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How to quickly learn a new skill

If you want to get really good at something, and you don’t have 10,000 hours to do it, you may be in luck. In his book The First 20 Hours – How to Learn Anything… Fast, Josh Kaufman explains how you can get good – really good – at any new skill, in as little as 20 hours.

The 10,000 hour rule for becoming world class at something gained popularity from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers – The Story of Success.

Kaufman covers the 10,000 hour rule and explains that this is the process for becoming one of the best in the world in that category. But what if you just want to become really good at something new? Or a lot better at something you can already do.

Well, you can do that in about 20 hours. Around 40 minutes a day for about a month will get you somewhere between good and really good at a new skill. And for most people, who are not actually trying to be the best in the world, this is pretty great.

According to Kaufman, there are five steps to learning a new skill. Decide your outcome, deconstruct the skill, research and self correct, remove barriers to practice, and pre-commit to the 20 hours.

First, you need to decide what skill you want to learn. You need to be clear on what it is, and how you’ll know you’ve done it. For example, I want to learn to play a song on the guitar. I know what I want to be able to do and will know it when I get there.

Second, deconstruct the skill. Break it down to the basics. Get to the point where you truly understand it. There are fundamentals that make up the actual skill and the rest is just fluff.

Third, research and self correct. This is the part where you keep an eye on your progress and get back on track as you drift. Constantly assess if you are getting closer to your goal and alter your effort if you are not.

Fourth, remove barriers to practice. Set yourself up to succeed. Plan for it to be easy. Think of what might stop you or get in your way and move it before you start.

Last, commit to 20 hours. Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged or bored and give up in the early stages. You’ll be tempted to quit. Don’t. Not until you have gone at least 20 hours. Make that promise to yourself and set the expectation at the very beginning.

Here is John Kaufman explaining the process:

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Sometimes the best way to catch something is to drop it

The other day, I was holding the lid to a bottle of vitamins. I had the bottle in my other hand and a couple vitamins in the hand with the lid. I didn’t have the best grip on the lid and couldn’t quite get it screwed back on without dropping it. But I didn’t drop it. Or rather, I didn’t drop it accidentally.

I dropped it on purpose. Like a controlled burn. I did it on purpose to make sure I was more in control.

This is a great concept. The best way to catch something is to drop it (consciously).

Sometimes, we try to hard to make the most of a bad situation when in fact, what we should do instead is start over and just create a better situation.

When we try to salvage something, we accept all the limitations and therefore our options are limited.

There’s a scene in Star Wars: The Last Jedi when Rey is fighting Snoke’s guards and gets her light saber hand grabbed and controlled. So she drops the weapon and catches it with her other hand. Problem solved.

This is a great example of what we’re talking about here. When you are limited by the boundaries of the current state, let go.

It’s like the story of the monkey with his hand caught in a jar. In case you haven’t heard it, there was a monkey who reached into a jar to get a nut. Once he had his hand around it, his fist was too big to pull out of the hole in the jar. Because he would not let go of the nut, he was trapped.

Don’t be like the monkey trapped in the jar. If the current situation doesn’t suit you, drop it and catch it in a way that does.

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What I learned about martial arts by filling a water bottle

The other day, I was filling up an empty water bottle. It was one of these really thin ones that you get in a big pack of like 24 and can quite easily be crushed up and recycled.

I was filling it up from a large pitcher of water and noticed something interesting as it filled more and more.

I noticed that I was holding the bottle very softly so I didn’t accidentally crush it’s super thin walls.

But as it filled with water, it got heavier and I had to hold on tighter so that the new weight of the bottle didn’t make it drop out of my hand.

Dynamically, I increased my grip as the bottle to match the increase in weight from the water being added.

So my reaction was not set. It was based on the feedback I was getting from the bottle.

This is how we need to be as martial artists. We need to push, pull, hit, block, attack, defend, talk or walk away all according to the moment. Not even the situation – but each moment of the situation, dynamically.

This is the way of the master. It requires awareness and skill.

So from now on, when you train, don’t just practice the techniques. Don’t just say to yourself “when they do this, I’ll do that”.

Practice everything you do to be used just as needed, as much or as little for each moment.

I once read a quote that said “Rearing children is like holding a wet bar of soap”.

Martial arts is the same. It’s a delicate game of balance and awareness.

So the next time you are pouring water, remember to keep balance in all areas of your life.

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Superhero based training

I was watching one of the Batman movies the other day. There were several things he did as he was fighting the bad guys that I thought I’d like to be able to do, but it would require me to build my strength and flexiblity in certain ways.

The first thing I saw that I wanted to be able to do was the Dark Knight picking up a thug he had just knocked down and throwing him into the wall. I thought wow, that’s cool, and a good finish move.

