0669 – consider the nature of deliberate practice

I had an interesting experience today trying to make a video. It’s a video about race relations in Singapore. I don’t want to get into the details of the video in this particular vomit. Rather I want to talk about what went into the video.

I decided that I wanted to make a video because I felt like text wasn’t going to be enough. I suppose a part of it was because I had already been thinking for several weeks or months that I want to start making videos. Another part of it was – I wanted to communicate more than just words. I wanted to show my feelings on my face and in my body language.

Making the video was tough. So far, I’ve made about 50 videos of myself playing guitar, and 13 videos of myself just talking directly into the camera. This was the first video I’ve made that has cuts – meaning instead of making the entire video in a single sitting, I technically made lots of short videos and spliced them together. I did this in a very inelegant and clunky way, and I was not at all happy with how it turned out.

Why? What could have been better?

I think the main thing is that I wasn’t very sure of what I was saying. And because I was trying to figure out my words as I was saying them, I couldn’t do a lot in terms of expressiveness. I used more cuts than necessary, and they weren’t particularly chosen very well.

But I’m seeing and learning that that’s life. There was no way that my first “proper” video about a specific topic, intended for an actual audience… was going to be great. Greatness requires lots and lots of practice. Greatness requires finesse.

I’m reflecting now on all the other things that I’ve worked on and gotten better at over time. I’m thinking about…

Playing music – guitar, bass. Writing songs. Performing onstage.

Doing standup and public speaking. I don’t do it nearly as much as I think I should, because I’d like to get better at it. And there are all these little things that annoy me about how I do things. I have all these tics.

Writing, obviously. Writing is my single best skill. And even then, I feel like I’m not good enough. I know I’m never going to be good enough.

Cooking – I couldn’t do it at all, and now I can kinda do it. I have some rough intuitions about what works and what doesn’t.

Squatting. I could do it at all, and now I can. I haven’t in a while, and look forward to doing it again.

Managing myself. This is the meta-skill that influences all the other skills. I’ve gotten better at it, but it’s still nowhere near where I’d want it to be.

I’m starting to realize that this might just be a forever thing. I’m always going to be trying to be better. But I still am holding on to this belief that there are thresholds that can be crossed. In my mind’s eye, I can imagine making a really good video that people find entertaining enough to watch that they actually share it with their friends. I’ve seen what those videos look like, but it never occurred to me seriously to try and make them. Now that I’ve made a few simplistic, shitty videos, I can start to see the work that goes into making the magic happen.

This is where I start to get a little bit disappointed and demoralized – because I realize how short life is, and how little time I’m going to have to get better at the things I want to get better at. I need to reconfigure my expectations so that I can live a good life while doing my best and making as much progress as possible.

I need to reflect and review more every day. This is something I’ve been repeating to myself. But it’s true, so I need to keep repeating it. (The next line that was lined up in my head was “until it sinks into my thick skull”, which is needlessly aggressive and obnoxious. I think there’s some amount of plain hard repetition required to make something happen. And yeah maybe it’s just blunt brute force over and over again, the big schlep. Or is there something else that I’m missing? A smarter way of doing things?

I do feel happy and satisfied having made a video. Like there’s some amount of output there that gives me a sense of progress. And that’s what I need to be playing for. I will never reach the finish line. There is no finish line. The point is to be creating output that makes me feel like I’m progressing. The progress might be a sort of illusion at the grandest scale – it’s ultimately a Sisyphean task.

But it’s not worthless. I know that I can enjoy myself on the guitar to a certain degree because of the work I put in years ago. But if I want to enjoy myself MORE, I have to put in more effort to practice on my weaknesses. Some deliberate practice for a few months would expand my repertoire and allow me to enjoy myself even more than I currently do. And as I was reminded in my reading of Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You – repertoire-expanding is hard, painful work. It requires focusing on the little details and working through them over and over again.

When I look at these vomits, a part of me feels a little guilty because I think I’m just repeating myself mindlessly, just doodling and noodling. That’s one of the slowest ways to make progress. It’s better than nothing, but “better than nothing” is a low bar for me to set for myself. It should be different in the final third of this project. I should be reviewing my logs, updating my titles, making progress. This vomit is done and I’m going to bed.

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