In a previous post we identified that there are different ways of categorising behavioural change. The type of change we want to make has a huge bearing on the type of strategies that will be effective in achieving success.
Behaviour can be categorised according to whether it is low or high effort and whether it is creating new behaviour or preventing old behaviour.
In this article we want to focus on creating expert behaviours. Creating any new behaviour is about creating a new neuronal pathway in the brain. Expert behaviours are complex because they normally come with varied stages of learning - each requiring a neuronal pathway. For instance, babies must master moving limbs, crawling, standing and walking before being able to run.
Understanding Expert Behaviours
Expert activities are new behaviours that take a great deal of effort to be achieved over time. They often involve learning something new based on previous skills and learning. Over time, as we practice and refine one aspect of the skill we increase our readiness for the next stage and allowing us to learn more complex material. This big change over time can often be motivated by a long term goal. E.g. learning a language to travel to a country, learning to drive to have freedom, learning an instrument to be able to perform.
Because of the effort involved these behaviours require much more persistence, effort and deliberate learning. With that in mind it can be helpful to recall the learning ladder. We begin any learning not even knowing we can't do it, then being aware we lack skills, consciously being able to do it but it taking much effort and finally becoming competent enough to do it automatically.
Achieving Your Expert Behaviours
Focussed practice – unlike amateur behaviours, simply putting the time in doesn’t always work. Spending 10 minutes a day on the guitar will not make you a better player if you are doing it wrong. Practice needs to include developing techniques, gaining new knowledge or cementing existing good practice. Not only do you have to create a routine or timetable for this activity but you also have to decide how to use your time.
Teaching Input – gaining expertise in something is very difficult to do without instruction in some form. Whether it is learning a school subject, instrument or to drive a car people will always need information from elsewhere. Finding a tutor, teacher, instructional video or book will be a helpful resource to support you as you identify the things you ‘don’t know you don’t know’.
Sub-goals – an expert behaviour is usually very complex and made up of layers of skill. Sometimes breaking it down into chunks can be very motivating and prevent you from over stretching yourself early on. For instance a learner driver will focus on being able to start & stop smoothly before worrying about more complex manoeuvres. Decide what the steps to your end goal are. Take time to celebrate each step as you make it. Appreciating how far you have come is a great way to motivate you further.
Deadlines – some people find that they work better to deadlines or checkpoints. Being ready for a marathon in 6 months is a mammoth task. But perhaps signing up to smaller races in the meantime will help people get fitter and build their stamina in chunks. Use fixed points, perhaps with others checking on you or a sense of necessity to give you focus and motivation. e.g. learning basic Spanish before your holiday in 2 months time.
Persistence – expert behaviours take much longer to bear fruit because of how complex they are. Persistence will be needed to ensure that you put the time in, overcome setbacks and keep the end goal in mind to motivate you.
Self reflection – in order to succeed in an area of expertise you will have to evaluate your progress, learn from your successes and mistakes, adapt strategies and alter your practices. Learning anything is a complex journey and building time into your routine to think about your learning will help you to be more effective when you do practice.
Going For Goals
Creating any expert behaviour comes with challenges because of how lengthy the process is. Just like building a house, it takes time to lay the foundations, build the walls and put the roof on before it becomes inhabitable. But the key is persistence and staying motivated to reach the end. I hope that you find these strategies helpful and good luck in your new learning.
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