The more new things I try, the more I see how much I really and truly suck at everything when I start out. While most people are average and can at least pick up new things fast and get the general concept, I am the one who just doesn’t get it.
As a result, I’ve spent most of life avoiding new activities.
It wasn’t until university that I actually started pushing my comfort zone and letting myself be the slowest student in the class, again and again and again.
I thought about this while walking home today, and came to a revelation that I think begins to scratch the surface of my learning style, and why it is so exasperating.
It shed new light on something my old capoeira teacher told me, that has helped me survive and battle on whenever I have felt like I will never get something that everyone else but me seems to get:
“You take longer to learn things than other people, but when you get it, you can do it better than most of them.”
Over the three years that have passed since he gave me this assessment, I have come to put more and more stock in what he said, though I simply accepted it without trying to understand why that would be the case.
I thought about it today, and I think it’s starting to make more sense, for the following two reasons:
Reason #1: Body before brain
Most people can grasp concepts pretty quickly, so they can get the gist of a move and keep pace with the lesson, even if the execution is not all that great
I, on the other hand, usually don’t get the move at all. I think it’s because of the following.
I learn in a two-step process: my body needs to get the feeling of the move and internalize it, after which my brain can start analyzing and remembering the movements.
I hypothesize that, when visual learners see a move, their brain immediately starts analyzing and breaking it down and translating the move to the body. In contrast, when I see a move, it goes completely over my head. I can’t begin to grasp what I just saw unless I mimic it and let my body figure out what just happened, after which my brain will finally begin to work out what the move entails.
This means I take twice as long or even longer to learn something than everyone else who is learning with me. This also means that I might be able to copy a move (correctly) while an instructor is demonstrating it, but won’t be able to even remember the move at all, how it works, or how to start it, when left to my own devices. Even if my body starts to get it, it’s a whole different process to get my brain to understand it. This is where the verbal explanations are imperative for my brain to make the connection.
But it’s important to note that verbal instructions will also go over my head unless they accompany a visual demo and I am allowed to follow along while they are taking place.
Well-intentioned people who ask me to “watch before I do” don’t understand the extent to which my body learns before my head. I need to try, and apply, before my brain is free to think.
In a sense, then, I guess, I need to work on my multi-tasking.
I need to get my brain to wrap around concepts while my body is figuring them out, rather than always having to wait for my body.
I remember a moment yesterday during toprock when I was literally frozen on the spot because I had absolutely no idea what came next. I had to have the movement demonstrated and explained while copying it to get “unfrozen”. This was because my brain hadn’t started working yet.
Because of the way I learn, I pay much closer attention to precise technique, pay attention to and ask about how a movement should feel, and just ask a heck of a lot more questions than everyone else does. I crave corrections and feedback and details, all in an effort to get my brain to finally “click.”
I am usually beyond frustrated when the click doesn’t happen at least once, because that means there is no way I will get the move unless I get another opportunity to be taught it.
However, when I do get a move, it becomes natural and effortless and lovely.
Reason #2: The sole upside of sucking
Because I’m usually the only person in the class not to “get” a move right away, or am only able to get a taste of what it feels like to do the move properly at the very end of the class, I practice like hell to get it.
It’s easy to let moves slide and forget about them when you get them and can keep up with everyone else, but when you suck as badly as I do at new things, it makes you work twice as hard to get them so you don’t fall behind.
Most of the things I am best at and that come most naturally to me now are the things I sucked at the most and worked crazy-hard to get, though I forgot about all the hours I put in until I have to learn a completely new move and have to go through it all over again.
Every drill I have done for the past 16 days has been based on something that frustrates the hell out of me because I can’t get it, so I think I would say that much of what has driven my improvements in dancing has been simply my annoyance at how much I suck when I have to learn anything, and my frustration over not being able to learn at the same pace as normal people.
It’s a curse and a blessing, I guess (though more of a curse, from my perspective). 😛
I’ll leave you with a different take on sucking. 😉