Understanding Development and Mentors

“The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.”

Jean Piaget (1896 -1980 )

Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is a concept developed by soviet Psychologist Lev Vygotsky. The ZPD is the difference between what someone can do and what they cannot do. In this zone, the person can learn new skills with aid from someone more experienced. To make things easier, let’s refer to the person learning as the “child” and the person giving aid as the “adult.” However, the ZPD does not necessarily only apply to children. It applies to anyone learning something new.

The ZPD changes for each individual and as the domain of unaided skills increases so does the ZPD and the domain of skills that cannot be done decreases.

Piaget and Constructivism

Jean Piaget was a famous Swiss developmental psychologist who was best known for his work in genetic epistemology and constructivism. I highly recommend looking into his work if you work or spend lots of time with kids. Piaget believed that people build new representations of the world on top of their preexisting knowledge in which the new interpretation would incorporate the old interpretation. This is the basis of constructivism.

I like to look at it like this – we can use a bronze axe to chop down a tree, but over time we changed the bronze to steel, and eventually we replace the axe with a power saw. Each of these tools can still cut the tree down but over time the tools we use to get the job done become more comprehensive, efficient, and effective. The same goes for our ways of interpreting the world. When we’re young, we see things a certain way and as we get older we learn new things which explain everything we understood before and more!

The same thing happens in science as well. Isaac Newton founded an entire field of study known as Newtonian physics and it explains so much of what happen in the material objective world but it was unable to explain a few things like how light seemed to travel the same speed no matter which way it was pointing. Over time, a little German boy named Albert Einstein came up with his Theory of Relativity and blew out the doors in the world of physics. Now, Newtonian physics is a subset of Einsteinian physics. Einstein’s theories explain everything Newton was able to explain plus more and this is exactly how we build our own understandings of the world.

Piaget’s constructivist theory works in tandem with Vygotsky’s ZPD theory. We start off with understanding very little but that helps us expand our understanding and this is useful because the world we live in is infinitely complicated and we don’t know very much about the absolute state of being so we need to be able to constantly update our perceptual systems. We can get this updated information through mentorship (we can find the answers ourselves but we make much more progress with mentors), asking the right questions, exploration, and play.

Build a Panel of Mentors

In Game of Thrones, (and in many historical monarchies as well) the king had a small council to advise him on matters outside his expertise. I fell in love with this idea but I found myself frustrated of the king’s small council. I wouldn’t have filled my council with tyrannical sociopaths but with mentors and other people that I look up to. We should all strive to build a small council of mentors.

Building a small council, reading books, taking time to cultivate ourselves will help us expand our domains of unaided skills. When I first graduated from college, I felt ill equipped to handle the world and I knew I needed to learn new things. At the time, I didn’t have a traditional mentor or someone to model myself after but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t keep growing.

I found the works of incredible people and they acted as my guide when I found myself in pitfalls or moments of confusion. These people included Jordan Peterson, Tim Ferriss, Robert Greene, Seneca, and many others. I highly recommend building your own personal panel of advisors. It’s great if you can have one in person, but if you don’t have immediate access to mentors then check out the works of the people that you would like to have advise you. I recommend creating a balanced panel in terms of personal specialty. I believe different people do better in different situations and the panel should be diverse enough to have strengths in all situations. Each person has their own strengths and weaknesses, and a balanced panel’s member’s strengths should compliment the weaknesses of the others. What Seneca lacks in 21st century technology knowledge, Tim Ferriss provides in just 1 book. What Tim lacks in timeless wisdom, Seneca provides in just 1 book. Both of them on my panel ensures I have the best of both worlds.

Stand on the shoulders of giants. Create a mastermind of the best people you can imagine and make that team unstoppable.


Everything you need to learn to be an excellent and whatever you want is within your ZPD. Here is a list of difficult skills that, if developed properly, pay off for the rest of your life:

  • Life long learning and skill acquisition 
  • Grit development
  • Adaptability
  • Silencing your inner critic
  • Learning to say no
  • Critical thinking 
  • Creative thinking 
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Decision making
  • Writing
  • Leadership
  • Personal effectiveness
  • Persuasion
  • Cooking
  • Reflection
  • Compassion
  • Meditation
  • Self-control

These are great starting points if you aren’t sure which skills are worth developing. Honestly though, developing yourself in all of these things will take a lifetime, so I recommend finding which skills are most relevant to you and prioritize accordingly. I talk more about this in my post The 20 Hour Rule and Metaskills.

Developing ourselves is a huge undertaking and requires a bunch of effort, but what else do we have better to do? If we’re better people, we do better, and we cannot fathom the reach of our actions.

