There are a lot of ways we might set out to learn a new skill, or to improve on our existing skills. But, what’s the best way to learn a new skill?
In his book The Little Book of Talent, Daniel Coyle came up with 52 tips for improving your ‘talent’, and he came up with them after extensive study of what he calls ‘talent hotbeds’ – training schools, sporting and music academies, military groups who were developing highly talented individuals and teams. He wanted to identify what those talent hotbeds all had in common, and out of his travels and studies, his book The Talent Code, as well as The Little Book of Talent was born. But, back to the best way to learn a new skill!
Coyle noticed that many of the talent hotbeds he studied used what he calls the engraving approach, or engraving method. They watched a skill being performed, over and over, closely and with a high level of intensity, until they had built a high definition mental blueprint. One example of the engraving method at work is the Suzuki method for learning music. Every day, in addition to music lessons, Suzuki students listen to a preset menu of songs, starting with “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and then moving on to more complex tunes. Listening to these songs being performed well, over and over, builds a detailed mental map of how the song should sound in the listener’s mind. From this map, the listener student can then more easily determine when their own performances have deviated from what the song should sound like, determining success or failure for each attempt at playing it.
Dog agility is a visual activity
Dog agility is a much more visual activity, and so it makes sense that rather than listening to melodies over and over again, engraving would involve watching a move be executed by a top handler over and over, until a mental map can be formed. The key to this method being effective is to watch and listen so closely that you can imagine the feeling of performing the handling move, or executing the skill you’re watching. If you’re in an online course or program, watch those demonstration videos intensely, until you can imagine yourself doing the moves demonstrated – until you can feel it!
Agility is a physical activity; project yourself inside the body of the performer you’re intensely watching. Be aware of the movements of that handler, and of the rhythm between handler and dog, if you’re watching a course or sequence.
Agility is also a mental activity; project yourself inside the mind of the performer you’re intensely watching! Chess players do this by replaying classic games, move by move, and public speakers do this by regiving great speeches. You can do this too, by setting up a course or sequence that a top performer has handled their dog through, and then running the course the way that top performer handled it. Try to feel why that handler made the decisions they did with regard to their handling strategy. Even if you only do this during a walkthrough, and ultimately decide to handle the course differently, you’ll gain insight in to that top performer’s mind by recreating their handling choices.
One of the best things about spending time each day engraving a skill on your brain is that it doesn’t require that you have access to equipment, a training field, or even a dog to effectively do it!
You might not have access to training due to weather, location, dog injury, human injury, etc., but if you have a few minutes available you can watch videos of top performers, whether it’s on a course or in a demonstration or training video, and really work to put yourself in their shoes, imagining yourself going through the same motions, for the same reasons. This is a bit different from my last tip, staring at who you want to become, because you’re not just staring at videos of top performers for inspiration; in this case, you’re picking a specific skill, and looking for well executed examples of that particular skill, so that you can watch them over and over, with an eye toward making a well developed mental map of that particular skill.
So, if you have a specific skill you’d like to improve on, head out on to the internet and find examples of that skill being demonstrated in some way by a top performer. Then, watch it, and watch it again – over and over, until you can vividly picture that skill being performed well by you!