Learning From Failure Vs Learning From Others

There are many different ways to learn things, books, tutorials, teachers, tutors, videos and video courses. But if you break it down far enough, there are essentially only two ways of learning. Learning from failure, or learning from others. Learning from failure can be hard, as it’s easy to be dejected by the failing and become unwilling to move forward and learn from it, but the lessons learned can be some of the most memorable, and valuable you learn in life.

Nothing Teaches You To Keep Your Hands Up Like Getting Punched In The Face!

There’s a saying in martial arts(or sports fighting) circles that goes something like this:

“Nothing teaches you to keep your hands up like getting punched in the face.”

Whether you’re sparring or fighting, chances are if you drop your hands you are going to get punched in the face. Especially as a beginner. And as a beginner, the first few times you spar you’re going to drop your hands.

Drilling on bags and shadow boxing in proper form helps a lot, but with the added stress factor of someone actually punching and kicking you, you start to revert back to old bad habits. You wing punches. You bring your head back and your chin up. And you leave your hands down or in front of you when you throw combinations.

If you spar someone who is at your level or more experienced, you are going to get punched in the face. Not too hard, hopefully, but hard enough to remind you that your hands should be in between his/her fists and your face. Nothing says keep your hands up like a bunch of nerves sending pain signals from your nose, or cheek or even eye socket. And then when it happens again, and again, it adds up and teaches you a lesson quickly that is hard to learn without actual practice.

But of course, martial arts or fighting is not the only area where you can learn from failure.

Failing And Learning

Today when I was experimenting on the theme I’m creating for my writer’s site, specifically making a page template with a completely different layout, I made a pretty big mistake. (For those who understand this is what I did: Instead of just using the body class to qualify all the items I wanted to change the CSS for, I edited every single Class and ID, including those from the header.php file.) Basically I edited a lot of code unnecessarily, that now needs to be changed back. Before that I made a few smaller mistakes, and got stuck a few times, having to go and seek out solutions after messing around for more than 30 minutes.

While this seems like a terrible way to learn, and I’ll admit that it’s not too time efficient, what these mistakes become are lessons. Lessons that usually stay with me much longer than something I just read about in a guide and implemented quickly, or borrowed from another theme or website.

Best of all, failing in this way motivates me to get better and learn more and come back and knock things out of the park. I think this might be a development that has happened to me after I started doing martial arts. Something about sparring against someone and getting your ass demolished (especially when you’re almost 2x bigger than them) makes you want to improve your skills.  And it seems like that mentality is transferable.

Now I’m not saying that these two are mutually exclusive, far from it. I think you get the most out of either form of learning when you compliment it with the other form. As in don’t JUST practice by yourself, learn from others. And don’t just learn from others, make sure you practice and experiment by yourself. Learning from others helps you get the tools you need faster than you’d get there by yourself. Experimenting and using those tools, helps you internalize and remember them much better than if you just read about, listened to or watched someone else do things.

Unintentional Bad Influences And Bad Habits That Should Be Left Behind

During a recent stay in Laos, spent mostly coped up in my air conditioned hotel room, I skyped and caught up with an old friend. As a result of that conversation, I started playing an MMORPG again, initially with the intentions of just playing socially, when he was online, as a way of hanging out across continents.

The funny thing is, I was already aware of what was likely going to happen. I was apprehensive because I worried that I would get sucked into that world again, and play almost non-stop for a few weeks, letting cloud my vision about what I should actually be concerned with at the moment. Bad habits are truly hard to kick.

Now, two weeks later, while I definitely managed to function at a higher level than a few years ago, I have to admit that I probably made the wrong decision.

While he might have been a bad influence at the time, it’s not like he has any ill will towards me. Bad influences are not always intentionally bad. My friend is a University student, and is in the middle of a summer break, and from the way I usually explain my working habits, he probably assumed that I was basically in the same position as him, or similar enough that no harm would be done.

Even though theoretically I often find myself with free time, given what I do, I spend a lot of it reading, seemingly aimlessly, and thinking, with a bit more purpose. From this “free time” is more often than not, where my ideas for writing come from, and spending a lot of it on a game has turned out to be more than just a time sink. It’s been an idea sink as well.

It also makes every ”real life” obligation seem that much more tedious. And over the course of a few weeks, it’s definitely taken a toll on my patience, and general demeanor. While I’m by no means happy mr. sunshine normally, I’ve noticed more sudden outbursts, a lower threshold to become annoyed, and even angry.

I don’t think online gaming is an abject evil, but I do think it’s far too easy to spend far too much time on it. Unless your goal is to make a career out of it (as is proving more and more possible, you don’t even have to be a pro gamer anymore as long as you can be entertaining) it is arguably, largely a waste of time. People will mention how FPS games improve their reflexes, their impromptu decision making skills, and their team coordination, but imagine what kind of skills you could develop if you spent even 50% of the time actually learning something. I know I would be speaking an additional language fluently by now. Or I might be miles ahead of where I am now when it comes to writing.

I think that there’s a time and place for gaming excessively, and that is while you’re still in school, with your life supported by someone else. When you’re out in the world, “trying to make it”, or just trying to make ends meet, it’s hard to make room for gaming without suffering in other departments. Of course if I had a more normal job, perhaps I would be all too happy to game my free time away, to escape from the boredom.

But at this moment, I’m all too aware that my free time has too many possibilities for me to spend a huge chunk of it on a computer game. After all, it was spending just a small chunk of that time right that has enabled me to get to this point.

