Skills never seem to improve

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Skills never seem to improve

Post by Aggrax on Fri Dec 18, 2015 7:35 am

Last night while doing the dishes, I was watching a cooking show because nothing else was really on. At one point, my mother said something to the effect of "I always thought you would make a good chef." I didn't say anything, but apparently my thought process was showing on my face because she asked why I was giving her a weird look. My response was that I actually would not make a good chef because I absolutely suck at cooking, a fact which has been true my entire life. It was at this point she said something that I have heard over and over again in my life and have not once observed to be true, at least as it pertains to me. "You just need more practice, then you'll get better."

I feel like practice never seems to help very much. I know that I'm not going to get better at something in a day, but I don't feel like I improve even when I put in a lot of time and effort. I tried to get better at cooking once a few years ago when I was first diagnosed with diabetes. I watched some videos and got a cook book and attempted some beginner recipes, all of which I botched. I tried this for a month and wasn't any better than when I started. Even doing things that I love doing this happens. I've played a Warlock in World of Warcraft for 7 fucking year and I have never, in my entire time playing this game, been anything better than average.

I'm sorry for whining like this. Is there just something that I'm doing wrong here?
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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by CP96 on Fri Dec 18, 2015 8:05 am

Most likely is that you're not practicing very effectively. Lots of people "practice" by repeating things they already feel comfortable with. Are you regularly doing things in your chosen fields that are outside your comfort zones? If you do, and you botch them (and you will botch them), do you go back and try them again? And again? And again and again and again and again until they start coming together?
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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by Enail on Fri Dec 18, 2015 1:20 pm

As well as what CP96 says, you might want to pay attention to how you're botching them. Is it the same way every time?  Different problems mean different ways of working on them to improve, and focusing on specific goals can speed up noticeable improvement. And if you're constantly running into new mistakes rather than the same ones every time, that means you're just doing what CP96 suggests and pushing your comfort zone.
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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by eselle28 on Fri Dec 18, 2015 6:52 pm

I think you're talking about two different sets of things, actually.

The first would be skills where, by at least your own definition, you've failed. I think then that you might want to do as Enail suggests and be careful to note how you're botching things. Cooking is something I've been working on improving in the past couple of years, and it's not really one skill but a collection of them - knife skills, following instructions, multitasking, knowing your cooking equipment and how it varies from that assumed by most recipes' authors, being able to assess doneness and flavoring. There can still be learning happening even if quite a few meals in a row are all bad, and sometimes focusing on specifics both allows you to see progress and to pay attention to areas for improvement.

The second would be skills where you're performing at an average level but wish you could be even better. I've played WoW for about the same period of time as you do, and I'm also a very average warlock. I exacerbate matters by occasionally playing a hunter alt with a skill level best described by the popular pejorative. You might be able to improve your performance. I am probably never going to be better than average at WoW. I simply lack the level of situational awareness to play at the very highest levels of the game. On the other hand, the fact that I actually play with others often enough to realize I'm nothing special means that I'm experiencing parts of the game that a lot of people never even get to see. I've made peace with only being okay at WoW and most other MMOs, and I try to compare myself to people whose skill level is similar rather than to a couple of my friends who are exceptionally good players. I don't know if something like that might work for you, but to me it provides some measure of peace to remember that sometimes there's a point when you really do top out, and where statements about always being able to improve start to be flat and false.
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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by Hirundo Bos on Fri Dec 18, 2015 7:26 pm

One thing I've picked up somewhere – don't know if it's relevant to you or not – is that at the beginning when you practice a skill, you're likely to experience a decrease in ability. The reason is that you've probably had some ideas about how to do it already, and those might have been good enough to get you to a certain point... but no further. So the new techniques may be better in the end, but at first you'll perform worse at them because they're unfamiliar.

Besides that, I agree with a lot of what's been said... set yourself the right level of challenge – tasks that are outside your comfort zone, but not so far as to be impossible. Break down the things you want to learn into smaller components, like the specific cooking skills Eselle mentions.

And how are your general feelings about failure? For my part, I've been so terrified of failure I couldn't even stand to spend much time on things I wasn't good at already.

