Choosing Practice Over Advice

During 30 Days of Creativity, advice has shortened the time it takes to learn to code, front-end design and sharpen my writing ability. Advice from experts has helped me eliminate a tunnel where there's no cheese, instead selecting one that holds many more riches. Then, I slipped on the summit of expert advice, and started believing that more advice was better. I became consumed by it. "Moar advice!" echoed in my head, blindly leading me along. 

After establishing a baseline amount of information however, the advice got murkier, often contradictory. Luckily I came across a tweet reminding me that once I've reached a certain threshold, there one thing I need more than advice: practice.

Here's what Hiten Shah means

There is no shortcut to learning a new skill. The fastest way is to put your hands on the keyboard and plod your way forward. Expert advice can at best cut a corner but is never a replacement for your own effort.

After years of learning new skills and 10 years as an executive coach, I know this to be true and yet, I've found myself susceptible during this experiment. Why is it easier to reach for advice over practice? What makes it so enticing? After favoring advice over practice several times during my creative experiment, a couple of patterns have emerged. 

Asking for advice is simple + easy

Ask an expert for their advice, write it down and the task is done. Check it off the list. I often felt a rush of adrenaline after getting advice. It felt good to have direction. Asking for advice made me feel like I was actually doing the work.

But I wasn't.

Instead of putting hands to keyboard thrashing around with a new skill, I was simply talking about it. It was misdirection. Spending three hours painfully learning to create custom CSS is not simple, or easy. Practicing is hard work. Mistakes were made and time lost as I searched for answers to do even a simple task.

As a kinesthetic learner, practicing is how I learn best. As my fingers type, information is encoded into my brain, helping me remember what I'm learning. I know this, and yet, it's still hard to drag myself to the keyboard many days rather than read a book or ask a developer friend how to create a state change in my program. 

Gaining mastery is hard

It's easier to look for answers from someone who has mastered a skill, rather than simply doing the work with my own hands. Having confidence in myself, especially when learning a new skill, can often feel like trying to catch a piece of silk, falling through my grasp. 

We begin learning a new skill as unconsciously incompetent. You have no idea what you're doing, but because you don't know enough to understand this, it doesn't bother you. The phrase blissfully unaware applies beautifully here.

But this phase doesn't last long, for plunging into learning the new skill quickly shows the novice how much there is to learn and the level of incompetence

When I began learning to code, I often thought I understood a concept but when I got to the terminal, the cursor blinked at me impatiently as I tried to remember how to start the task. Frustration often set in as realized just how incompetent I was in my new skills. In the Conscious Competence model, this is known an conscious incompetence. This is the part of the process when I'm overwhelmed by everything I need to learn and unsure how to proceed. This is also the time I've been most likely to want to quit. Or, ask an expert for their advice

Choosing practice over advice

The past 30 days I've been training myself to turn to practice rather than to advice. I still have a strong inclination to look outside for help rather than to my own brain, hands and pluck. Twitter, housework and reading expert advice still beckons some days. But it's getting easier to actually do the work. So, I get up, morning after morning, my mind stumbling over the steps I learned the day before. When I'm finally able to use a new skill, the adrenaline returns, reminding me to continue. So I keep practicing, day after day, knowing that one day I'll get there. Even if I don't get there at least I've increased my skills.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on choosing practice over advice and how you avoid misdirection.