Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Birding...Practice the Craft, It's Not Mystical

You don't need all day to bird or wildlife about 15 minutes of your lunch hour. I stepped outside yesterday for lunch looking for diurnal raptors (intuition made me do it) perched on poles or treetops. Within minutes I had 2 Golden Eagle (FOY adult, immature), 3 Red-tailed (1 Harlan's type), Rough-legged, and immature Bald Eagle soaring closely overhead. Check out the photos below. 

"...if you're not actively working to get better at what you do, there's a good chance you are getting worse, no matter what the quality of your initial training may have been...simply doing an activity for a long time is no guarantee that you will do it well, much less get better at it...because most of us tend to become fixed in our habits and practices, even when they're suboptimal" (Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We Are Working Isn't Working, 2010). His point being the "10,000 hour rule in becoming an expert" advanced by Malcolm Gladwell didn't recognize the research data subtleties found by Anders Ericsson, i.e. expertise comes from a "performance pulse". The performance pulse identified by studying violinist practice was a measurement of work/rest; work averaged a mere 3.5 hours/day. The work effort was intense and for no more than 90 minutes/session; deep rest followed each session. The goal of practice is to "ritualize" our skills, i.e. "self-consciousness interferes with the ability to perform any complex task". Think bird identification.

Similarly, Daniel Goleman, author of Focus The Hidden Driver of Excellence (2013) also examined the Ericsson violinist research. Fifty hours of training (looking at skiing or driving) got people to the "good enough" level where the skill becomes automatic or ritualized (like Schwartz found). Goleman describes automatic skill as "bottom-up" (cognitive science descriptor); the brain subcortex (brain bottom) informs the neocortex (top of brain) faster, automatically, always-on-state, intuitively, impulsively and habitually with the reverse direction having opposite conditions.

Want to be an expert birder? First, get your skills to the automatic level, as little as 50 hours of work...still an amateur :-) Though not as mystical as Master Po addressing "Grasshopper" in Kung Fu, you are now on the path...of expertise, that is. I recommend that you read/review the above books for more fascinating research in which to get better skilled. "Hear the water, hear the birds."

Golden Eagle (adult)

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk (Harlan's form)

Bald Eagle (immature)