The Transition Curve

“You realize that you will never be the best-looking person in the room. You’ll never be the smartest person in the room. You’ll never be the most educated, the most well-versed. You can never compete on those levels. But what you can always compete on, the true egalitarian aspect to success, is hard work. You can always work harder than the next guy.”

Casey Neistat (1981- )

Beginner’s luck — it’s totally a thing. There’s actually an entire pathway that illustrates our levels of competence when we learn a new skill. This pathway easily explains the stages from day 1 to total mastery, The Transition Curve was developed as a result from a study at Cranfield University School of Management.

The study suggests that the transition curve can be applied to the individual and organizational level. So people and companies would follow something similar to this pathway whenever they are learning something new.

The transition curve shows competence and confidence levels over time. This is scientific evidence for the idea that:

At first you’re going to stuck, but if you keep practicing you will get better.

or the age old dictum:

Practice makes perfect.

I found that this curve to be pretty accurate with my own personal experience too. I’ve gone through these stages with multiple skills. It was true when I was learning how to play the guitar, bass, drums, ukulele, produce music, tutor, write, drive, be an EMT…you name it.

Stae Jez Ov Comp Pe Taunce (2019) – Christopher S. Mukiibi

The Stages of Transition

Shock

When we are first introduced to a new activity we are shocked that we encounter something that we are unable to do. It sounds arrogant, but it’s true. It’s surprising to encounter something that we don’t know how to handle. Check out the slight dip that happens right at the beginning of the curve. That’s from the shock. We usually start off decent at most skills, but the shock from being confronted by unexpected circumstances throws us off our game a little bit.

Note – the more unexpected the new skill or circumstance the larger the initial dip in competence

I like to think that we’re pretty tough cookies, and it’s true because most people don’t usually quit during this stage.

Denial

We deny that we’re bad at something and it actually makes us perform a little better but eventually our delusions get the better of us and our competence starts to decline.

Barring the incredibly few exceptions — without hours of deliberate practice and mistakes, we cannot be highly competent at anything. Any skill worth mastering will be difficult and anything difficult will take time to master. Do not let the guise of a slight short term improvement delude you into thinking that you have mastered something.

Awareness of Incompetence

Awareness of our incompetence starts to dig at us. Our confidence and competence plummets. We start feeling worse and worse about our abilities. This is where most people will get trapped and stop practicing a skill. This is where the quitters get off the train.

This stage is where all the convincing excuses will come up. “I’m not a ___ person anyway.” “This is way too hard.” “This is pointless.” “I’m too busy for this.” The list is endless.

I think the best way to get through this stage is to know that difficult times are coming and they will pass. Keep practicing and remember that every urge to quit is just a trap preventing us from learning something new.

Acceptance

Once we’ve hit rock bottom, we finally accept that we don’t know how to do this. This allows us to learn as much as we can about it with minimal egoic resistance. This can be a brutal place. Rock bottom is lovely for our growth and development but it feels terrible when we are there and is often hard to recognize too. So that leads me to the question:

Why do we have to reach rock bottom before we start getting better?

There are many reasons. One is to breakdown the ego which can prevent us from taking in new information. Another is because we don’t understand the dangers of our actions. Rock bottom is a natural place, so don’t be spooked once you’re there. We can try to avoid it, but true mastery comes after we’ve risen from the ashes.

I believe some of the lessons to be learned from hitting rock bottom are:

  • humility
  • discipline
  • rigor
  • consistency
  • tenacity
  • there are so many that they need their own blog post…

It’s one thing to read about these lessons or keep them in mind for others, but it is another thing entirely to internalize these lessons from life experience. Go out and make mistakes. Learn as much as you can.

Testing

This is when we start applying the new things we learn, smoothing out the rough edges, and learning from our mistakes.  We start to see the big things that we do which prevent us from being competent and correct them accordingly. We start to toss out techniques or perspectives only held by novices.