Then, there was a scene where the Bat is jumping off of a platform down to his crawler. He pulls his legs up to clear the railing. It looked really cool. I thought, ummm, I don’t think I could bring my legs up to my torso like that and clear the railing.

It reminded me of The Avengers movie when Captain America jumps up and tucks himself into a ball behind his shield to protect himself from an alien grenade.

Seeing these things got me thinking. I need to work on my strength and flexibility as if I may need to do some (or all) of this stuff in a fight some day.

So in our martial arts classes, we practice things like front rolls and cart wheels. I get asked by new students why we do gymnastics style exercises in a martial arts class. The answer is to increase our ability to use our bodies in situations that may come up when defending ourselves. You’re not going to do a cart wheel in the middle of a fight, but if you’ve practiced that movement and find yourself knocked over with your legs going over your head, your body and mind will better know how to deal with it.

Some types of balance, strength, flexibility that are not gained or improved directly through things like punching, kicking, wrist locks, and throwing from a standing position. They need to be practiced in a different way.

Here’s an example: you could take a heavy bag and while standing next to it with it laying on the ground, pick it up and heave it to the side. Maybe even toss it into a wall or another hanging heavy bag. This is the kind of exercise that I’d practice if I wanted to be able to pick up a bad guy and throw him into the wall like Batman.

Cross fit seems like it would be a good way to practice for these king of situations. Parkour, too. You’re lifting other things and yourself in ways you may not normally do, but might be a bit like a fight in the street.

So think about it. What can you do to train your body like a super hero? What kind of skills do you need for real life situations?

Watch some movies and get creative. Take your body and your training to the next level.

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The best way to win

Winning

We all want to win in life. Well, most of us, anyway, but that’s a different topic.

How we go about winning is the important thing. There are at least two ways to win. The first is to work really hard, practice, get better, overcome your obstacles, etc., and reach or surpass your target.

Boom.

The other way is to stop others from achieving the goal, and make sure you end up just in front of them at the end of the day.

Ewww.

Does anyone really want to win the second way? Well, yeah. Do I? No.

Should you? No.

To me, there really is only one way to win. The first way. You set a goal or a target somewhere beyond where you have been or where you are now and then work hard to make yourself better.

The idea of being first by making sure that others lose is (in my opinion) not actually winning.

Really, the only reason for competing against others is to have other examples of how good you, yourself might be. At least that’s what true competitors see. It’s the defeating of your old self that makes you great. It’s the triumph over giving up or not giving enough that makes you feel like a winner.

Other people are not the opposition, but the inspiration. If they are better than you, they should serve as a motivation for you get hustling and get better.

And sometimes, you work so hard and get so good that you end up as THE winner. The best of a group of people trying to be the best they can be. But most of the time you are not THE winner of the group. Most of the time you’re not.

But that doesn’t mean you are not A winner. In order to be A winner, you have to beat yourself. And know that you did your best. If you think you have to always be THE winner, or you are one of all the losers, then you’re not really winning at all.

You resort to cheating. You nitpick the rules and look for a way to exploit the fine print. You accept winning on a technicality as a victory.

To those who see the true nature of winning, this brings no joy, no satisfaction.

So take a look at the way you go after a win. Are you trying to better than you’ve ever been or are you heading for a target with the lame hope that everyone else falls short?

Be a true winner. Work hard to make yourself better and appreciate that everyone else should too.

Then we all win.

Go get it.

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You should train for black swan events

As a part of our martial arts training, we should try to imagine black swan events that we might experience and then train for those possible situations.

To begin with, let’s define a black swan event.

The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The term is based on an ancient saying that presumed black swans did not exist – a saying that became reinterpreted to teach a different lesson after black swans were discovered in the wild.

Wikipedia

So in essence, for this discussion, we’re going to say that a black swan event is something that we can’t even imagine happening to us but would be a major issue if it did.

Some examples: being kidnapped or car jacked, having a gun pulled on us, having multiple attackers surround us.

I asked some of my students the other day if they had ever planned what they would do if these things happened. They admitted that they had no plan. They did not even think about it.

So for the purpose of this article, we’re going to assume that there are events like the ones mentioned above that while you agree are not impossible scenarios in your mind, you don’t really imagine them happening to you and therefor have not planned what you would do.

Also, the point of this discussion is not to come up with with what you would do, just to get you to make a decision to think and come up with a plan for whatever situations you can imagine.

You might be asking yourself right now, why would I be spending my time and energy coming up with a plan for a “black swan” scenario that by definition is most likely not going to happen?

Good question. Here are two reasons.

First, if that (unlikely) thing ever does happen, you’ll be prepared. I assure you, you’ll be grateful you practiced for it.

Secondly, and this is really the main reason, it primarily serves as a way to practice for the things that you will encounter in a way that you may not otherwise try. This is a terrific way to move away from some habits and ruts you may be in.

