Dabbling is a habit

Have you ever experienced one of those times where you want to learn something, but finally end up throwing in the towel after you realize how hard it’s going to be to achieve the results you seek? I have. In fact, I’ve been for a long time partisan of this dabbling mentality. What do you think happen when you repeat something over and over? You – unconsciously – build a habit. A habit is built from repeated action, no matter what that is. In short, it means that by giving up on a regular basis, you train your mind to do it again and again. That time when you stopped learning piano? Yes, it affected you unconsciously.

As the word “habit” implies, it is of course something that you do repeatedly, not once. However, doing it even once gives you room to dabble another time, and another.. until you finally become a “dabbler”. Being a dabbler roughly means that you never achieve what you said you were going to do. Can you see how dabbling can get in between you and your dreams? For instance, let’s say that you want to learn how to draw. You tell yourself “what a great skill to have”; maybe you would like to brag in front of your friends or perhaps you just want to have a work related to it. In any case, you have a clear image in mind of what your future life will be about. You’ll be a drawer and nothing else.

Going to the dabbler’s path

You take a sheet of paper, a pencil and an eraser. It’s then time to think about what you are going to draw. Let’s say that this day, you were inspired about drawing a beautiful woman looking at the sunny sky. Nice, isn’t it? You seize your pen and start sketching something -what is it, a ball? No, it’s probably supposed to be the sun. Anyway, you start drawing what looks like to be a person – gender unknown – and little by little your drawing begins to shine. You add some clothes – which looks like a tablecloth- and some vegetation around your character. There are others scribbles on the sheet but even I -the narrator- can’t understand them all. Anyway, you’re finally done and excited to look at your drawing from an outward perspective. You take a little step back and look at your drawing from a new pespective.

Then.. you see *this*. A drawing that even a six-year old could compete with. No, in fact this same six-year old would draw better than you. A new strange sensation starts welling up inside you. Yes, you feel like quitting. Why shouldn’t you? After all, when you see people on the internet drawing like pros, it feels like you’re nothing compared to that. These people are just lucky, they’re born like this, they have been given a gift, you haven’t. Actually, you’d be interested in singing because it has always been you dream. Yes, you already see yourself being a star surrounded by tons of fans. The men yelling your name, the women all trying to seduce you, and both of them would beg for some time with you. It sounds tempting, right? Well, guess what? You’re going to make the same mistake as your premise is wrong. This thinking is results-oriented.

Results-oriented motivation

Results-oriented motivation is motivation that you gather by imagining the result you want. If I were to take the example above, it would mean that you’re drawing in order to draw like a pro. The problem with that kind of thinking is that if you’re only after the goal, you’re bound to fail. To master a skill, one must practice years. Would you be able to keep practicing for years if you were only interested in the result? Probably not. You’re going to fail plenty of times during your journey towards mastery, and you won’t get over it if you’re not ready to accept things as they are now -that you draw like a child. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to set goals. However, if you only focus on the goals you won’t have much success.

Casting the process of practicing to the detriment of the result and having an interest only to the end, means that you have no interest whatsoever of what comes before that. This thing that lies between the beginning and the end is called “process”.

Process-oriented motivation

This refers to the motivation one possesses for the process of mastering a skill. Taking the example above one more time, It would mean that our friend is not only interested in drawing like a pro – there is nothing wrong with that-, but he’d be also enjoying the process. In this case, he would love to draw and would expect nothing else to happen. Whether his drawings will render good or not is of no concern to him -he just wants to express his feelings through art. In other words, he learns to like the process. To become a good drawer you have to draw regularly, that is the process. Drawing like a pro is the result. While you can aim at becoming a pro, your primary objective should be to enjoy the process and not focusing on the outcome.

Being dependant on the result means that you won’t be satisfied until you have achieved your goal.. which will take years to attain. Could you endure this for years? Instead, why wouldn’t you take an interest on the process and be satisfied right now? It is just a matter of perception.

The art of mastering a skill

Mastery takes times. A lot of time. Think about it, no matter what it is that you want to learn, there is an excessive amount of things which you need to learn. For instance, If you want to learn to speak a language, you will need to learn vocabulary, grammar, conjugation, expression and so on. This is not something you can do in 24 hours. Our brain, although very well made, cannot achieve such a thing. It needs time and repetition to finally start to grasp something. Maybe there is a little nuance you didn’t understand before, or a grammar pattern that you didn’t ever heard of.

