I previously wrote about the importance of doing the real thing. Skills are tight. Transmission is difficult. Fake replacement products work less than you think.
However, it is easy to get involved in the wrong things. The author who does not publish anything. The artist who buys paint but has difficulty putting it on canvas. The entrepreneur who spends more time on business cards than winning customers.
I don’t say this to scold, but to remember it. I deceive myself more than most for wrong efforts. Prudence can be an enemy because it provides detailed reasons why you don’t have to do the right thing.
With this in mind, I would like to address some obstacles to reality. Why do we get stuck on wrong things? What can we do to focus on what’s really important?
Are your barriers inside or outside?
There are two types of obstacles you may encounter: inner and outer.
We expect external obstacles. You can’t do a real job because nobody will give you a real job. They learn French, but the trip to Paris has been canceled. The playing field is out of bounds.
In these cases, replacement products are required, but they should approach your goal as closely as possible. French from a tutor on Skype is not exactly the same as living in France, but it is directional. You only need to fill in the gaps when the real situation arrives.
Designing exercise efforts to faithfully train real skills can be difficult. Asking a few questions can help:
- What knowledge would I need for the real situation? A French conversation about Zoom does not include how to order a Pain au chocolat By default. If you predict what you need to know, you can incorporate it into your practice.
- Are components of the skill removed during training? Learning salsa dancing in classes in which both partners know the same steps may not translate well to ballroom dancing, where one person is expected to take the lead. What is missing here is a skill: use your body to show what comes next. Skill gaps can be problematic because they can reduce your effective ability to zero in the real world.
- Will you be able to tell when to use abstract ideas? Reading a business book is only helpful if you determine where the advice is. This is a major challenge for academic classes, where the transfer often does not fail because the students do not learn the material, but because they cannot connect it to a new context.
Despite these difficulties, I’m less worried about this type of obstacle. Yes, it can be embarrassing to realize that you cannot dance well the first time, or you cannot paint a picture without someone else showing you the steps, but these are not insurmountable obstacles. They are just a little extra work to fill in the blanks.
Internal obstacles are dangerous. These do not occur when real practice is impossible, but when you avoid it. In contrast to barriers in the outside world, they often do not lead to imperfect practice, but to no work at all.
Internal obstacles to the real thing
The academic, who spends more time on Twitter than writing papers, has an internal obstacle. Of course, she could work on her research, she just avoided it.
Sometimes this avoidance is obvious and we simply call it deferment. While postponement is a big problem, enough ink has been spilled over it, so I don’t think it needs further discussion.
What is dangerous about internal obstacles is that we often try to justify them. You are not doing practice tests because you are not ready yet. It’s best to look at your notes a few times first. You do not register customers because the product must be perfect first.
The danger is particularly acute because sometimes the excuse is valid. Many skills are too great to be learned at once, so they have to be dismantled and built up. Nobody learned quantum mechanics without first mastering algebra. To get the right job, you need to be qualified first. Immersion only makes sense if your skills were almost there.
If there were no mental barriers, such problems are of course only planning. The person who loves math doesn’t mind drilling algebra and calculus before moving on to differential equations. The person who loves art doesn’t mind doing sound studies before adding color.
The problem is that the preparatory step becomes a permanent replacement. What started as watching some tutorials to get some tips becomes an obstacle to getting started. The line between help and disability is blurred, but you will know when you have crossed it.
Overcome internal obstacles
Overcoming your inner obstacles takes only a few steps:
- Know when you fell off the path. Ask what would be the best way to make progress if fear and frustration were not an obstacle. Then compare that to what you actually do. You cannot overcome an obstacle unless you notice that it is blocking your path.
- Reduce the friction for the real thing. Set up your work area. Block the time on your calendar. Give yourself permission to fail first. The real thing is necessary, but there are many ways to ease the attack.
- Point out what distractions are. Fake efforts become insidious when they feel like progress. If you use them to avoid the real work, call them what they are – distractions.
The biggest obstacle is self-deception. An obstacle that could be overcome is rationalized by being only part of the way. There is no surefire way to dispel these illusions. Is it preparation or postponement? If the answer were obvious, self-deception would not be common.
I think if you can be more sensitive to recognizing these traps, you will fall into them less often. “Am I doing the real thing?” should be asked every time you come to work. If the answer is no, you need to be careful.
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