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Daniel Goleman on Focus

In recent years, technologies have created an endless stream of distractions which can prevent us from accomplishing our goals. Daniel Goleman has written a book on the topic, called Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. This book is an in-depth discussion on the implications of the loss of undistracted attention which is happening to us today.

Goleman recently published a video as an introduction to this topic. IQSquared is a great channel for lectures on many fascinating topics, including personality development.

Personally, I believe that the bombardment on focus is a natural extension of a powerful tentacle of modern capitalism. Large corporations profit most by injecting advertisements onto our screens, and selling us the devices to serve the advertisements on. It is truly remarkable how mobile devices and the internet - which, as a team, give us access to practically endless knowledge - are primarily used by the general population as a means of distraction. Games, shopping, gossip, propaganda . . . these mechanisms are used by the upper class to redistribute wealth and dumb down the general population. Now, this process is seamless and continuous.

Even when used as a tool - for communication and distribution of information - mobile devices and web browsers on computers need to be utilized with awareness of the potential for distraction.

The Three Scientific Categories of Meditation

Scientists today perform a significant amount of formal research on various meditation techniques. Because the word 'meditation' is used loosely in society to describe many different activities, scientists have to be careful about how they use the term in context of research.

Dr. Fred Travis of Maharishi University of Management has been promoting a unified set of terms to categorize the many meditation techniques which exist today. In fact, he argues that all forms of meditation can be narrowed down to three types. These types are defined based on the techniques used, and these techniques correlate clearly to very specific, and distinguishable neurological responses.

To summarize, Dr. Travis encourages all researchers to utilize these three terms to describe the kind of meditation they use in their studies.

Travis, F. and Shear, J. (2010). Focused attention, open monitoring and automatic self-transcending: Categories to organize meditations from Vedic, Buddhist and Chinese traditions. Consciousness and Cognition, 19:1110-1119.

For detailed information about the terminology, please refer to the paper above. All quotes in this article come from the study above.

Please note that within these broad categories, there are of course variations which are worthy of detailed study. However, in the literature, Travis and Shear argue that having these larger containers will help researchers create comparisons between different techniques, and draw more general conclusions about the forms themselves.

1. Focused Attention

Dealing with Uncertainties in Practice Strategies

Over the last few weeks, I've been forced to face the fact that I have hit a plateau in a specialized skill I have been developing for many years. The single stroke roll is the most simple way to play a drum - just alternate hits between the right and left hand, one hit at a time. Aside from the practical application on the drum set, drummers today have pushed this drill into an extreme sport. Some drummers are playing more than 1100 strokes in 60 seconds, with the world record sitting just above 1200 strokes.

I've been playing for about 8 years, at this point in time. I made a decision to practice the single stroke roll diligently for the last four months, with the aim of pushing my limit speed ever higher. However, despite the daily practice, I've been stuck in the same speed range as when I started this phase of training about 4 months ago.

Now, I'm not as fast as the top athletes, but my speed is pretty decent. Currently, I'm stuck at about 700 strokes per minute. I honestly thought I could push to 750 with just a few months of focused effort. However, this has not been the case.

Without getting into too many details, I'll just explain that I've used a consistent strategy for practice, which I developed based on a lot of research. I watched and listened to the top athletes, and took bits and pieces of their advice to create my own practice routine, which I thought would be ideal for my current skill level. This amounts to about 40 minutes a day of work, not including warming up. And, I've done this for at least 6 days per week, on average, on top of the other practice I do with my drum set.

Despite the effort and strategy, I have not seen any tangible increase in speed. I will admit that higher speeds have become more consistent and effortless to play, but again, there has been no real change in my limit speed, which is a huge disappointment for me.

Means End: Sun Wukong

Lyrics from a song on the progressive rock masterpiece "The Didact" by Means End.

Sun Wukong

Where I come from is a place
of simple creatures, of no consequence.
For as long as I can remember
I've been obsessed with achieving greatness but to what end?
The notion seemed so deep,
brooding disdain all along in me.
That a greater purpose
lay hidden from view.

Searching in vain,
to leave this domain.

Though there have been many
whom I could call friend,
roads steep and laced with pain
have forced every one I've ever known
to fall behind.
They lied down to rest,
while I carried on forward.

But I felt no satisfaction,
even though I am the
great sage equal of heaven.