If we are tenacious enough to get to this stage, then us could consider ourselves “official” students of the craft. We’ll experience the most growth and strength from this stage and the next. According to Nietzsche, “People do not seek pleasure and avoid displeasure. People seek more power and in the will of that seek resistance. For aiming at a lofty goal and being thwarted in that pursuit builds strength within us.” When we see our actions move us towards a goal we feel happy, but we feel even better when we meet resistance while trying to reach that goal. This stage is filled with opportunities for that level of growth. Our competence is really low here but we feel pretty good striving to be better.

Search for Meaning

Once we get decent at this skill, we start to dissect why certain methods work and others do not. All the hours of trial and error, along with the deliberate practice, gives us a clearer understanding of how to be competent. We use multiple perspectives and experiences to synthesize our results and draw conclusions as to why certain techniques work. Now, we can really develop ourselves strategically within a skill.

Once we know why we are doing something, we are able to apply our knowledge in various situations. My girlfriend tells me that’s what real intelligence is — the ability to apply knowledge in different situations. In terms of The Transition Curve, this stage is a fun place to be.

Integration

In this stage, we have found ways to weave this skill into our everyday lives. We take our competence (consequently raising our confidence) to a place higher than ever when we internalize the knowledge and skills required for mastery. A thorough understanding of strategies, hours of deliberate practice, and a steady foundation of the fundamentals can take us here. This is the ideal stage and where we want to be with everything we learn. It’s the best place to work from. Your skill takes less energy to execute and you are able to maneuver well through complication situations.

So what does this all mean?

There are stages to learning something new, similar to grief or change. These stages are temporary and will pass with dedicated practice and a rigorous commitment to learning.

Learning about The Transition Curve has helped me get some clarity around why I felt like I was on a rollercoaster every time I was learning something new.

Know the tough times are coming. Prepare for them. Meet them with a strong belief in yourself. Work diligently. Master everything.

Categories
Education Lifestyle Productivity

Understanding Change

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

Lao Tzu (601 BC – 531 BC)

I totally get that it’s possible to write multiple books and courses on how to initiate and facilitate change, but this post is an approach meant to explore our understanding of how our minds deal with change. With this understanding comes the ability to manipulate ourselves into helping us break the habits we don’t want and start the habits we do.

I like to think of change as a function of two separate processes.

The 1st: Knowing what to change into, a.k.a. Setting the Stage

The 2nd: Overcoming the resistance to change.

Setting the Stage

It’s not enough to want to change. You have to know what you want to change into. We can’t change into new clothes without having new clothes.

Two Schools of Thought

When it comes to thinking about setting the stage for change there are two schools of thought that tend to dominate most of the conversation.

The first are people who think they need to change everything about themselves. They don’t know enough and do everything wrong. These people usually don’t want any new undertakings since they see themselves as someone who isn’t capable.

The second are people who think they don’t need to change at all. They know everything and are oblivious to their mistakes. These people are usually arrogant, bite off more than they can chew, and rarely achieve anything substantial.

Most people fall somewhere in between.

How much change do you believe you need to make?

People who think like the former group, may have more to work with than they think and will probably want to focus on optimizing the skills and knowledge they already have.

People who think like the latter group, may want to reevaluate their value structures and ask themselves if they are still working properly. If you think your life is perfect, then they are working just fine, but to be honest no one’s life is perfect so let’s not pretend.

BUT…before you go and change everything, you will probably want to ask yourself:

“If I were to change and get my intended result, what would that do for me?” 

I got this question from Russell Brand and it is great because it gives us the real answer to focus on. Usually it isn’t the good grades that’s going to make us happy. It might be the feeling of accomplishment after completing something really hard or peace of mind knowing that you are doing everything right.

After asking myself this question, I found that a lot of the things I wanted to change about myself had overlapping benefits if they were completed and this helped me focus in on the few things I really needed to change.

This is also a great question because I see it as a sort of “cheat code” to life. Instead of focusing on what we think the problem is, we shift our focus to the source of what we want and go after that instead.