The one useful thing I noticed about having a seemingly useless interest or passion, is that you can use it to circumvent Parkinson’s law. If you set a specific goal for any given day, you have an incentive to finish it quickly, leaving time for said interest or passion. So now if I become passionate about something with, say, health benefits instead, like martial arts, then I would be truly on the right path.

But thankfully, just as bad influences can be unintentional, good influences can be too. I woke up to an email about some writings I had submitted for review, and the news that one of my articles from last week having been published, so instead of defaulting to starting my day with the game, again, I’m starting my day with work. And to turn the tide, I will make sure that this is how I start my day, every day.

At the end of the day, I’m not with the camp that claims your best choice is to completely cut ties with old friends who could possibly be bad influences forever(unless they are intentionally being bad influences, or your health/well-being is at risk through their influence). I think that the goal is to become so rooted in your best self that you are impervious to such influences, and instead become a good influence on those friends. Although I concede that there’s exceptions, and that during a period of time when you’re struggling hard to get better, when your rebound risk is high, you’re probably better off avoiding people who might tip you over the wrong edge.

If nothing else, let this serve as a reminder. That if your gut tells you that doing something is a bad idea, even if your friend is encouraging you, just stick with your gut.

Three Simple Things That Help Me Write More

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” – Stephen King

It’s kind of funny how training is expected in sports, and technical professions, but with writing and creative endeavors people seem to think there is almost no barrier to becoming good. At least one you can’t overcome with tricks or “techniques”.

There’s no real substitute for practice.

But sometimes writing a lot can be hard. Very hard. Sure, it might not be that physically demanding, but there’s something about a blank screen, or page, that’s downright intimidating at times. (Also, mental energy is very real, and it’s easy to spend most of it before you even get started on the writing itself.)

A few months ago, I would frequently blame “writer’s block” and throw in the towel, excusing myself from meeting my daily word goals. These days, it’s becoming a rarer and rarer occurrence. And though I’m far from the most prolific writer out there, I learned a thing or two along the way.

In particular, there are three simple things I do that help me put words down on a screen every day.

Writing Down At Least 3 Ideas (For Articles/Blog Posts) Every Day

One of the most recurring, and painful, barriers between me and writing, has been the simple of excuse of “I don’t have anything to write about.” This can come up an awful lot when you’re gunning for daily writing goals of 1000 words and upwards!

But if you practice thinking of more than one idea every single day, not only are you unlikely to run out of writing ideas when you sit down to write, you actually get better at thinking of ideas over time. Continue reading

When It Feels Like The Moment Of Truth Has Come And Gone

Sometimes things don’t work out as you imagined. You’ve worked for this. Sometimes hard, sometimes not so hard, sometimes barely managing to put in the bare minimum. Then it pays off. You get the chance you have been dreaming of… and yet when it truly matters the most, you let opportunity slip through your fingers, for reasons you barely understand yourself. Reasons unwilling to appear on a piece of paper, or a blank screen no matter how much you will them forth.

Lack of preparedness. Lack of discipline. Lack of willpower. Poor distribution of time and energy. Wrong environment. There are many factors at play.

But the worst part of all is how well this fits into the self deprecating narrative that plays on repeat in the deepest recesses of your mind. “I’m not good enough.” “I’m just lazy.” “I don’t deserve it.” “I will never amount to anything.” It’s easy to let yourself be convinced. Sooo fucking easy.

But it would mean

Regain Perspective

It might have been a pivotal moment, a moment of truth had things turned out for the better. And it’s easy to feel like it’s a pivotal moment for the worse. The moment where all hope was lost, and the road towards becoming an alcoholic bum revealed itself. But the good news is that life has a TON of moments, opportunities, of glimpses of what could have been, and what will be. In the long run, one missed opportunity is simply another drop of water in the ocean.

Remember all the times you could have given up, and didn’t. Remember how you managed to get to the point where you are able to blow big opportunities. There’s a big difference between having no opportunities, and letting one slip.

Don’t Let History Repeat Itself

It’s important to take some time to really reflect on what caused the failure. Maybe you stubbornly refused to ask for help when you most needed it. Maybe you should have said no to some minor opportunities to leave you the time to deal with the life changing one. Or maybe you became to absorbed in other areas of your life, diverting your focus away from where it needed to be the most.

Reasons for failure is one place where cliches are not to be avoided, because we’re not really all that different when it really comes down to it. Lack of support, too much on your plate, overworked underplayed are common enough that they may sound like empty excuses, but are often very real reasons for why things went south.

But don’t let it stop with just figuring out the reason. Take real steps to avoid having the same problem in the future. An example would be if you felt that you lacked support, moral or otherwise, or accountability, to pick the best suited among your friends and start a conversation about whether or not they would be willing to lend a hand in future situations.

Grab Hold Of The Opportunities You Still Have

One thing I’m starting to learn is that opportunities seldom come alone. When you get one chance, and you step up, don’t be surprised if another two or three show up out of thin air.

So grab hold of the opportunities you still have, and do a masterful job. Armed with a more intimate knowledge of your own weaknesses, you should be better equipped to predict what you will find problematic, and where you will be in the most need of help.

The Prescription For Self Doubt as prescribed by Tim Ferriss, is a rather effective kick in the butt for anyone who’s feeling a little down on their luck. It helps to read about someone successful admit to being human. Makes it feel like success is within my grasp, and that it doesn’t require superhuman characteristics. And of course the video is powerful.

I have fumbled plenty of opportunities already over these past few months, and yet somehow, I still have a few to choose from. Time to do things the right way. To admit what I need to, and deal with my weaknesses from a place of honesty and clarity.

Hope you’re all still in good health.