Searching in vain,
to leave this domain.

I was told that the truth is:
“Only those who risk going too far
can find out how far one can go.”
Now I've crossed the earth;
I've reached the end,
and offered my soul.

What can one do to savor life
when everything is rushing so fast.
All alone, slave of time,
I know there is no turning back.

The purple dusk reveals a new road
reaching out to the stars.

To End is to Begin anew.
The colors have changed to a darker hue.
I have now finally awakened to,
emptiness.

The Powerful Connection of Alienation

Working Toward a Common Goal

I'm not sure if this is true for all areas of specialization, but personally, I experience a sensation of separation from people outside my areas of expertise. Let me explain.

Due to the requirements of consistent practice, performers face unusual time restrictions. Everybody faces time restrictions, but what makes these different is that the time restrictions of a performer are self-imposed. Many people become busy in bustle of life. The performer, on the other hand, manages life as to facilitate development in one or more areas of expertise.

Individuals in advanced stages of skill development have dedicated not only a large portion of their time, but a large portion of their mental bandwidth to mastery of the skill. This places restrictions within the very consciousness of the performer. Again, these are self-imposed limitations, which are understood to be necessary in order to facilitate the development of expertise.

In my experience, I find that my area of focus becomes so powerful that, when I develop a daily routine, months will fly by without any significant interruption of my flow. This experience, I believe, is both universal and critical for all those who seek mastery. For, it is the immersion in routine which allows high frequency training. As I've written elsewhere, high frequency training is the distinguishing opportunity which performers in higher states of consciousness have prioritized.

This kind of intense training means that you spend most of your time with people who are doing the same things you are. In my experience, my strongest friendships have been with my coaches , managers, co-workers, and team-mates. Working toward a common goal creates powerful ties between individuals, and can even help push people into higher states of consciousness.

A Universal Theory of Skill Development: Desire (2)

Looking at the pyramid of performance, we can see that desire is the foundation. We place desire here, because without desire, there is no motivation for pushing to the top of the pyramid. Desire is the fuel which enables us to push for higher levels of achievement.

Conversely, a lack of desire ensures failure. We can even go so far as to say that desire is *the* distinguishing factor between performers and non-performers.

Needs and Desires

Many individuals today are satisfied with the most basic level of accomplishment - satisfying social and physical needs. For such individuals, skill development is born from necessity - they must learn to do something useful for society so that they can meet their economic needs. Once a person has established a job specific skill, their education mostly stops. Knowledge acquisition happens accidentally - usually from advertisements or mass media. Especially once a person feels like they have job security and a steady partner, they often feel comfortable enough to continue doing what they're doing, and spend their time consuming entertainment.

Aside from meeting physical needs, everybody must also meet their social needs. We are all products of our cultures, and there is a psychological need to connect to other individuals. Again, many people meet this need through mass media - discussing the latest news and television, the latest product releases, and so on.

For such individuals, the only motivation to learn something new is from necessity. They are simply trying to maintain their current lifestyle, with the least amount of effort possible. For example, if they become overweight, they must learn about diet and perhaps get enough exercise to avoid obesity. Such ambition can be born from both physical and social needs.

A Universal Theory of Skill Development: Introduction (1)

In this series, we interrogate the underlying concepts, processes, and methods which drive skill development in any field. By looking at the universal problems faced by all performers, we can expose the fundamental struggles which unify all of us.

Goals of the Interrogation

The goal of exploring the universal skill set is twofold:

1. Provide evidence for my argument that all performers share universal personality traits, which enable them to pursue their challenges using a universal skill set.

2. Provide insight into the challenges performers face so that we may contemplate them consciously, and in response, refine our methods further.

Desire, Traits, Methods, Challenges, Skill, and Performance

On the surface, it appears that each skill a person may learn is very different. For example, a musician must learn about music theory, practice one or more instruments, practice composition, and so on. But, football player must focus their attention on developing speed and strength, learning to throw and tackle, etc.

But, regardless of the skill being learned, there is an underlying structure which we all share, which facilitates our development as performers.

Briefly, our underlying desires motivate us to move through the process of skill development, to achieve performance. What distinguishes those with higher vs lower levels of performance is the ability to tackle challenge by utilizing methods. Personality traits have a large impact on an individual's capacity to develop skill, but social and economic factors cannot be understated, either. Ultimately, there must be a combination of desire and privilege within a person's life in order for them to develop skill through the universal methods.

