Building Mental Representations

As most of you have seen, the wood working, which historically brings out my impatient side, hasn’t slowed down. It always made me frustrated, I realized, because I had no mental representation of really building anything. I was making cuts, unsure how it would all go together. Meanwhile, my friend had to take a few measurements and put it all together in his head.

Once I noticed my frustration I leaned into it hard. I knew it was coming from a lack of skills and knowledge. I needed skills to cut and measure with exact precision. The knowledge to see a sheet of plywood and understand how it would all come together. The ability to confidently improvise. Instead of being frustrated that I didn’t have these things, I needed to take advantage of a weakness. 

I had a skilled teacher at my disposal. I was just outside of my comfort zone. If we were making finished cabinetry, I would have been way out, because the level of precision needed is much higher. I got feedback immediately. Was the cut just too short or a little too long? Is it straight? Does it fit where it’s supposed to or did I measure inaccurately? These are the principles of deliberate practice. Teacher, feedback, just out of my comfort zone and reps after reps. Each time, trying to be more precise. Each time, I was building my mental representation. 

Over the last few weeks, I can say my skills have improved. I understand wood working a little more now. More importantly, I developed a better mental representation. If I made a wrong cut I needed Patrick to tell me I cut it wrong by having the blade on the wrong side of the line. Now, if I make a cut too short, I know that I cut on the wrong side of the line and didn’t account for the width of the blade.

As we develop mental representations, we can more accurately give ourselves feedback. Clear mental representations give us the ability to self correct and realize what went wrong. Imagine a high level tennis player missing the line on a serve. They’re able to calculate what happened based on how the serve felt and where the ball landed. We do the same thing in the gym. At first, hinging is awkward. You need a constant reminder to stick your butt back and let your chest fall towards the floor. After you stick a few solid reps, you’re able to conceptualize what a good rep feels like. You’re able to self correct.

Justin Miner


Justin MinerComment