You way you train and the things you practice are probably somewhat predictable. Even if you do new things regularly, I’m sure there are certain things that follow your pattern.

So thinking of things to prepare for and practice against will allow you brain and body to search for new ways. New moves, new thoughts, new reactions.

One of the things we talk about regularly is training to make things automatic. You may be thinking right now “then why are you trying to get us out of the habit of the things we are repeating?”

Great question.

Think of yin and yang. Sometimes we need to reinforce our habit, sometimes we need to break them. Balance.

So first, try to think of some things that you never encounter. Then, think of how you would deal with those situations. What would your first reaction be? What techniques would you use? What would you say? What objects would you use?

Practice over and over. Pay attention to everything.

Now look at the things that are part of your habits. Make note of what’s the same as usual.

Then, look at what’s different. What’s not a part of your typical response?

Take this experience and apply it to the things you do in normal training.

This is how you grow. This is how you get better. This is how you become better every day.

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Jackie Chan: Green Hero

Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan is awesome. One of my favorite people. I have loved his movies for years. But now, I’m learning more about him as a person and discovering many more reasons to be a fan.

He is very well rounded. He’s a great actor and terrific martial artist. But it goes way beyond that.

I’ll get the chance to meet him tonight. He is opening an exhibit here in Utah at The Leonardo museum called Jackie Chan: Green Hero.

This project is being brought to the U.S. by Jackie from China in an effort to spread the message and the lifestyle of taking care of our planet.

Jackie is an avid recycler and goes far beyond most people in his efforts to make the planet better for everyone. When he goes into a public bathroom, he uses the used paper towels to clean the floor. Then he washes up, uses one small paper towel to dry his hands, and uses his feet to smash down the paper towels in the garbage can.

On the set of his movies, he reportedly will come out of the bathroom and ask “who’s next”. After eight or 10 stunt men use it, then they flush!

Similar to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, Jackie has pledged the bulk of his wealth to charity.

He also holds more than one honorary doctorate, speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, English, AND American Sign Language (what?!?), and a little bit of Spanish, German, Korean, Japanese, and Thai. He also holds faculty positions at two schools as a teacher and a dean.

Jackie is a classically trained vocalist who has several pop albums out, and has sung many of the songs in his movies.

He does most of his own stunts, and on top of acting in the movies, plays the roles of action director, stunt coordinator, martial arts choreographer, director, writer and producer.

Wow.

So if you are still wondering why I am such a huge fan of Jackie Chan, I don’t know what to tell you.

Hopefully, though, you’re not wondering. You’re just inspired.

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To reach your goals, set schedules not deadlines

So we’re now a few months past January first, when many people started (and by now have abandoned) some new goals.

A lot of these goals had a time limit on them, like “I’ll lose X number of pounds by the first day of summer”.

I think there’s a problem built into some of these goals that leads people to give up on them.

The deadline.

The deadline does a few things in your mind that actually works against you.

  1. It makes it seem like the goal is more of an event, or a moment in time that you become something new, instead of a process and a change in behavior that leads you to end up seeing the result.
  2. The deadline is quite often set at random. It comes from when you’d like to have the result, not when the work would actually yield the result.
  3. When the deadline comes and goes without the result achieved, there’s a feeling that it’s done and you failed – end of story.

Let’s address each of these and talk about what might be a better way to set goals.

When you see a goal as a point in time that you are counting down to, you sometimes get the sense that as the days pass by, you are getting closer to your goal. But that’s not true. The time passing and the result are not related.

There are days that you work toward the goal and days that you get too busy and tell yourself that tomorrow you’ll make it up.

But time passes. And you feel like you are getting closer to the result. But the deadline arrives and you fall short. And then you quit.

The fact that the deadline is often set at random, maybe only based on when you’d like to achieve the result works against you from the start.

Because the date was hand picked and not calculated, there’s no way to assume that you’ll reach the goal by that date. And when you don’t, you quit.

The third problem I want to highlight here is that when your date comes and goes and you haven’t reached your goal (even if you got some results) you often just feel like giving up.

Now one thing I think can help with all three of these issues is creating goals that are habits rather than deadlines.

For example, instead of saying “I’m going to lose 20 pounds by beach season” you could try “I’m going to exercise for 20 minutes every day”.

With a goal like the second one, you are actually getting closer to the first goal each day as a bonus. But every day, you are reaching your goal. Well, if you actually do it.

But do you see how much easier it is to reach your goal? It’s super easy!

The result is still lose the weight. You are still moving toward that. But in a way that let’s you win on a regular basis and stay encouraged.

Another benefit of this habit based goal setting is that you can stack habits. You can create two, three, four, etc habits that lead to the same goal. And with every one, you’re feeling the success – and getting closer to the goal that you used to just give up on.

