Mental Representations and Patience

The other day, I was in the grocery store grabbing a few items. The register froze. They slide me over to another register and that one froze too. Turns out the whole system froze and they needed to reset it. The apologetic cashier said it would be a few minutes. No problem, I said, I’m patient.

I do consider myself patient. To teach people how to move, you need to be. I think most of you would agree with this too. I haven’t always been. Now, I try my best to never get flustered. Slow driver, no problem. Food taking a while, no big deal.

Just yesterday, my friend brought up something I am totally impatient with. Anything to do with building. I have limited construction skills. I can use a skill saw, know what a Phillips head is and I can swing a hammer. My skills stop there. I have trouble envisioning how something will come out when building it. I have no mental representation of what a finished product should look like. 

A good mental representation is how you see something that other’s can’t. It’s how I can notice subtle nuances in your bench press technique or how a doctor can perform complicated surgery. It’s how my friend can plan to build something and have a very clear picture of what it’s going to look like in his head.

Yesterday, we built a counter. As he’s explaining it to me, I’m nodding. I understand that I need to cut 3 boards to 24 inches and 4 boards to 40 inches with a 45 degree angle. I don’t see how that translates to the finished product though.

The lack of my mental representation is where my impatience and frustration comes from. That’s true for all of us. When something is frustrating or we don’t quite understand it, it’s because we don’t have a clear mental representation as to what it is. This is why it’s a good idea to have a coach. We have the ability to set a mental representation (we call it a movement standard) and give you cues or drills to get there. Hopefully, after some practice, your mental representation of what a hinge is improves.

In Peak, Ericsson explains that the most skilled people have the best mental representations. A violinist can feel the song with their fingers and picture how to play it. In the documentary, Free Solo, Alex Honnold is so dialed he can recreate the different moves his hands will make all the way up the wall. I can imagine exactly what a 95 pound snatch feels like versus a 135 pound snatch.

Want to improve your mental representation? Get more reps in. Try to understand. For me, I hoping that getting more reps in building things will improve my patience. If I can work on that, I hope I will get less flustered when trying to build something. The more I practice and commit to understanding, my mental representation should improve.

Justin Miner


Justin MinerComment