This week, TI enthusiast Ian Collins sent me a link to the Eduardo Briceno’s TED talk How to get better at the things you care about which was influenced by the work of Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck on Growth Mindset, and Anders Ericsson PhD on Deliberate Practice. I’ve personally followed the work of both Dweck and Ericsson for years–and met with both in person to discuss the linkage between their work and the Kaizen ethos we promote in Total Immersion. So I was keenly interested in this talk and it was definitely worth watching.

The most important new insight for me from this talk is the importance of organizing your efforts into Learning Zone and Performance Zone activities. In the Learning Zone, you try to stay on the edge of discomfort, working at skills that are difficult to perform at the moment. How would this work in TI practice?

Suppose you’ve been working on some skill challenges that are still elusive. Two good examples include (i) Holding Your Place with the lead hand–or maintaining a Patient Lead Hand–until the other hand is about to enter the Mail Slot; and (ii) keeping your stroke count in the lower half of your Green Zone

Maybe you manage to succeed at them occasionally, or in just the right circumstances–for instance only at tempos of 1.2 sec and slower, carefully controlled effort, and for repeat distances of 100y/m or less. But when you try to increase the distance or swim a little faster, you fall short. Or perhaps you can do it during solo practice, but not during training sessions with a group–a Masters team or tri club.  In Emily’s case she is adding an extra challenge–doing so in a group practice environment, rather than solo practice. I think that’s good.

What I’ve described–solo practice under controlled conditions–is a Learning Zone. In this zone, the stakes are fairly low–mainly falling short of what you’re aiming to do. If you fall a just slightly short–just enough to feel success is just a matter of time–that’s good. It means you’ve got the skills-challenge balance right. If you fall hopelessly short, you need to rebalance the challenge of what you’re trying to better match your current skill level.

In Performance Zone activities, you stay within your comfort zone–i.e. performing these skills a bit less rigorously. If you swim a time trial, a more speed-oriented set, or train with a  Masters group the stakes–how well you measure up to others, or to previous speed standards–are higher.

The key is to spend most of your time in the Learning Zone, then apply what you’ve learned there during brief ventures into the Performance Zone.

Unless you are purely oriented to quality of experience, or lifelong learning as a swimmer, which many are. Then it can all be Learning Zone.

Personally I’ve had periods of up to 10 years–early 40s through early 50s–when I was quite satisfied to remain in Learning Zone. This prepared me for some pretty exciting swims–national championships and national records–when I ventured back into the Performance Zone at age 55.