I think that where the really potent, low-hanging fruit hanging in plain sight lie are in the thematic, are in breaking down the learning process into the core principles or themes you want to work on and doing reps of those. Those are just invisible to people in plain sight.Josh Waitzkin on the Tim Ferris Podcast: https://tim.blog/2020/03/14/josh-waitzkin-transcript-412/
In other words, find “neglected skills“: situations you don’t often find yourself in and where you haven’t developed a lot of trust and confidence in your abilities yet.
Then isolate and practice them until you develop confidence and trust for that particular neglected skill.
For example, when working on his chess game, instead of practicing the “openings” like everybody else, Josh would isolate the “end games”(the final part of a chess match) and practice only these.
Most people wouldn’t think of doing that; they would always start at the opening (that’s where a chess match starts, after all) and practice the end game only as an afterthought, deep into their practice session when they had already spent all their energy on the opening.
By cutting out the opening entirely during practice sessions, Josh got a lot more “hidden reps” with the end game than his competitors, which led to a big competitive advantage.
This might seem obvious, but in my experience, it’s really quite counterintuitive not to start at the beginning when practicing a skill.
For example, when learning a new guitar piece, it feels strange not to start at the beginning but to pick out a difficult part and practice that over and over again. It’s not impossible, and many teachers will tell you to isolate difficult parts, but my (and many other students’) first instinct would always be to start at the top, over and over again.
Which begs the question:
Where else are we “starting from the top” over and over again, instead of finding and isolating the neglected skills?
Neglected skills and hidden reps examples
Some examples of how I’m trying to integrate this principle into my life:
- By the end of a yoga session, my muscles are so fatigued there are certain poses and moves I just can’t execute anymore with proper technique. Over the long run, this leads to an imbalance; I get good at the poses that appear early on in the session, and neglect the ones later in the session.
To counteract this, I sometimes do separate sessions where I isolate those “neglected moves”. Suddenly, they become much easier, and I learn to execute them with proper technique.
- I’ve been writing and journaling every day for almost 2 years now. Those reps have trained me to get over the bump of the empty page, open the floodgates, and generate many ideas and insights.
- Out of all that writing and journaling, I barely ever created anything “publish-worthy”. Now I’m writing a daily blog post, which trains me to take the ideas I’m generating anyway, and turn them into something I can publish.
- Instead of publishing one long post a week – or once every couple of years like some book authors – where I’d only rarely experience that feeling and fear of “putting something out there”, I decided to publish something every day, even if it’s very short. Daily short form posts give me seven times more publishing practice than one long weekly post.
I’m 15 days in and already notice I’m developing much more trust in myself that I’m capable of publishing something every day and there’s always something to write about. Even when I decide on a different schedule in the future, I’ll have much more experience in putting content out regularly than someone with a lower-frequency schedule.
Neglected skills are everywhere. No matter what you’re trying to learn or achieve, creating the circumstances where you can identify and isolate them, then put in the hidden reps, will pay big dividends.