The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, September 17, 2012

Practice, Practice, Practice

Last weekend, Jason's soccer team The Knights played their first game of the season, on a new and larger field, against a group of older kids...and still beat them.

There was a fabulous moment in the first five minutes of the game where Jason ALMOST scored the first goal of the game. He blocked another player's drive, his teammate stole the ball, passed it to Jason, and without thought Jason kicked with perfect timing and angle, slamming the ball into the net...

Or it WOULD have gone into the net, except that the goalie ALSO responded instantly and blocked the shot. The other team was rattled by our rhythm and speed, and never recovered. We won 2-0 and Jason was singled out by the coaches for excellence in play.

But both HIS action and the opposing goalie's response were a matter of instant, automatic engagement. There was no time for thought or planning, only response. And on both parts it was beautiful.

Only...a little more beautiful on our side. Ahem.

Any life skill demanding mastery must first be expressed in flow. And no skill can be expressed in flow unless the most basic building blocks are first reduced to unconscious competence. For those unfamiliar with this process, let's look at riding a bicycle expertly:

UNCONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE: You don’t even know the skill exists. Bicycle? What’s that?

CONSCIOUS INCOMPENTENCE. You know that a bicycle exists, and that people ride them. You’d like to learn!

CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE. With practice, you get to the point where you can ride a bicycle as long as you concentrate all your attention on the task of moving your feet, keeping the bars steady, maintaining balance, avoiding obstacles…

UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE. All the basic skills have been absorbed. This is the “look Ma, no hands!” point where you can start having fun, just playing with the skills. ALL SKILLS MUST BE TAKEN TO THIS LEVEL BEFORE “ART” BECOMES POSSIBLE. It is here where you can enter the flow state, and it will just “happen.” Yeah, right…if you’ve done your homework. And you are, aren’t you?

In all four basic arenas of life, it is critical to identify the most basic components, and practice them until you can "do them in your sleep."

Here's how I use these principles:

WRITING (mind): I write every day. EVERY day. "The Way Is In Training", Musashi's second principle. What did you THINK he was talking about?

MARTIAL ARTS: Daily practice of either martial skills or the elementary motor components which compose them. Every. Single. Day.

FAMILY: Daily interaction with my friends and family, seeking always to understand how their issues and challenges are reflections of my own. Learning to see yourself in others then challenges you to understand yourself more deeply. Hint: any time you hear people saying "what's wrong with those ____?" you are dealing with someone who lacks either empathy or self-knowledge.

FINANCES: Daily re-writing of goals. Daily strategizing and financial meetings with my core partner, Tananarive.


If it's important, you must be expert. To be expert, you must be able to relax under performance pressure. To do this, you must reduce the component skills to unconscious competence. And to do this with greatest efficiency and must perform every day.



(do you have your FREE copy of THE MORNING RITUAL for ADD children? Get yours at:!)


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