The Mamba Mentality

“To sum up what Mamba Mentality is, it means to be able to constantly try to be the best version of yourself. That is what the Mentality is -it’s a constant quest to try to better today than you were yesterday.”

Kobe Bryant (1978 – 2020)

The Mamba Mentality is a highly effective way of developing your skills. Kobe Bryant, aka Black Mamba, developed this method after his first season playing basketball. The Mamba Mentality is a tested and proven way to bring you from the bottom of the dog pile to the Greatest of All Time.

A trip through time…

When Kobe Bryant was about 10 or 11 he was in a summer basketball league. During this season, he scored a grand total of 0 points for the ENTIRE season. Naturally, he was crushed and his father told him it doesn’t matter if you score 0 or 60 points I’m going to love you either way. This gave Kobe the confidence the needed to confront failure powerfully but he didn’t want to score 0 points. After that season, he spent his days focused on the fundamentals while his teammates relied on their athleticism. Eventually, practicing of the fundamentals caught him up to his teammates and his athleticism followed shortly after. By the age of 14, Kobe was the best basketball player in the state regardless of age.

This sounds like an incredible accomplishment but Kobe says it’s simple math: If you are playing for 2-3 hours every day and everyone around you is playing 1-2 hours twice a week, who’s going to be better? Skill development is not only a function of time, but time is a necessary ingredient.

There are two main pillars of the mamba mentality:

  • Show up and work every day, no matter what.
  • Rest at the end not in the middle

Incremental Consistent Progress

Putting work in every single day, even just for a few hours, is the edge you need over your competition. The sad fact of the matter is, not everyone will be giving their 100%. So, if you are giving your 100%, then you can’t lose. And part of that effort is showing up every. single. day. no. matter. what. By the time a years rolls around, or even 6 months, the results are noticeably different. I’ve seen this idea represented in Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge and I’ve tried it for myself.

I apply this pillar of the mamba mentality to my learning. I learn something new every single day no matter what. It brings a child-like bliss into my life and I become a better person every day. After a few years, people have no considered me an expert in things that I would never dare claim expertise in. Apply this everywhere and watch the unimaginable unfold.

Restful rest vs. Stressful Rest

The difference between restful rest and stressful rest lies in the second pillar of the Mamba Mentality. Kobe suggests to rest at the end and not in the middle. This can apply to workouts, homework assignments, projects, whatever goal you have with a definite end. When we forstall resting and push all the way to the end, we train ourselves in endurance and tenacity but we also get to rest much more peacefully. When we rest at the end, we know the work is over and we can enjoy the much deserved breakrestful rest. When we rest in the middle, we have to get over the activation energy required to start again (which sucks) but we also can’t rest as peacefully because we are anticipating the stress to begin again – stressful rest.

I’ve applied this to my workouts and I’ve gotten better results than when I was resting whenever I felt tired. Make no mistake, it’s painful to rest at the end but it’s worth it. I’ve also applied this to cleaning my room, writing, making music, working, and tons of other places.

In this interview Kobe beautifully lays out the foundation of the world renowned, Mamba Mentality.

Starts at 2:11

Show up every damn day and just do it. Don’t stop until you accomplish what you set out to do. Apply these two principles and skill development is a piece of cake.

5 More Tips for Better Scheduling

“There are two types of time: alive time and dead time. One is when you sit around, when you wait until things happen to you. The other is when you are in control, when you make every second count, when you are learning and improving and growing.”

Robert Greene (1959 – )

If you haven’t read my other post about scheduling you can find it here -> 5 Tips for Better Scheduling. I believe that scheduling is a skill that needs to be developed over time. Over the years, I have found a few things that work best for me. One thing I love about scheduling is that it’s a metaskill, meaning getting better at scheduling will help with your other skills too! So here are 5 more tips for better scheduling – take what you love and leave what you don’t.

Change Your Repeating Unit of Time

A balanced life, the ideal of many people. But what does it mean to live a balanced life? If we were to take a 24 hour period and divide up the time based on what was important to us, what would that day look like? Most people work an average of 8 hours per day and sleep for the same amount. So if we did the math, after working and sleeping we’re only left with 8 hours for the rest of our lives. How much of that do we want to spend with our families? Or making art? Or watching TV? Or reading books? How much can we actually accomplish in 8 hours? It’s pretty much impossible to have a balance life this way. There are only so many hours in the day. But what if we used more than a day?

We have 24 hours in a day, so in a week we have 168 hours. If we subtract 8 hours per day for sleeping and working, then we are left with 56 hours for the rest of our lives. I find it a lot easier to think about my time in terms of weeks and not days. 56 hours is much easier to work with than 8. Another thing about this scheduling hack that I love, is if the 56 hours still aren’t enough time for you, then you can observe the repeating unit of time as two weeks and you have 112 hours to deal with.

