Being in the Zone

I’ve just watched a 2 minute excerpt from a TED talk given by learning expert Eduardo Briceno on what he considers to be the key to high performance.

We all go through life trying to do the best we can, and equating that to #bellringing, we all turn up at practice night, or Sunday service ringing, or for a wedding or special practice, or quarter or peal attempt or, at the moment virtual practice, with full intention to do the best we can.  To ring the method accurately.  To strike our bell in the right place.  But at a practice night we’re there to try to learn new things as well and extend our repertoire (if we want to).

Briceno offers that sometimes, despite our best intentions we might not always get any better at the things we want to achieve, despite working hard at them.  What he learned from his research is that we should deliberately alternate between two different zones.

Learning Zone: here the goal is to improve.  So we undertake activities that help that improvement.  This could be attending a training day, reading around the subject, watching YouTube videos, asking others for advice, standing behind someone while they ring, asking for feedback and so on. Here, we spend time concentrating on what we haven’t mastered yet, and expect to make mistakes along the way knowing that we will learn from them.

Performance Zone: is where the goal is to do something as best as we can, to execute it.  Where we concentrate on what we already have mastered and try to minimise the mistakes.  This might be ringing for a special event or a peal attempt, or a striking competition.

Briceno suggests that we should be deliberately alternating between the two zones to purposefully build our skills in the learning zone in order to apply them in the performance zone.  Being clear about when we want to be in each of these zones, with what goal, focus and execution in mind helps us better perform and improve. The performance zone maximises our immediate performance, whilst our learning zone maximises our growth and future performance. The more time we spend in the learning zone the more we will improve in the performance zone.

To be able to spend more time in the learning zone we need to believe that we can improve, we must want to improve that particular skill, we must have an idea about what we can do to improve. Just performing the same method over and over again doesn’t necessarily help us improve. Without the process of practice, making mistakes, getting feedback and revision we will tend to stagnate in our current “safe” zone; methods that are familiar and easy, that we won’t feel like we’d be ridiculed for if we go wrong.  My favourite is “if in doubt, ring the Treble”, that way I’ll stand a better change of not going wrong, or mucking it up for everyone else. The trouble with that is, I don’t progress myself.

In our #bellringing context this could be the difference between learning the theory of a new method and practicing it on a practice night on using an ringing simulator, in order to perform it to the best of our ability of a Sunday morning, or during a striking competition, or a quarter peal or peal. I also know that I’m really bad at this too.  Often I might turn up to a practice having not put enough effort into the learning part, and then hash my way through it, or do enough to just get by without making too much of a pigs ear, but I haven’t learned it properly and will immediately forget it because I’ve not gone back over the bits I find difficult, or asked for help.

My latest thing is to try to learn to ring handbells.  I don’t particularly want to ring handbells quarters or peals, but I want to be able to hold my own if I were asked if I could ring something simple.  It’s been nearly 40 years since I learnt to ring a tower bell so going back to the beginning to ring handbells, to unlearn some of the things I’ve learned on tower bells and learn them in a different way, has been, so far, really quite difficult.  However, I must persevere if I am to reach a decent performance zone.  I must make that effort and spend that time in the learning zone, read, watch, listen, practice, make mistakes, get feedback, try again and eventually I will improve.


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