When I teach a class, there is no one in the classroom who learns more about the topic than me.
“When one teaches, two learn.”
– Robert Heinlein pic.twitter.com/ejuQpHZQ59
— Richard Feynman (@ProfFeynman) August 23, 2018
To be truly creative, one of the central problems to overcome is domain dependence. We become so dependent on the surrounding context of an idea, that we fail to apply that idea in other areas or domains. We fail to make useful connections.
After learning something new, it’s tempting to let our excitement drive us to pick up that shiny new hammer at any opportunity and go looking for some nails. We are all neophiles.
This applies to every field and endeavor. You learn a new word that tastes like honey when it forms on the tongue, and you start looking for excuses to use it. One method of teaching works great for one child, and so you try to replicate that success with other children despite their uniqueness. You get a new Instant pot, and you use it to make every meal for the next 2 weeks. Never mind that one of those meals was scrambled eggs.
In my own field of computer programming, there are times where, after coming to understand a new development pattern, my thinking gets colored by it. How can I solve this new problem with this same pattern? It worked so well before, so of course it must work well again on this other problem that might be totally unrelated. As a result, I can burn too much time. Or write code that isn’t optimal.
Eventually we find ourselves laying flat on our backs after we tried to push our new, gigantic square peg through a round hole while running at a dead sprint. Or worse, we end up running endlessly in circles wondering why our new key won’t unlock any of the doors we need to go through. We start getting impatient with the doors.
The trick, I think, is to get to the stage where you have internalized it. It becomes a common thing. Your new skill/idea needs to be bouncing around in your subconscious and part of your overall repertoire, instead of at the forefront of your mind, dancing and demanding your attention.
How do you do this? By learning something new.
Josh Waitzkin, in his book The Art of Learning, relates a story that demonstrates the power of the mind/body link, and how everything is connected. After breaking his hand 7 weeks before a major martial arts tournament, his doctor told him he would never be able to compete. His arm would atrophy in the cast.
Instead of accepting that fate, he kept training. And whenever he did strength conditioning on his good arm, he would then visualize and imagine the workout passing to the muscles on his immobilized arm.
When his doctor took off the cast 4 days before the tournament, his arm had hardly atrophied at all, and he was cleared to complete. The doctor couldn’t believe it.
This lines up with other research into visualization and practice, though that body of work focuses on final performance metrics, and not actual physical changes (or lack thereof) in the body. At least that I know of.
More related might be the work pioneered by Dr. Ramachandran in his treatment of people with phantom limb pain. Even though the nerves no longer exists, sensation and pain can still exist. But when using a mirror apparatus that provided the patient with the illusion that they were moving the limb that no longer existed, the pain would gradually go away.
The mind/body (and soul?) link is endlessly fascinating. We’ve only barely scratched the surface of the potential repercussions.
Most martial arts studios tout that “increased self-confidence” is one of the benefits of learning from them. But properly learning a martial art is one of the most humbling things you can undertake. It takes a while to get to any sort of “confidence.” Beware places that just want to stroke your ego and make you look good in your own mind.
This can be extrapolated to most endeavors and skills. Learning something properly, as a true beginner, requires that you be prepared to look completely foolish.