I asked myself this question last month when I was confronting my own physical Everest. I’ve always been skinny and I wanted to put on a few pounds to bulk up for summer. So instead of telling myself “I NEED to get buff!” I asked myself “If I were to get buff, what would that do for me?” and I realized that I wanted to get buff to earn the respect of others, feel more confident in myself, and be physically stronger. Spoiler Alert: I didn’t get buff. But, learning this new insight gave me the opportunity to focus on earning the respect of others, feeling more confident, and becoming physically stronger. I’m not saying we shouldn’t accomplish any goal we think we want to accomplish, I’m just saying be crystal clear on why we want to change ourselves.

Overcoming the Resistance

It is difficult for us to change because our pathological tendencies in adulthood were developed as solutions to problems when we were younger. We resist to let go of these tendencies because our identity is developed from these tendencies and we cling to them for self preservation. Therefore, changing requires intense effort for long periods of time and during that time one should expect to feel a gang of negative emotions. The negative emotions don’t mean that we’re on the wrong path, but on the right one.

Whenever we want to change, our brain looks for reasons to not.

According to Ramit Sethi, a NYT Best Selling Author who’s also received his Masters in Sociology from Stanford:

3 Manifestations of Doubt

  1. What if-ing – these can illicit powerful emotions from you but keep in mind that these scenarios are not always valid reasons to give in to doubt “everyone who’s created something valuable — whether it’s an online business, a work of art, even a great speech — faced doubts like these. The difference is, they trusted themselves enough to acknowledge these doubts, then set them aside and took action.”
  2. Slicing the Pie – the next easiest crutch for us to lean on is saying “I don’t have time” or “I can’t afford that” when we all have the same 24 hours in a day and can save money for the things we find important. Pay attention to the VALUE and vs. the cost of something. Keep in mind the cost of missing out as well. Ask yourself “how can I make time for this?” Or “how can I afford this?”
  3.  Alibi-hunting – people love to hunt for an alibi to use to not take action. And once they found an obscure reason not to join, suddenly they felt liberated to justify their inaction. Special Snowflake Syndrome. “I can’t do X because I have this super special situation that doesn’t allow me any freedom to do X.”

When we do something new for the first time we experience cognitive dissonance because our brain thinks we are doing something wrong but over time we will habituate. Anyone who’s tried to brute force change a behavior knows what I’m talking about. Mantras and affirmations helps override this cognitive dissonance. Tell yourself that you are doing the right thing and tell yourself often. There are other ways to hack our mind’s compliance systems.

Six Methods to Engineer Compliance (When Logic Fails Us) according to Tim Ferriss:

  1. Make it Conscious – mindfulness. Be aware and intentional when trying to start a new habit. Accidental habits are usually the worst for us.
  2. Make it a Game – stickiness of 5 sessions. Reward yourself when you get to 5 sessions of a new habits. According to Nike, it only takes 5 logged sessions of an activity to make it a new habit. Go for five. 🖐🏾
  3. Make it Competitive – fear of loss and benefit of comparison. It sucks to lose and its great to win. Adding a competitive element to whatever you do creates a natural Tracking-Loss Aversion dynamic but also brings another person into the mix for accountability. I’d say this is the most effective method Tim recommends.
  4. Make it Small and Temporary – easy and quick. If the new habit is little and doesn’t take much time, then you’ll have a higher success rate implementing it in your life. Anyone can do anything for two weeks but you don’t even have to commit yourself for that long. Just aim for the five sessions and watch yourself make progress.
  5. Lower Your Standards – lower your standards until you can start. Start with micro assignments. Can’t study a whole chapter for math? No worries, just do one problem. Can’t read that book for English? No worries, just read a page. Make the bar so low that starting is cake, then when let the momentum take you. IBM had the lowest quotas in the industry; there is a correlation between low standards and high performance.
  6. Keep Things Simple – I believed that I could handle complex things well and that gave me a competitive advantage since the games I played had a high barrier to entry and I could win but then realized that I’m just fighting myself. “What might this look like if it was easy?” – complexity can come later, but if it is complex at the beginning you will not want to do it.