain that, devoting time only to your improvement. Not looking at lolcats to pump your dopamine because you’re getting sucked into a hole of despair, not having romantic comedies playing on your tv 24/7 so you can imagine your own life when it gets better – no. Cut that off. Completely. Spend at least an hour or 2, each day, in silence with nothing but the material you’re working on. Deconstruct it logically, analyze everything about it. The piece that you just did – what could you do better if you had to do it over again. In fact – do it over again, test it. Read. Read. Read. Read deeply, absorb the material, reflect on it, write about it, meditate on it. Think about it while you’re in bed before you go to sleep, go over each and every thing you learned this day. This was a habit of Leonardo da Vinci. Look at other people’s work, not so you can feel bad about yours, but so you can see what they’re doing that you’re not. What’s different about their process? How do they think about their craft? Work in faith. Take the information from this post and know that what you do now builds your future. A day does not end when it gets dark, it bleeds into the next one, and the one after that. There are no days, everything is a continuum of time. What you do in each and every moment is supremely important. How you do it determines who you will become once the gestation period is over. Fuel old behavior and you’ll remain the same.
How you do things is important. Who you are is also important. If you are someone who has not been successful thus far – it doesn’t matter. If you always make bad decisions, all it takes to reverse that is to begin to make good decisions. That’s it. It’s an effortful, conscious choice to begin breaking old habits and forming new ones. It will never come naturally to you. That’s natural too. Who you are and what is natural at the moment, could not be natural for the person you want to become. If you can barely sustain the effort of opening a book for 10 minutes now to study something, how will you ever do that for hours when it comes time to do your research? What feels natural and what feels good are often just the habits that you’ve created in your current persona. There is nothing that can’t be changed with effort and repetition. Each and every day you can improve. Even though you can’t see it, work with the thought in mind that what you did today will show up in a week or in a month, maybe even a few months or a year… But it will show up. Clear as day. And you’d wish that you worked with more diligence when you had the chance, when you were first doing it. There is time to do it over – but better than that – just do it right once. Work with quality in mind.
Another very important post that’ll help you understand your learning and your brain better is here: The Key Behind Progress and Learning
Also check this video out of an acorn turning into an oak. Notice how long it takes for the acorn to just break out of its shell… Same as you, when you’re first wondering whether you could or should do this or that or something else… The time it takes to shed your shell is longer than the time it takes to surface above the ground. It takes 1 minute in the vid to just crack the shell. By the end of the 3rd minute it’s already in the sunlight. A good way to observe organic growth and keep this in mind when you think of your learning, which happens in the living tissue in your brain.