Learning new things engages your prefrontal cortex, which operates via your working (i.e., short-term) memory. Your working memory is used for conscious decision-making and planning, directed at the attainment of your goals.
However, once you automatize a skill, it becomes subconscious; and thus, you free up by 90 percent your working memory, which allows higher-level functioning. For example, you can drive for minutes at a time without even thinking about driving.
In the context of learning and performance, automaticity allows you to apply and deepen your learning in novel and enhanced ways. Developing automaticity is the process of going from doing to being–empowering you to become an expert and innovator.
As Josh Waitzkin, author of The Art of Learning, has said, “Just as the yin-yang symbol possesses a kernel of light in the dark, and of dark in the light, creative leaps are grounded in a technical foundation.”
Here’s how it works.
Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a reality. –Earl Nightingale
The first step toward automaticity is repetitiously learning small sets or bits of information. If you’re learning a new language, it’s repeatedly hammering the same word types and roots. If you’re golfing, it’s practicing the same shot over and over.
However, automaticity goes beyond the initial point of mastery, to what has been called overlearning. To overlearn, you continue practicing and honing long after you know something inside-out.
Becoming grounded and proficient in the left-brained technical rules and skills frees up your right brain to creatively break or manipulate the rules. As the Dali Lama has said, “Learn the rules well so you know how to break them properly.”
2. Find your zone and stay there as long as you can.
“The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat.”―Richard Marcinko
The second step toward automaticity is making the practice or training progressively harder. If you’re at the gym, increase the weight and intensity. If you’re giving a speech, include elements outside your comfort zone.
The goal is making the task increasingly difficult until it’s too hard. Then you drop the difficulty back down slightly to stay near the zone or threshold of your current ability.
3. Add a time constraint.
The third step toward automaticity is making the training more difficult while adding a time restraint. Do the same activity (e.g., writing an article), but give yourself a shortened timeline to do it in. Your focus should be process, not outcome on this. Quality over quantity.
Adding a timeline forces you to work faster while at the same time it requires you to think about the time, which loads up your working memory (think Chopped on Food Network).
4. Load up your working memory with purposeful distractions.
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”–Sun Tzu
The final step toward automaticity is working/training with an increasing memory load. In other words, doing the task with greater levels of distraction. Math teachers leverage this strategy by having students learning an obscure fact and having them recall it immediately after completing a math problem.
Eventually, you can perform the activity in a flowlike state, where the external distractions and pressures no longer influence your unconscious ability to act.
Watching our 8-year-old foster son learn how to read is teaching me a lot about the development of automaticity. For months, he did everything he could to avoid reading. Yet, we were persistent in working with him.
Eventually, he developed confidence himself and began to see the utility of reading, and his motivation shifted from extrinsic to intrinsic. Now we have a difficult time stopping him from reading.
If you want to become world-class at what you do, you must get to the point where it becomes unconscious and automatic. Once you get to this level, you’ll be able to innovate and make your craft your own, because you’ll be operating at a higher frequency.
When you’re treating any illness, making mistakes is inevitable. After all, making mistakes is how you learn, grow and get better.
Depression is a difficult illness, which colors how you see and feel about yourself. So, if you find yourself making the “mistakes” below, try not to judge yourself. Rather, view these mistakes as stepping stones, as signposts that lead you in a more helpful direction.
Below are five beliefs or behaviors that are ineffective in managing depression, along with insights into what works.
- Telling yourself to snap out of it. “When you’re depressed, it’s common to think that there’s no good reason that you’re having trouble getting out of bed, struggling to concentrate, or feeling so low,” said Lee Coleman, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of Depression: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed.So you might try to motivate yourself by being self-critical or using shame, he said. After all, when you’re depressed, it can feel like you’re swimming in negative, shame-soaked thoughts.While your intentions may be good — you’re trying to motivate yourself to do your best — “the language of criticism, guilt and shame isn’t helpful and usually makes us feel even worse.”If these thoughts arise, Coleman stressed the importance of responding to them and reminding yourself of these key facts. “[D]epression is an illness like any other — one that affects not just your mood, but also your sleep, energy, motivation, and even the way you look at yourself.”
