Today’s post is about the power of simple routines. It’s topical: everyone around me seems to be trying out the simple moves again, hoping to get back to learning new great things after their winter hibernation. It’s personal, too – since I’m planning to get back to blogging and writing, and a simple idea is what I’m starting with! So how can something easy help you learn the most complicated stuff?
Shooting hoops: how Finsbury Park got its game back
The sun started coming out more often this week. The days got longer and warmer. My windy and miserable ride back home through Finsbury Park became more crowded and fun – people started hanging out on the grass, on the benches, and around the basketball courts. For a few days in a row, I managed to identify a group of people who gathered around the same hoop, enjoying the game and the company.
The first few times I saw them, they were only shooting hoops. Nothing more. Just standing around and throwing the ball – that was it. After a few days, they got into teams and started playing – two-on-two, then three-on-three as more people joined in the following days. All around them, other folks were doing what felt good for them: tennis practice, military fitness, kicking a football about with their families.
I thought about this for a minute – about “shooting hoops” and what it meant to the Finsbury Park bunch. Maybe it means something similar for you, too – whether you’re learning a sport or trying to be excellent at something else you’re doing?
Shooting hoops and what it does to you
If you’re into basketball, it’s hard to imagine anything more basic than trying to throw a ball into the basket. But at the same time, doing this simple thing can have more meaning and impact than you imagine. Here’s just a quick list:
- Shooting hoops is the most basic thing anyone can agree to do together
- Shooting hoops is how you start out learning about basketball
- Shooting hoops stops you from “just thinking about playing” and gets you to do something towards actually playing
- Shooting hoops can help you remember what it feels like to hold, handle, throw and catch the ball
- Shooting hoops can help everyone around you join in at any time
- Shooting hoops is something a basketball player can do when they have little energy for anything else
- Shooting hoops requires little planning, few resources, no other players, no strategy
- It is easy to keep track and keep count when everyone is shooting hoops
- It is possible to pick up where you left off, and to keep shooting hoops anywhere else if you need to move
The list can go on. For a basketball fanatic, there is no easier way to get back to playing after a long, cold winter. If you ran onto the Finsbury Park court and attempted a slam-dunk straight away, you’d risk injury and disappointment.
Finding your way to shooting hoops
This approach works for other things you’re trying to learn, accomplish or work on. Anywhere there’s work – and breaks in work. Anywhere there’s progress, and dips in the progress curve.
If you’re focusing on something you learn, it helps to go back to basics when you find yourself getting rusty or confused or unclear. Language learners can stick to simpler texts, words, topics. Coders can go back to the building blocks of their languages or commands. Finding something easier to play with, and finding joy in repetition – this is not the same as admitting defeat. This is re-building.
If you’re working on a project that begins to crumble, it may be useful to work on something less complicated. And if you find yourself confused by the high-level tasks, you know well how useful a simple, repetitive chore can be just to “let off steam.” This can also help you remember why the big picture matters, and how you can re-assemble the skills you need to handle the bigger job.
So what’s your “shooting hoops” moment? And how to find it? Here are a few ideas, and overall criteria for good candidates:
1. Find a task that doesn’t cost your brain. Advanced language learners will still sometimes go back to their flashcard decks and revise the simplest vocab – or return to their irregular verbs. It’s something they can do when their brain just doesn’t work that well any more, after a long day, or during periods when they’re too busy doing something else. Knowing that you can always squeeze a three-minute revision session in – this builds confidence and helps them believe that they’re still doing something useful.
2. Find a repetitive, functional element. This needs to be something you can do a few times in a row. If you practiced tango, for example, you could just engage in shifting your weight from one leg to another. It’s a very small part of tango – but useful in the bigger scheme of things. For a guitar player, even ten seconds around an instrument can be enough to practice five basic chords or three simple scales. These are still useful.
3. Scale up when ready, scale back when in doubt. After shooting hoops, the next logical step is 3-point throws, then a 1:1 game, and so on. After a simple admin task on your project, the bigger step would be to tackle a bigger task and involve more resources. There should be a clear way to move on from your “shooting hoops” to something bigger – and also a clear way to move back to “shooting hoops” without sacrificing the flow and disturbing what everyone is doing.
4. Make sure the rules are clear to everyone. It’s OK for you to choose more or less demanding and inspiring tasks – but is everyone else aware of what the game is? Make sure people around you know what it is you’re up to. Your team-mates will probably understand your need for heading “back to square one” and may even help you out – but only if you communicate it well.
5. Be as mindful as you can. The reason you go back to “shooting hoops” is not because you enjoy it so much! It’s something you do when there’s little else to do. But still – there’s space for reflection. How’s that one simple thing coming along? How does it feel to keep going through the motions, again and again? How can this feeling help you in your more complicated tasks? A language learner who gets the pronunciation of a simple word right can use similar sounds and word stress to manage a sencence, then a question, then a whole conversation. But it will only come together if they’d been paying attention to the little bits – if they were mindful of the tiny tasks they accomplished.
How do you plan to find your hoops to shoot? Will this help you get your stuff done? Get in touch to let me know!
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