How to avoid Learning Plateaus

9466126-beautiful-young-woman-playing-violin-stock-photo-violin-musician-musicIf you want to become an artist, or a real professional, you need to (among many other things) cultivate an internal evaluation locus, your own personal concept of exactly what beautiful art, success, and excellence means.

What it feels like, sounds like, looks like, and feels like. This is, after all, one of the the fundamentals of your artistic DNA. This is what is giving us our one-of-a-kind voice. If we put our head too deep in the sand, though, we may run into another sort of problem. When our learning process is stagnating, we may very well get stuck on a plateau….

We’ve all had this sort of encounters, where we practice harder thane ever before, put in a lot of time, but where we, for whatever reason, don’t seem to be able to take it to the next level. Full of frustration, we begin to get the idea that we’re missing something, some technique element or some knowledge that could us there, but we don’t have a clue, what could it be? So we’re stuck on ore plateau….

Now how can we overcome these situations, how can we break through these terrible plateaus? How can we get unstuck?

Well the answer is simple, supervision! We all know that it’s uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing enough to watch yourself in action just by yourself on video.

It will becomes really challenging, though, to watch video together with a supervisor, whose task it is to be supportive, yet also to make observations and comments on the things you’ve missed, and who will ask you that sort of tough questions that you can’t do yet because you’re just not experienced enough.

To tell you the truth, I’ve always been learning something, and supervision has always helped me a lot to become more helpful to all of my clients. It was pretty hard, though to keep myself from beating myself up as I wondered ‘How for Christ’s sake could I miss that?’ or ‘Why haven’t I thought about that myself?’

Sure, my ego got bruised, but the issue at hand is, of course, that can never be working on things that are not within our conscious sphere of awareness!

Imaginary problems

I still remember very well that I got pretty confused when a thoughtful and highly talented student once admitted she spent far too much time on dealing with imaginary problems.

She explained that she could be spending forever on tiny little problems which would merely result in microscopically small improvements, whereas she was neglecting the higher-value targets which would have a far greater impact on the quality of her playing.

Sure, were not ignoring these higher targets on purpose, we often just are not able to see what the larger areas to improve our playing could be, and that’s where an outside view, coaching, will be valuable. Executive coaches are utilizing a ‘conscious competence learning model’ for describing this phenomenon, a four-stage learning theory that will enhance our awareness and playing quality.

The 1st stage is named ‘unconscious incompetence’. Here we are not aware of, and blind to, the things we must work on.

The 2nd stage is called ‘conscious incompetence’. We now do have understanding and an awareness of the things we need to be working on.

The 3rd stage is ‘conscious competence’. Now we’ve developed our new skill, but we still need concentration and awareness to execute our new skills. The skills haven’t been automatized yet.

The 4th and last stage is ‘unconscious competence’. Our skill has turned into a second nature and we can perform it easily and without the need to be thinking about it.

We’re already pretty good when we’ve reached stages 3 and 4, and we will often even be able to play appropriately at stage 2 in many cases, but at stage 1 we really need some outside help to speed things up.