Good Coaching – Focus, Useful Information and Perception.

I started watching a Horizon program about the brain which explained how only a tiny part of our mental activity is conscious. The next thing I remembered was the credits at the end because I fell asleep during the program. It must have been a very good program because it seemed to be correct.

Two Ways to Learn
Experience has shown me that there are basically two ways to learn – either through unconscious absorption and adaptation or through conscious focus. The second way is always best when there is a choice. Without conscious focus we, as an entire species, could manage to throw stones quite well but with it we could send men to the moon. Ski instruction notably is mostly still in the Stoneage. Race training in particular is completely controlled by Neanderthals and is to be avoided by any other species. Yes there are Neanderthals still surviving today and they are all hiding up on the glaciers where they have retreated to since the end of the last ice age.

Conscious Cornering
I find that my body has an excellent memory – but when it comes to facts and photos it’s much better to use Google and a hard drive. When the body learns a skill properly it doesn’t completely forget when inactive for a long time. It definitely gets a bit rusty but returns relatively quickly close to the level that had been mastered. I think that’s the case for most people. Once you learn to ride a bicycle you have that skill for life – though you can always improve upon it. Same with playing a musical instrument. Last year I managed to improve my cornering skills on the road bicycle in a very unexpected way – through the use of a clever device called a Leanometer. It wasn’t so much using the device that changed my cornering, but it was in understanding what the device was doing that made the difference. The Leanometer separates “System Lean” from “Frame Lean” – in other words it tells you the angle of your centre of mass to the ground and also the angle of your bike to the ground (This is only one option available). What surprised me was that due to poor tyre grip on a bike it’s safer to have the centre of mass at a sharper angle to the ground than the bike itself. Ever since going over the handlebars a few times off-road on my mountain bike by moving my whole body into the turn just like when using dynamics on skis – I’d backed off from any type of action resembling this. However I hadn’t been specifically separating the two things. I’d been inclining everything as one unit. Now on the racing bike with skinny tyres I feel a strange sensation of security at speed when cornering by leaning my upper body well into the turn and keeping the bike relatively upright.

The point here is that it was intelligent reflection that permitted progress plus there was no need to risk injury to find out. This allowed me to consciously separate the System angle from the Frame angle in a way that I would probably never have discovered for myself on a bicycle. Out of interest, my previous solution on the bicycle was to place all the weight on the outside pedal – taking it off the saddle and to tilt the bike before moving the body inwards. This also separates the System and Frame angle but in the opposite direction, putting the vertical component of force on the outside of the bike instead of the inside which compensates for any skidding to keep the bike upright – or at least this is what I imagine and appears to happen but I don’t know the proper mechanics to prove it. Incidentally, skis generally (if done properly) grip better this way due to increased edge angle and pressure – so they are in some specific ways the opposite from bikes. Dynamics used in skiing are usually to specifically generate pressure – but when on slippery ground on a bike that isn’t going to help. This is an interesting subject I might go into in greater depth some other time. (Interestingly in skiing – upper/lower body separation leads to an entry into a turn with the upper body – but there is not much grip needed at the start of the turn.)

No Free Lunch
The Horizon program (the brief bit I was awake for) wanted to show that nearly everything we do is unconscious and the impression that we have of being aware of most that is going on at any moment is an illusion. This almost certainly accounts for the way people often do things things from singing to skiing very badly but frequently remain under the false impression that they are good. Usually, seeing a short video clip is enough to lurch people some degree towards reality. All activities, even highly skilled ones, are carried out with only a superficial level of awareness. This is probably what easily leads to the common delusion of competence where there is none – and why when there is competence it is often attributed to some nebulous and equally delusional quality called “talent”. Really successful people however often say that their success is 9/10th work and 1/10th talent – recognizing that there is no free lunch.

When discovering a new subject we learn the “rules” as quickly as possible and then just get on with the task. Usually this leads us to focus on external goals – like getting faster or stronger, finishing, winning etc. Whatever happens the superficial (lower) level of awareness tends to remain and we then wonder why there is no real progress or why we get injured. Ski racers train for many years and only a very few ever succeed with many abandoning skiing forever. This is an example of Neanderthal Coaching at its absolute worst. The learning (and lack of it) is almost purely unconscious adaptation and then there is brutal natural selection against the clock to generate a “team”. The few who are left standing at the end then claim to have “talent” – and so feel absolved of any need to ever explain it – which they can’t anyway. This is in sharp contrast to the 1/10th view of talent held by those succeeding in more widely competitive fields – such as music or track athletics. It’s not that the racers don’t train hard – it’s just that they remain unconscious at every level.

