Progress through practice

I’ve always been a curious kid and I enjoy learning lots of different things. A couple of years ago, I started to get interested in cooking. I wanted to learn how to make my own meals so that I could make big burgers, cheesy pizzas and lots of brownies and cookies.

My first steps as a cook went quite well, I started making basic recipes like pasta, rice, eggs and other “survival cooking” recipes that everyone knows. Time passed by, and I kept on doing the same basic recipes over and over without much variation. I’ve tried subscribing to some YT channels that upload food recipes to get inspiration and learn new recipes. Even though I found lots of new recipes, I found myself spending more time watching others cook than cooking myself. My brain was tricking me to believe that I was getting better at cooking, when in reality I was just wasting time.

This article is a reminder to myself to keep things practical and a guide on how I’m getting out of the “learning trap.”

Learning a new skill is not easy. When you start from scratch, you have to learn a lot, experiment, and fail a lot of times. After analyzing different skills, I abstracted 3 big steps that you have to go through when learning a new skill:

  1. Gear acquisition: here you focus on getting all the needed tool to be able to perform your hobby.
  2. Conceptual learning: get to know your hobby and learn from other people who are skilled at it.
  3. Deliberate practice: spend time practising, failing and not knowing what you’re doing until eventually everything clicks and you start getting good at it.

Of those 3 steps, the only one that is going to help you progress is the third one. Let’s take playing the piano as an example. Having the best piano is a waste of money if you don’t know how to play it. Studying a lot is pointless if you’re unable to play a single song. On the other hand, if you practiced a lot with a cheap piano and zero knowledge of music theory, you would eventually get good at it. Notice how only practice would get you to be good at something. At the end of the day, we are the ones who need to do the real work to improve, we cannot expect others to do the work for us.

Going to the gym and watching others lift weights won’t make you stronger; only lifting weights yourself will.

Now that I explained the problem, let me share a solution that I’m currently testing and could help you stay out of the “learning trap”. The solution is called the “sandbox method” and it’s a method used in software engineering to test programs. This method relies on you creating your own “sandbox area”, this space needs to be cheap and allow you to practice, play around, and fail without consequences.

Let’s go though a step by step guide on how to apply this method.

  1. Set up your sandbox. Your objective here is to get the necessary tools to start practicing, don’t get fancy, go as cheap as you can. It’s better to upgrade later, and you would probably know how to get a better tool after some months of practice.
  2. Learn the bare minimum so that you could start practicing. In other words, read or watch YT only to get an introduction. Overloading your brain with too much information would make your expectations too high for a beginner.
  3. Practice and allow yourself to fail a lot. Start small and don’t give up, it’s normal to feel lost during your first steps. While you practice, write down all the doubts you might have, you’re going to use them later to keep progressing.
  4. Rest when you get tired of practicing. Resting allows your mind to digest all the “trial and error” you do while practicing. This time should also be used to solve all the doubts you’d noted. The best way (if possible) is to ask someone who practices the same skill you do.
  5. Go back to step 3. Don’t get stuck learning, your goal is to maximize practice and learn naturally with the flow.

Despite its simplicity, if applied correctly, this method can lead to impressive results. It all goes down to prioritizing practice over learning, and using your learning time to fill the gaps in your knowledge.

There’s this common rule that says that you need to practice 10k hours to get good at something. In reality, you don’t need that much time, 10k hours are about 5 years of working a full-time job. For people like us, trying to start a new hobby, 20 hours of pure practice is enough (about 45 min a day for a month).

It’s time for the challenge, I want you to start that hobby you’ve always wanted to practice, start by creating your own sandbox and keep experimenting. Schedule those 45 min to practice, and see how far you would progress after one month. Be aware that in the beginning you would feel lost, and it might be uncomfortable, but remember, only practice would make you better.

Thanks for reading and I hope this would help you get better at whatever skill or hobby you want to build.

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