Let me break this down further.

If we considered Monday at midnight to be the beginning of the week, then the middle of the week is Thursday at noon. So don’t stress if the first half of your week is a little unbalanced, you can make up for in during the second half of the week.

Hour Sweet Median Dots (2019) – Christopher S. Mukiibi

A balanced life is a myth (for the most part). Sometimes the key is a paradigm shift and a little self restraint. We can’t live our entire lives in a day, but thankfully we’ve been given more than one.

Internalize Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law comes from Cyril Parkinson’s The Economist, which basically states that:

“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

I noticed this whenever I put my assignments off untill the last minute.

It would go something like…my professor would give me 30 days to do an essay. I spend 29 of them (if I’m being honest) doing nothing for the paper. The night before the due date, my anxiety kicks in and my adrenaline fueled hands bust out the 20 page monster in less than 12 hours. Thankfully, I kicked this habit by the time my semester-long chemical engineering senior design project came along – that probably wouldn’t have been finished in 12 hours.

This phenomena is seen all over the world, from people of all ages, and in all fields of expertise. People tend to use up all of the time they plan for something. Most people have an 8 hour workday but don’t need all 8 hours to do their work, yet it takes them 8 hours anyway.

This is why deadline and due dates can be useful. Whenever we see that we are at risk for experiencing something really painful like embarrassment or a misstep, we get down to the really important parts to get our goal accomplished. When we procrastinate the night before a paper is due, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about which font to use or even which words could best convey our ideas. We just focus on getting the entire paper done as a whole. When it comes down to it, there is something that activates within us, cuts the fluff, and gets shit done.

Set deadline that seems a little too short. You’ll be surprised how much you can get done.

However, beware of the planning fallacy – we aren’t good at predicting how long things will take. Sometimes we will need more time for a project and sometimes we don’t. Parkinson’s Law is not like gravity. It’s more of a rule of thumb that tends to happen if we aren’t being 100% intentional. I have this small theory that this can apply to bags when I pack clothes too or money I budget for a trip, but those are for another time.

Maintain an Impeccable Calendar

When I first started to schedule things, my calendar quickly turned into something that I couldn’t trust. When I got a notification to study or work on a project, part of me wasn’t sure if I really needed to be doing that thing so I didn’t. Over time, my calendar wasn’t reliable and honestly just an extra burden in my life. This is when I found the importance of maintaining an accurate and updated calendar. Scheduling is meant to be a tool to help you, not an extra chore or another “right things to do.” Our calendars can only help if they are reliable, and they can only be reliable if we take time to make sure the inputs are accurate, specific, and updated. If not, they’ll turn into just another hurdle and not only will it be a hindrance in our lives but our calendars could actually make things worse!

So keep a good relationship with your calendar. Trust it and put in the effort to make it something that you trust. It can help keep you on the path.

Nothing is Too Small To Schedule

This is something that took me a little while to really understand. One of my mentors even told me this when I first started using my calendar consistently. I used to just schedule the big things (e.g. lectures, work, client meetings, etc.) and honestly, I thought it was a waste of time to schedule in the small things. I figured, as long as I had the big events covered then I was good. But as the fate of all false perspectives, this wasn’t sustainable over time and I found myself in a worse position. My schedule wasn’t working for me the way it should and I felt more pressure trying to keep it up.

So I took my mentor’s advice and started to schedule the small things like texting my boss back, rewriting a song lyric, or uploading something to the internet. This brought my scheduling game to a new level. My calendar became an extension of myself. Whenever I get the feeling like I’ll forget something, no matter how small it is, I put it right in my calendar. Now, the only time I forget to do something is if I forget to schedule in my calendar. Still human right?

Always Set Alerts – the More Obnoxious the Better

I like to set alerts for when to leave. Smart phones usually update as the traffic changes so we can be alerted when we need to leave a little earlier. This is super helpful (if you trust technology like that). In order to get the notifications to leave and when traffic changes, you must set the location of the event. This goes with the Be Specific as Possible tip from the last scheduling post. Give your calendar as much information as it can and let the technology do the work for you.

Usually, I am 100% against notifications. Notifications are terrible for our productivity and mental health. I have all notifications of my phone shut off except for 2. The notifications constantly grab at our attention forcing our minds to task-switch which prevents us from doing any real deep work or being present.

The 2 notifications I still keep on my phone are when my bank account balance falls under a certain amount and when it is time to leave for the next event on my calendar. The first one is so I can make sure no fishy business is happening with my money and the second is to make sure that I am punctual to my appointments. I like to use the Apple calendar app synced with my gmail account so I can have my calendar on all my devices.

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.