I 've gotten better at this through some self-administered exposure therapy – I've sought out those moments of failure, told myself I'd keep trying for a set amount of time before I quit... first fifteen minutes, then thirty, then up to forty five which seems to be an ideal working session for me. It's hard at first (but if it's too hard, it's okay to look for ways to make it easier, the point isn't to punish yourself) – but after a while, and faster than you think, the sense of failure begin to become endurable.
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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by Archetype694 on Sun Dec 20, 2015 8:57 pm

Great advice given so far.

I would just emphasize the importance of mindful practice and working within one's skill level. Also I would add that when one practices (correctly), it may not be visibly apparent but you slowly get better with each attempt. Assuming of course whatever the issue that is blocking your progress is addressed.

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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by Aggrax on Tue Dec 22, 2015 7:24 am

Thank you all for the kind words. I haven't ever really paid attention to how I practice things before. I do know that, with most things, I don't feel like I get consistent results. For example, one thing I do fairly regularly is fry eggs because that's one of my favorite foods. But I don't feel like I get consistent results. Sometimes I get them to runny or too overdone or I break the yolk while cooking. I feel like the only consistent thing is that I get hit by popping grease at least once.

I find it hard to practice a lot of things because I get very self conscious while I do it. I can't cook while there are people around. I can't have people watch me type things or attempt to draw things. When I draw and assemble maps for my Roleplaying group I do it before hand while at home, locked in my room. I hate it when people see me make mistakes or struggle. It's one of the reasons I have a hard time exercising, because my family requires that I exercise with someone (usually my brother) and I feel self-conscious when anyone, even someone I trust, is around. I hate feeling and looking like a failure, even though it's something I basically used to at this point. I also hate asking for help. I feel like I'm burdening the person I'm asking, especially if it's something that seems basic or that I should already know. When I worked as a product profiler, one of the people who supervised us was a good friend of mine. I hated asking him any kind of question. I felt like a bad employee and a bad friend for needing his help so often. He was often busy and had important things to do and here I was, some dumb grunt always bothering him with questions that I feel like I'd asked a million times before and just forgotten the answer to.
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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by Enail on Tue Dec 22, 2015 1:33 pm

If it makes you feel any better, I've been cooking regularly for ~15 years and I still overdo them or break the yolk sometimes. I've improved at a lot of things in cooking, but more in the realm of flavour than doing everything perfectly. I still make mistakes, just my overall quality of mistake has improved! Laughing

I hear you on not liking to practice in front of other people, I much prefer to start by learning things on my own if I can. But sometimes it's just not possible, so I figure then you've just got to embrace looking like an idiot  (it probably helps that I walk into inanimate objects in my path pretty frequently, so I'm used to looking like an idiot! Razz)

Maybe accepting that mistakes don't mean being a failure is one of the skills to work on improving?  And one of the things supervisors get paid extra for is helping the employees under them, so I don't think there's anything wrong with having asked him for help.
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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by Wondering on Tue Dec 22, 2015 2:23 pm

Cooking eggs perfectly is really hard. If there's anything I've learned from the thousands of hours of cooking and competitive cooking shows I watch, it's that eggs are considered difficult to do perfectly by everyone. And a lot of fancy high end chefs will ask applicants to cook eggs as a test/interview, meaning not that eggs are easy for beginners but that if you're seasoned enough to work in a high end restaurant, cooking an egg right is still considered something that distinguishes the better from the best.

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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by KMR on Tue Dec 22, 2015 6:00 pm

I have a lot of the same fears and anxieties as you regarding practicing and making mistakes in front of people and asking for help. It's something I still very much struggle with, but here are some things that have helped me try to work through it.

One is to just be aware that there are lots of other people who are still learning just like I am. Some of them are struggling with it even more than I am. Others are more advanced than me, but were still at my level at some point in their lives. This helps me to feel like I'm not alone and to recognize that my experience is pretty typical. I think we often tend to look only at the people who are really good at a skill and then compare ourselves to that, which makes us feel inferior, so to combat that feeling, it's good to look at people of all skill levels. For instance, when I go ballroom dancing, I make sure that I'm not only watching the instructors or the advanced students; I also look at the beginners who are just starting out, or the more casual dancers who have been dancing for a few years but don't practice as often. Plus, just seeing so many other people who are willing to put themselves out there makes me feel a lot less self-conscious about doing it myself.

