“If your mind is empty, it is ready for anything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki

Half the battle with learning is not getting in your own way. It’s often not what we don’t know, but what we think we know that’s holding us back.

A part of becoming skillful at something is to be continuously working on your knowledge base and re-approaching the fundamentals.

Mastery in your craft is as much about relearning (reinforcing) the fundamentals and unlearning bad (or outdated) habits than learning new things.

“It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Mark Twain

In the beginning, learning the fundamentals can be boring (especially when it’s not paired with fun). Take learning the piano, for example. Practicing scales. Learning music notation. Chords. Working the muscle memory in your hands. Practicing playing notes with the left and right hand simultaneously. All of this is great and will enhance your abilities to play anything, but it is also tedious hard work. When you are just starting out, it’s better to take a stab at learning a few songs you love, or mess around and make your own songs first. Once you have a couple of wins, go back to and learn the fundamentals. I love scales now. I don’t find them boring at all, because I know that getting better at them will increase my ability to play across the board.

When we re-approach the fundamentals, we are coming from a more experienced mind. Things we couldn’t see at first becomes more clear each time we look at things from a fresh perspective. We couldn’t see, not because we were bad or dumb, but because we are inexperienced and didn’t know what to look at.

Things can become outdated quickly. Every year (more like every time we turn around) some new piece of knowledge, technology, or idea comes out and changes how the world works.

The problem is we can easily dismiss new knowledge for things we already know. This can work, for a little while anyway. But if we hold on to outdated or false information we eventually become stale. Alternatively, we can adopt a “strong convictions loosely held” mindset. I learned this idea from one of my favorite podcasts, The Drive, with Petter Attia. Strong “Convictions Loosely Held” roughly means holding on to your knowledge, values, and what you believe to be true, but being open to change and always testing your assumptions about what you think you know to be true and accurate.

Needing to relearn or unlearn things doesn’t mean we’ve wasted our time, or that what we know is irrelevant. Everything we learn builds on something that came before. We do need to stay up to date as much as we can (especially if your skills are in a fast-growing environment, like technology or medicine). This can be overwhelming (because of the firehose of information) but trying to learn everything at once is not an effective way to be skilled. One small thing at a time. One small actionable lesson adding to the next.

As long as we are willing to be life-long learners and continuously try to improve ourselves, then we are in the right mind space.

The only ones who become irrelevant are the ones who refuse to let go of bad habits and stop learning.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1047

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Skip the Fundamentals

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Walt Disney

Learning the fundamentals is an important part of mastering any skill. By building a solid foundation, you give yourself a broader vocabulary to work with. For example, learning scales, chords, and playing by ear on an instrument will open the doors to learning any song.

But, I question whether or not starting with the fundamentals is a good idea. Or at least, I don’t think it works universally as a perfect starting point for beginners.

Have you heard of the concept of something “being on rails”? It’s generally applied to video games or a ride at an amusement park.

Fundamentals are fantastic and an essential thing to learn, but they can also lock us into a specific way of thinking—which also happens to be how everyone else and their mother thinks too.

Structure isn’t always beneficial. Sometimes you just need to sit in front of a sketchbook, or piano or box of legos, and see what comes out of your imagination. Sometimes it’s better to just throw ourselves in the middle of something and figure things out.

Skipping the fundamentals can also be an advantage. By jumping right in, playing around and learning things on your own, you can give your art/work a unique angle. Why? Because you don’t know the rules. You don’t know you’re doing something out of the ordinary or “wrong”.

Without the fundamentals, you don’t know any better. Which one hand, could cause you to pick up some bad habits, but on the other hand, could lead to new ways of thinking and creating.

When we don’t know the rules, we don’t know we are breaking the rules. This is hazardous for public pools, office rules, and social situations. But when it comes to creativity, not knowing what’s “impossible” is an opportunity to create something original.

As artists and entrepreneurs, thinking something is “impossible” or “improbable” is very closed-minded thinking. By thinking something is impossible for us to do, we’ve already boxed ourselves in from ever being able to do it. While at the same time we think it’s impossible because of X, Y Z reason, some naive bold person out there is building it and figure it out anyway.

Of course, fundamentals aren’t always bad. Knowing how to do your taxes is a good skill to have. The key is to take the time to discover things on your own first and to let your curiosity and imagination drive you first. Then add the fundamentals to what’ve you’ve discovered and experienced on your own to enhance your skills even further.

It’s much easier to add to your knowledge than take it away.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1022

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