Good Coaching – Focus, Useful Information and Perception
Consciousness is a bit like having a telescope pointing into the Milky Way. About 2500 stars are visible to the naked eye at night at any one moment – with between 200 to 400 billion in the galaxy. We know they are there but how many do we know by name? Other than “the sun” I know Polaris and Betelgeuse in the Orion constellation – but that’s it even though I studied astronomy for a while at university and orientated a North Sea oil platform by sighting stars through a theodolite. Unconsciousness is a bit like thinking that we are the centre of the universe and that all there is out there is the few thousand stars we see and they are all moving around us. The more we penetrate the universe with the telescope the more reality is revealed and our perception changes. We only see a tiny part of the galaxy focused through the telescope but we see it much better and that helps us to interpret reality overall more accurately and objectively. Over time we construct a different perception of the universe. The reinterpretation requires more than the telescope unfortunately. A chimp looking at the stars through a telescope will not make a great deal out of it all – (despite it being a very smart animal in other ways). On the level of astronomy we need people like Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton to change perception. Once the hard bit is done in establishing facts and useful information the rest can be communicated to everyone else through physics teachers, media and more telescopes. Consciousness seems to have three main parts – focus, useful information and perception (which includes “understanding”). Perception is personal and is always the last stage of the process – when awareness shifts to another level. It’s usually sudden and very unexpected. You need both useful information and focus for it to happen. Good coaching provides both and changes perception.

Internal Universe
We cannot focus internally with a telescope but we can do through “body sensing”. The telescope is just a powerful extension of our vision but we have other senses too. The more we focus on “feeling” the more we construct a different perception of our internal universe. This internal universe is probably just as vast as the external one and we can only see a small portion of it at any time. Focusing narrows that down even more – and allows us to work out what is really going on in specific areas. The “telescope” is more than just an analogy because we are similarly engaged in  “observation” in both cases.

Useful information may come in the form of a book, video or directly from a coach. The advantage of having a coach is that correction and feedback is more direct. Ideally over time you should become your own coach in many areas of life – though people often simply don’t have the time to seek out “useful information” through experimentation and experience. They should prioritise it but they don’t or can’t so they can compromise by using a coach. I can usually fix my own car but mostly I prefer to pay a mechanic who has the right tools and experience because I have other things to do with my time.

Training consciously actually re-programs the unconscious behaviour – giving us not only different perceptions in the process, but allowing us to improve, protect and prolong any skill or capacity. “Skill” is really just a word referring to intentionally programmed unconscious ability. If we train consciously then we experience many benefits. The constant focusing and re-focusing of the mind builds better powers of concentration and at the same time, by shutting out all the internal dialogues and chatter, it relaxes the mind. The mind becomes better connected with the body and you feel more grounded and centered physically, emotionally and metaphysically. Your sense of identity and interconnection with the world changes. Your internal universe aligns more with the external one.

When you practice anything unconsciously over time then your form will degenerate. Not only do you have to build skill perception by perception for it to be sure and solid, but you have to maintain it with focused attention to remain at the same level.

Just as we can only hope to ever explore a tiny part of the real universe, we will only ever explore a tiny part of this internal universe – but the process of doing so remains captivating, revealing and amazingly enriching at all levels. Granted it’s extremely hard to find a coach in any subject who can help. Most education is “Neanderthal” at best – even for academic subjects where rote learning and exams are all that count. “Personal Development” has become a cliché and is now associated with American “Self Help” books and diets that simply don’t work. It has become very easy to dismiss anything that isn’t “Neanderthal” as being not much better. Perhaps justifiably certain Oriental martial arts have avoided this stigma.

I’ve come across concert pianists who don’t even know that the musical scale they use – called “equal temperament” – is technically out of tune for every single note of any scale other than when octave intervals are sounded. The same applies to the guitar.  When the inner world cannot resonate with the outer world then there is always a disconnection. Unconscious skill, programmed only through adaptation, is empty skill, resembling the empty calories in refined sugar – all the nutrition has been removed.

Running, skiing, cycling, music – just breathing, are all potential acts that can lead to deeper connection – through conscious development. All are potential nutrition for the mind and the body.

The aim is to build up skill progressively though conscious re-programming. This requires a process of selective, narrow focus which moves sequentially from one department to another. We have to learn to do this because otherwise we automatically choose the Stoneage – it’s our default setting because we evolved for that. We throw rocks unless we have rule of law and a police force to worry us. With most things being governed by the unconscious mind we have to program it well over time so that is responds in the way we would like it to. This response or skill is not controlled consciously – only the programming is. Our awareness is always limited even though it may function on different levels. With good programming at least you can be more confident that your responses are more in line with reality and your illusions will not be too deceptive. Perhaps the “ego” is really a measure of how far detached from reality our unconscious mind has been allowed to wander – and how much it remains the “centre of the universe”.

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