Something I’ve been thinking about lately is being intentional with whatever I do. A few years ago, I tried an experiment where I tried to consciously decide what to do before I did anything. This, frankly, was overload, but it did tell me a lot about how much of my life was on autopilot – basically everything. I’ve been trying to do something similar, but with specific actions or domains.
My go-to strategy with learning used to be to attempt to immerse myself in something. With guitar, for instance, I would pick up the guitar and carry it around all the time, figuring that it would trigger some kind of useful activity, and, on the whole, it would lead to an improvement in guitar skills. So I lugged it all around the house and twiddled with it. But, while I did learn something from it, it was very superficial learning. What was worse was that I quickly habituated myself to the guitar and then promptly learned to ignore it. Pretty soon, it was collecting dust whenever I wasn’t doing something almost totally useless with it.
Which is another aspect of intentionality that I am learning. Not only is it important to be intentional about when I pick something up, it’s also important to be intentional about what I’m doing. The (somewhat specious) 10,000 hour rule doesn’t mean 10,000 hours of “being near something and absorbing additional skill by osmosis,” it means 10,000 hours of focused learning.
Immersion probably works better for cognitive tasks that actively push you to remember and employ skills, like languages, rather than specific subject matters. Come to think of it, immersion probably works better for things that you can actually immerse yourself in, like environments, rather than skills. You need certain skills to navigate environments, and the navigation itself can be a means of memorization. On the other hand, skills almost always come with attendant communities (guitar players, programmers, etc.) and locations, which may provide a facsimile of an environment.
Speaking of environment, what triggered this line of thinking was working out and manipulating my environment. I have a few mats that I can lay out in order to exercise on. This morning, I laid them out and then worked through some martial arts movements and then ended with some calisthenics, which sounds a lot fancier than saying that I started playing a DDR megamix on YouTube and then started doing pushups and sit-ups until I couldn’t move anymore. After wiping the mats down, I toyed with the idea of leaving them on the floor. They took up a good portion of the floor and the complete use of the space was pleasing to look at. However, I had misgivings about it immediately. I realized that leaving the mats on the floor wasn’t an intentional use of the mats – or the floor – or my time. If they were out all the time, I would quickly learn to ignore them, or walk on them, when I should be using them as a trigger to exercise. And if I spent the time to lay them out again, it would be a very simple first step to actually starting my exercise regimen, which will hopefully snowball into my actually doing it.
Being intentional with everything is difficult. I don’t recommend it. There are plenty of muscles I don’t want to think about using when I’m walking. But being intentional with certain things can be very helpful.