It also helps me to be aware that the fear of judgment is often just in my head. Most people are: 1) too busy worrying about themselves to really pay that much attention to you, 2) empathize with your situation, because they either are or were still learning that skill themselves, and 3) aren't the types of people who are going to be that critical and judgmental of you anyway. And if you happen to find yourself in the company of people who are going out of their way to judge you and make you feel bad for learning something new, then you should either try to avoid them or try not to put so much weight on their opinions and focus instead on the people in your life who are more supportive of you.

Also bear in mind that just about any general skill actually consists of many smaller skill sets. Rather than trying to evaluate your level at the skill as a whole, it can often help to break it down into components and evaluate those instead, because you'll often find that you'll have some strengths and some weaknesses, and also some areas where you may have already improved a lot. Be aware of your weaknesses, as this is a good way to find targets and strategies for improvement, but don't dwell only on them. Identify your strengths as well and take pride in them. Resist the jerkbrain urge to label yourself as "bad at skill X" when you may actually be really good at components A and B, average at component C, and struggle with components D and E.
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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by Aggrax on Tue Dec 29, 2015 9:34 pm

I told myself that, with so little going on over the holidays, I would try to find something that I could try to practice or lean to do, to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong. But I didn't do that. I would tell myself I need to and then I wouldn't do anything. That, more than anything, is why I don't improve. Because I'm lazy. Lazy and incapable of properly managing my time and resources in order to accomplish anything worthwhile. The only time I seem to get anything done is when I rely on other people to force me onto a schedule. I feel like such a parasite and even though they won't outright admit it, I think my family feels the same way. I know my father doesn't like the way I take advantage of their generosity, since at Christmas he announced that he would be retiring this year and thus finances would be tighter and that I would need to work more on supporting myself independently, even though I feel like I'm to stupid and irresponsible to ever really be on my own. I'd die in a week.
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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by Enail on Tue Dec 29, 2015 9:41 pm

I'm sorry you feel so bad about yourself and your situation, Aggrax, and that it's causing you problems with your family. But I think you know that a lot of people here disagree with you about aspects of your self-assessment, and it can be pretty uncomfortable to hear someone saying something very mean about themselves that you disagree with. So it would make it easier for us to talk with you about this kind of thing if you could talk about your opinions about yourself in a way that acknowledges that they are your feelings rather than undisputed fact. Could you give that a try in the future?
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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by celette482 on Wed Dec 30, 2015 8:44 am

Aggrax, is it possible that your father is choosing to retire this year for reasons other than "Aggrax is a parasite and this is the only way to cut Aggrax off"? When we feel bad about ourselves, we become incredibly self-involved. And I don't mean that in the usual pejorative sense. What i mean is that our focus constricts so much and our jerkbrain is so loud and demanding, that we can barely see beyond our noses. And it means that we often interpret others' behaviors and guess their thoughts through the lens of our own jerkbrain. When we're feeling depressed or anxious, we assume everyone is looking at us, judging us, laughing at us, but in reality, we just aren't commanding that much attention. It's a weird disconnect. On the one hand, our brains are telling us we're worthless, on the other hand they're telling us "Everyone is focusing on how worthless we are!" (which wouldn't really align with being truly worthless, would it?) Jerkbrain is very illogical and not to be trusted.

Cooking though.... I will say I developed my ninja level skills after a year of living alone and then a year of feeding someone I very much wanted to impress. I first had to make a lot of mistakes but eat them anyway, and then I had to learn how to make fewer mistakes. I wouldn't call most of what I made that first year "gourmet." There's something to be said for throwing out the recipe book and just cooking a piece of meat or vegetables, just to learn what "cooked" looks like.
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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by Aggrax on Thu Dec 31, 2015 4:45 am

I would like to request that this topic be closed. While I would like to believe that I made the topic with the intent of engaging in discussion, it is clear to me that all I am going to contribute from this point is whining and pity seeking, which is unproductive and off topic. I appreciate everyone's advice on this matter.
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Re: Skills never seem to improve

Post by Enail on Thu Dec 31, 2015 1:46 pm

Okay, closing the thread as per request. Let us know if you'd like it reopened sometime in the future.
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