Progress makes us feel good. It makes us feel accomplished and proud. But when we want to truly improve, to master a skill, to do something we could not do before, we need to be careful that the progress is not an illusion.
There are several ways we can be deceived by the illusion of progress, and we each have the type of illusion we are most susceptible to.
In this article, I will explain different phases of the learning process we all use, and how to recognize the value of each phase, ensuring we continue to make true progress, and not get caught in an illusion.
When we recognize the opportunity to engage in the right phase of learning, we can keep moving towards our goals, without wasted time or frustration, no matter our circumstances.
The phases of the learning process are not linear, but a cycle. We move through them repeatedly as we go deeper into any subject.
It begins with interest.
What first drew your interest to horses and riding? Was it a trail ride you took on a vacation, a lingering childhood memory of the magic of horses, hearing a friend talk about their new horse?
After interest is created, from experience or thought, we typically begin with gathering and consuming information. We read new books, watch videos, listen to different people, sign up for classes. We consume this information, not necessarily engaging deeply with it, but still learning about different views, different theories, and different opinions.
The next step is study. In this stage, we go deeper. We move beyond simply consuming the information to actually engaging with it, perhaps making notes, pondering questions, reaching out and talking to the experts. It is easy to consume information, but studying brings in a higher level of cognitive effort.
Finally, we start to actually do the thing we are learning about. We practice it. Through that practice, we build real skills, we go beyond just knowledge. Through trial and error, we develop a sense for and a feeling of, the subject we have studied.
As we practice, more questions are generated, we seek out more information, and the learning phases begin again.
Here’s an example of the learning process in a different subject than riding…learning to cook. Something piques your interest in cooking, perhaps a delicious meal at a restaurant, a friend who inspires you, a desire for a healthier way of living, even necessity as restaurants close!
You begin by consuming information, you search out recipes online, you buy a few cookbooks, you watch cooking videos.
Next, you move into study. Perhaps you find a chef you really like and focus on understanding their methods. You ask friends what the ingredients were in that dish they served, or do they prefer using butter or coconut oil when baking?
Then you put it into practice, cutting, sauteing, mixing, and roasting. Some meals turn out, others get burnt, but with each trial, successful or not, you learn something, you figure out what you need more information on, and so, the cycle continues.
Think of how these learning phases have existed in your own riding journey… there were times you read every book and watched every YouTube video you could find. Then there was a time you found one teacher, or method, or idea, that resonated with you and you studied it deeper – you didn’t just watch the videos or sign up for the course, but you truly engaged, taking notes and asking questions.
Then, there have been times you focused on practice, consistently going to the barn, leasing a horse for more riding time, or doing an intensive clinic.
As long as we keep moving through these phases, progress continues. However, if we stay in one phase too long, we may feel as though we are progressing, but it’s likely an illusion.
Here’s how each phase has the potential to keep us stuck…
Consuming information is the easiest to do. With today’s information age, a trove of articles, videos, and websites are available on almost any subject with just a few clicks. Reading or listening can be very passive, they don’t take much effort, but they provide the feeling that we are really getting ahead – we know so much more than we did before. This is valuable, but limited on its own.
Consuming lots of information without ever studying or practicing is perhaps the most common illusion of progress.
But study can trap us too, we can get obsessed with thinking about something, with having to feel as though we fully understand it before we do it. This is the person who can debate every theory, who knows all the principles, but has no practical skills because they have never moved to practice. Practice is a risk, because it may challenge the theories they believe.
Practicing continually can produce just as much of an illusion. The hard work creates the sense of getting ahead, but “practice without theory is senseless” and doing the same thing over and over is unlikely to produce a different result. If you don’t understand the why behind what you practice, there are no other options when it doesn’t work other than to try harder.
The rider who tries to achieve a more stable position by pushing their heels down and bracing against the stirrups will not find that increased stability, no matter how much effort they put into heels down.
As you read about the phases of learning, did you notice if there is one phase you tend to get stuck in? Do you spend too long consuming information without doing anything or do you practice all the time, but without learning new ideas?
Allow knowledge to be what guides your practice, and keep the phases of learning in balance.
Even with the current world events, and no matter what your situation, you can engage in each learning phase of your riding.
Practice can be more than just riding, especially now, when many people are staying at home and unable to ride. Practice can be taking a few moments to consciously pay attention to one’s breathing, to move through a few exercises to increase your body awareness or improve your posture. It can be bringing home a set of reins to have better dexterity and rein handling.
Extra time at home can also be used to read a new book, or renewed focus can be found with deep study.
What is the phase of learning you could focus on more now?