"Love of Craft" - A Quote from Terry Bozzio

Terry Bozzio plays the world's largest drum set, but it seems small in comparison to his great accomplishments with musicians around the world.

Here's a quote from his Facebook page, which inspired me in a very deep way tonight:

"When I'm absolutely exhausted, covered in black grease & dust, on my trick knees with my back aching, sweat dripping on my old poor eyes & blurring the lenses of my cheap reading glasses that keep slipping off & I can't see to find that one little part that fell & is hiding under the pedals, when I can't figure out how to mount that piece of hardware in there to do that thing I want, without hitting that other thing, & we're late and I know I can't finish & will probably lose my place in what I'm trying to accomplish, and my poor patient supportive wife is waiting for me so we can finally leave, & my fingers hurt & are so tired from twisting wing nuts that i worry if I'll be able to play well, & I know that that one guy in the audience is just going to see this big assembly of junk and think "Terry Bozzio is just a circus act with the biggest most stupid drum set that nobody could ever use" & I feel like that ostinato I have been practicing for 3 years now & I STILL can't pull it off & it's never gonna happen…THAT'S when I have to think about the LOVE OF CRAFT that drives me to want to do this. When I see these pictures of the end result & remember the good night I had playing, for the people who want to hear it, for that one brief moment of personal satisfaction, I realize that THAT is what I am doing it for & I try to live for one more day & ask God for the possibility of getting the honor & privilege of doing it again."

The Puzzle of Self Awareness

Building awareness of the self is perhaps the most important step we can take to progress into higher states of consciousness. This skill can be compared to a puzzle, whose pieces together form a picture of earnest wisdom. Below, I outline the pieces I'm aware of and utilize to form an optimized path towards progress in all areas of life, simultaneously.

I encourage you to comment to help me fill in the pieces I have undoubtedly missed.

1. Clarity of Intent

Without an in-depth understanding of our desires - and, for many of us, a vigorous interrogation of their origin - we have no method by which to evaluate our progress. Even if our goal is as simple as "be reasonably happy most of the time", we need to be clear that it *is* our goal, because that allows us to be aware of when we are unhappy. Then, we can explore the causes of our unhappiness, and make decisions which avoid those mistakes in the future. Even vague, broad goals are effective in this regard.

2. Habitual Decision Making

Imagine an individual who is overweight, who sets a goal to become healthy and fit. When this person chooses to eat a healthy meal, they are making a decision which supports their intent. However, if they only do this once, or even a hundred times, their goal will never come to fruition. The decision must become habitual, and supported across thousands of instances where bad decisions are possible.

3. Strength of Desire

When our desire is overwhelmingly strong, habitual, supportive decision making is easy and effortless. The individual must *truly* want to reach a new level of accomplishment if they are going to be able to make the time, effort, and lifestyle which allows them to proceed.

Indeed, when our desires are strong enough, we naturally put the pieces of this puzzle together.

A Three Level Model for Skill Development

One of the things often stressed by many top performers is the importance of high frequency training. Something about daily practice seems to produce results in the shortest timeframe possible.

Although this is especially true with technical body skills like dancing, drumming, or golf, my experience is that daily practice is also important for individuals who are trying to gain theoretical knowledge, too. The body and the mind seem to work best when they have the opportunity to adapt to a new skill on a daily basis.

But, why is this true?

I'm going to present a model to help explain the dynamics of skill development, with the aim of providing insight as to why high frequency training is the most effective technique in skill development, universally.

The Three Levels of Individual Skill

Given any individual who has any skill - for example, a 12 year old female who plays piano - her level of performance on any given day can be classified into three levels:

  1. Base Level Performance
  2. Peak Performance
  3. Expansion of Performance

It is important to note that a person may reside in different levels for each skill they have, at any given point in time. However, I suspect that individuals who push for Expansion of Performance in one area are more adaptable and can more readily push for Peak Performance or Expansion of Performance in any other skill they desire.

Base Level Performance

Everybody has spoken with a musician who complains that they are 'rusty.' When they say this, they mean to say that they are out of practice. Sure, they might be able to play their instrument, but not as well as they used to when they practiced frequently. Such an individual can be said to reside at Base Level Performance.

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