Remind yourself that “nobody ever yelled themselves out of feeling depressed.” Instead, take small steps and stay active, he said. Getting better from any illness takes time.
- Not revealing what’s going on. When you have depression it’s also common to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Depression “can feel like a fundamental flaw with who you are,” said Coleman, assistant director and director of training at the California Institute of Technology’s student counseling center.Consequently, you may cover up how you’re feeling, which might lead others to get frustrated with you or simply become confused about what’s going on, he said.“Remember that others, even the ones who love you the most, aren’t psychic and may still be operating on old information.”When talking about how you’re feeling, you don’t need to divulge the details or even use the word “depression,” he said. What’s more important is letting them know “what you need while you’re working on feeling better” (some people may automatically ask how they can help). For instance, you might need more time to complete a project, he said.
- Underestimating depression. “While many appear to realize that depression has a medical origin, some underestimate exactly how depression impacts their life,” said Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the booksLiving with Depression and Depression and Your Child. Some of Serani’s clients don’t realize that depression affects their “personal, social and occupational worlds.” But depression affects all facets of a person’s life.She shared this example: Personally, you might struggle with significant sadness, self-doubt, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and hopelessness. These symptoms might cause you to withdraw from your relationships or become irritable and impatient with others.At work or school, fatigue, self-doubt and an inability to concentrate might lead to incomplete assignments, poor performance and difficulty remembering important information.
When you understand your depression and how it affects your entire life, you’re able to address those symptoms and support yourself with effective techniques.
As Serani said, “Having knowledge about an illness that touches your life empowers you.”
- Getting lax with treatment. When clients start to feel better, they may become “too casual with their treatment plan,” Serani said. This may start with missing medication doses or skipping therapy sessions, she said.Serani often hears clients say: “Why do I have to keep coming for therapy if I feel better? What’s the big deal if I miss a dose of my antidepressant?”However, it is a big deal. Research has shown that if you stick to your treatment plan and view your illness as a priority, you can become symptom-free, Serani said. But if you don’t, it might take you longer to get better, or your symptoms may worsen.To convey the seriousness of depression, Serani sometimes substitutes the word “depression” with other illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
“Though these are very different illnesses, they all have one thing in common: The need for the patient to respect the seriousness of the illness.”
She further noted: “If you had cancer, would you skip chemotherapy? If you had heart disease, would you cancel your appointment with your cardiologist? As a diabetic, would you ignore your blood sugar levels?”
Make a commitment to your depression treatment for at least a year, which research suggests, Serani said. “For those with moderate or severe depression, treatment will be longer.”
- Not being self-compassionate. Being compassionate to ourselves is important every day, and it’s especially vital when we’re sick or struggling. However, as Coleman said, “Unfortunately, because depression casts a negative light on our thoughts, it’s easy to see compassion as just feeling sorry for yourself, or as giving permission to lie around all day.”On the contrary, genuine self-compassion involves being honest with yourself and responding to your needs. It means acknowledging that you’re currently struggling, accepting that you’ll need time to feel like yourself, and realizing that it’s absolutely OK to lower your expectations of yourself, he said.“It’s not a judgment about yourself as a person, and it’s not giving yourself a blank check to feel bad forever.”If you find it hard to be self-compassionate, think of what you’d say to a loved one who was feeling the same way, Coleman said.
“Your tone would probably be caring and supportive, not blaming or attacking. That same tone may not come as naturally when you talk to yourself during depression, but it’s absolutely worth remembering and trying to draw from, even if it takes a little effort.”
Again, depression is a serious and difficult illness. But remember that you’re not alone, Serani said. “Depression can often leave a person feeling hopeless and isolated, but there are many out there who know your struggle and can support you along the way.”
She suggested connecting with a “health professional, a mood disorder organization, support group or a compassionate friend who understands you.”