All in good time

There is an infite amount of possibilites. Can you see how it would be overwhelming for a beginner to think about all of that? “How am I going to learn everything?” would be the first reaction. The dabbler doesn’t think about the long-term, he just wants to see the result right now. However, how can you even expect a result if you don’t practice? Don’t overwhelm yourself with all of that, just think about the process. Here’s the best line I use when I encounter a ton of new things when I learn japanese: “I’ll learn that later”. By saying this, I acknowledge that I won’t be a fluent speaker before long, as I won’t know *this*. That is a certainty. However this phrase allows me to keep breathing and not being overwhelmed by the things I don’t know. I accept to trade my ignorance for time.

I don’t mean that you should postpone everything, otherwise you won’t progress. What I’m saying is that you have to focus on small little things before you try to learn something bigger. Yes, before you’ll be a master of something, it will takes years. There is so much work to do that you couldn’t even possibly mesure the amount yet. But as time goes by, you’ll get closer and closer to your goal until it becomes within reach.

Pick one skill

Never try to learn more than one skill at once. I can’t generalize in a public post like this, but I prefer to state the safe answer. If you already are able to learn more than one thing at once, then go ahead and do it. Otherwise, I’d avise you not to do that and to pick one only. Why? As I already said, learning one skill is very overwhelming, especially if you’re not already in the “master’s mentality”. How could you expect to learn two, three skills if you can’t manage to learn just one skill? Yes, you can’t. That is why I recommend you to pick something that you really care about and that you know you will be passionate about for a long time.

Remember, mastery takes time so don’t pick something just because you feel like it -you must ask yourself if it is really worth it. Stopping midway to learn something, while you might think that it doesn’t matter, does in fact great harm to you. By constantly stopping before achieving your goals, you will lose self-confidence and will fall in the abyss of self-destruction. Think carefully before you start something. Is it really worth your time? Are you going to commit yourself to achieving this goal? If not, then find something else. In my case, I started learning japanese almost two years ago. Since then, I never stopped learning even a day. That’s how I’m commited to it.

Devote yourself to this skill

Taking japanese as an example again, I totally devote myself to it. I spend a few hours everyday in contact with the language. This serves two purposes : first, by continuously learning everyday, I shape my brain so that japanese becomes a part of my life. It is now not something that I can easily stop, because it has become a part of me. The longer you can do that, the better. We could compare it with a relationship: as it can be very frail in the beginning, it gets more and more solid. As time goes by, they spend time together and their bound strengthen. It works the same for learning a skill.

The other reason is obviously, motivation. Have you already skipped school in your life? If you have, then you must know this feeling: sometimes, you feel like not going to school, so you don’t go. The day ends as soon as it began. It is then the time to return to school, but wait. You’re feeling less like going to school. You spend another day at home. Finally, it is not that you ‘don’t feel like to go to school’ anymore, it is more that ‘you don’t feel like going back to school’. What I’m saying is, just as the time length you skip school increases it gets more difficult to come back, it is the same with learning. You stop learning one day, two days, three days.. and before you know it, you completely stop.

The master doesn’t give up

This is the greatest and most important truth of mastering a skill. Remember this when you’re on the verge of giving up. The master does not give up. He knows that he will come across hardships but he always find a way to get over it. No matter what type of challenge you face, always recall that a master would overcome it. On the contrary, a dabbler would give up. Mastery takes effort, it isn’t easy. However, doesn’t that mean that the result will be equal to the trouble you conquered? If learning a skill was easy, then everyone would master evetyhing, right? The fact that this is not the case shows that difficulty is to be expected. However, if other people have done it, why couldn’t you? Always remember: you’re no different from people who have succeeded. You are a human being as well.

Take references

Sure, some people are born smarter than others, but does that mean it didactes their life? Not at all. Let the dabbler’s path to someone else and get on the master’s path! By doing so, you will experience a feeling that a lot of people aren’t used to: a sense of fufillement. Achieving, or at least being on the right track towards achievment, sure is motivating. If you ever feel like quitting, just think about Thomas Edison who failed more than 10.000 times before he make the light bulb. Was he a dabbler? I don’t think so. A lot of people would have given up way before that, but he knew that giving up won’t bring him any good.

It’s up to you

You’re the only one to decide whether or not you want to hop on the master’s path. This is a not path for the faint-hearted. You will encounter hardhips while pursuing your goal. Is it worth the trouble? If you can assertively answer a big “yes”, then we both know where you want to go. If it is not worth the trouble, then you should change your goals. Mastering isn’t easy, but it is a lot more pleasant than dabbling. Whether it is becoming a master or a dabbler, you can do it. The only question I have for you is if you’re commited enough to make you dreams a reality.