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April 29th, 2019

What’s a person generally going to imagine when they think about what a mental skill might be?


Playing a game of chess without the board nor the pieces?




Multiplying long numbers without paper and pencil?


Remembering long strings of names or numbers on the spot?


Perhaps something fanciful like telekinesis?


Would something like drawing be considered a mental skill?


This seems to have more of a basis in the real world, as in, we can see this skill in action as it produces some interesting and potentially amazing result.  In contrast, the others happen all within the brain, so perhaps they are more in the realm of what we might define as a mental skill?  Maybe.


In fact any and all skills that we might effectively use and perform are really just mental skills.  No matter how physical or active, our ability in any context boils down to a matter of brain cells: how they are organized, what sorts of patterns they’ve developed and how they translate those patterns through the body.


The individual who can produce the amazing drawing has to translate what’s going on in the brain through the arm and hand and subsequently with the pencil in order to demonstrate this skill.


The person who can remember names and numbers inevitably expresses this by manipulation of vocal chords, by speaking the result.


Any ability that we undertake to learn and acquire, whether it be free throws at a basketball hoop or coding in the Python language is at base a mental skill that our brain has to figure out and fine tune.


While mastery in any area might be acquired, there are a few mental skills that have a cross-over effect.


For example: meditation and autodidacticism.


The simplest and most approachable cross-over effect of meditation, at least in the mindfulness variety, can enable a person a certain level of meta-cognition while trying to acquire and improve other skills.  Such practice allows a person to Pause and assess their progress and internal mental environment far more effectively than a person who is quite unaware of such aspects of their reality.


This bleeds somewhat into the other here mentioned:


Autodidacticism.  This is the art of teaching one’s self without the guidance or help of instructors or masters.  Acquiring the skill of autodidacticism is in essence learning how to learn.  This can become a superpower because once trends in the process of learning are identified, they can be anticipated, recognized and then optimized while pursuing learning in other fields. 


The autodidact might understand that 10 hours of hard solid effort on a topic can yield a huge amount of progress, whereas the person who lacks such drive and curiosity generally doesn’t have access to the sort of learning environment that would create this dense 10 hour research block and give such a person the simple realization of what is possible in half a day’s rigorous investigation.


The autodidact may also realize the emotional component with regards to motivation.  Expressing our own personal agency is extremely important for maintaining a healthy outlook in almost all circumstances in life and it’s particularly true when it comes to new and unknown ventures in learning.  This is the principle reason why people can seem so nervous and self-deprecating while learning something totally new in front of peers – their personal agency is severely diminished due to their ignorance about the subject and in turn such a person grows self-conscious.


The autodidact on the other hand realizes the drain such emotions have on actual progress regarding any new subject and focuses rather on observing and poking around with the new subject as opposed to perseverating over a self-conscious ignorance.


There is inevitably a mental skill to acquiring mental skills.


Nailing that one ultimately eases the barriers to entry for any and all other skills and projects that we might set our eye on.


This episode references Episode 23: Pause.

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Podcast Ep. 379: Mental Skills

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