So right now, try this. Set a goal that’s habit based. I’m going to make my bed each morning, or eat one healthy food at each meal, or take one hour of screen free time each night, or something else.

Make one habit goal and see where it leads you.

You will be amazed at how different it feels. And how much you improve.

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More people are killed in crosswalks than jaywalking

Sometimes safety makes us careless

I read something this week that I thought was interesting and perfectly applies to our martial arts training and mindfulness.

Now I don’t know if this is true or not, but the principle is sound, so I want to talk about it.

The suggested idea is that people who walk in crosswalks are less aware than people who are crossing the street at random and therefore unprotected by the structure and rules of crossing.

The idea in your mind that you are in a safe environment can cause you to let your guard down and actually be less safe.

There’s a similar example that claims one third of all car accidents happen within a mile of the drivers’ home.

Same idea. You think you are safe, so you ditch the awareness. You don’t put your seat belt on right away, you don’t look around as carefully because you are familiar with the area, etc.

So how do we increase our actual safety? By increasing our awareness.

We can train ourselves to have a habit of observation. The more we keep our eyes open and try to notice things, the better.

Making sure we don’t get into patterns is also important.

This is not to say we shouldn’t make certain things in our life automatic. We should. But there is a difference in the type and importance of the things we set as automatic and those that we should be consciously in control of.

Things like crossing the street should not be something we are not consciously aware of.

OK. You know what? I think there’s a better way to go through this.

I was going to try to make a short list of some things that you shouldn’t do without being aware while you’re doing them, and some things that you can be more automatic about.

But it’s not easy to assign things to one list or the other.

Why? Because it’s not the activity itself, but the skill level of the person combined with the environment of the activity that determines the need for awareness.

Let’s take skateboarding as an example.

Let’s say you’re good at skateboarding, have been doing it for years, and feel balanced and in control when you’re on a board. And let’s say you are at a skate park that you’ve been to a hundred times and you know each dip and turn pretty well. And you are the only one there.

Well, I’d say you can get on your board and ride without much thought. It will be automatic and you can be relatively unaware.

But now let’s put other people in there with you. Or put you in a skate park that you’ve never been to before. Now, it would not be wise to not be aware.

Whenever any part of the experience is dynamic – meaning it can change – you need to add awareness.

When you cross a street, you may be very good at walking (or running), you may know the street very well. But if there are any cars on the road, then you can’t set that task (crossing the street) in the back of your mind somewhere while a game on your phone, a conversation with the friend walking next to you, etc becomes or remains your focus.

So the way to know which activities you can set to automatic is to assess how dynamic it is.

There are things you can practice, practice, practice until you get so good at them that you can do it with your eyes closed. But those are only the things you have full control over.

Anything with a dynamic element needs your attention.

That being said, you should work on making things automatic every day. Every day you should practice something that you will someday be able to do without being aware.

Then you free up your focus more more and better dynamic things. Then you can work on becoming a master in life.

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Should we beat up bullies?

I saw a video a while back of a kid in school who was being picked on by another kid. After a bunch of verbal abuse and then some actual punches thrown by the bully, the victim had enough and picked the bully up and slammed him to the ground. I thought “yes, justice is served!”

I think we all have a tendency to want the bullies of the world get what they deserve. We want to see the victims rise up and knock them out.

But this is not the way. The feelings inside of us that long for justice and vengeance are not the only feelings we have in these situations.

I recently saw another video where a girl at a protest was yelling at, spitting on, and punching a group of people she strongly disagreed with.

They were not fighting back.

They had a plan to stand their ground for what they believed in, but obviously had decided ahead of time that returning violence was not the way.

I also saw this video and thought “yes, these guys are in control”.

So which is the best way to deal with people? Should we learn to return violence, or truly learn to fight so that we don’t have to?

Well, clearly there is not one single answer that applies to every situation. But I can offer a thought to keep in mind as we train our bodies and minds for situations that will come up?

Your object in a potential situation is to retain control. Control is not something purely physical. If you go physical and lose control mentally, you lose.

I watch both of those videos and think that the victim who threw the bully to the ground probably felt in control in that moment. But at some point, when the adrenaline high left, did he feel like he had lost control? Maybe.

The people in the video that got spit on and hit and did not fight back – did they ever slip into a feeling of losing control? Probably not.

So do I think that you should always stand there and take it? Nope. I do not believe that.

What I do think is that you should think ahead, and plan what you will say and do in potential situations. If you decide that you can deal with a confrontation by holding back, do that and feel good about it.

If you are faced with a battle of wills that has to be answered with a physical response, then you can take action and feel in control throughout.

If you decide that you should remain calm and not get physical, you will have a much easier time of it if you have practiced mindfulness and meditation.

I don’t know When you should and when you shouldn’t fight back. But I do know that if you stay in control, then you will usually make the right decision.

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