Today's Reading

A chef gave me the tip about using the fork to bulk up the omelet. I kept practicing. I went online and found more tips. Then a French woman told me about separating the yolk from the white, which allows your omelet to double in thickness and softness. When it's served, people simply go: "Wow!"

This is what I call the "entry trick." Every micromastery has one. It is a way, in one stroke, to elevate your performance at that task and get an immediate payoff—a rush of rewarding neurochemicals, which is a nice warm feeling.

In some micromasteries, the entry trick is huge, an integral part of the whole thing. In others it just gives you enough of a push to get you going. There are lots of big-shot learners out there boasting of their ability to master foreign languages, get calculus down, or absorb C++ programming, but they all seem to miss this point. Learning must not be like school; it must not be boring. It doesn't need to be silly fun, but it mustn't be deadening or dull or too hard. The entry trick, in one fell swoop, sweeps all that away.

A great entry trick is used in stone balancing. Maybe you've seen some stone-sculptor type doing it at the beach. It looks like magic—rounded rocks and mini-boulders balancing on each other in a seemingly impossible way. The first time I saw such a sculpture I thought it had to have glue or metal rods inside it...and then I watched a small boy knock it over. When I attempted to help rebuild it, the sculptor showed me the entry trick.

(The pictures are some I made myself on the beach, later, when I had learned how to do it.)

You can balance any stone at all, but you must find three raised bits close together on one side of the supporting stone—three bumps, three nodules, or even three grains. They can be tiny, almost invisible. In fact the smaller they are, the better it looks. These three bumps act as a flat triangle for another curved object to fit into. That's how you make these crazy balances work. People look for flat bits on the stones to make them stand on each other, but that doesn't work because nothing in nature is really flat.

Stone balancing is not only fun, but also a perfect form of micromastery. It is complete in itself, but it could also lead you further into the greater world of sculpture and outdoor art—should you want to go there.


ANYONE CAN DO IT

We envy the person who has a perfect French accent, who can roll a kayak, perform a double or even triple integral in math or compose a poem that isn't laughable; who can draw something well, do a magic trick, or lay a brick wall that doesn't fall down. These are perceived as hard things to learn that signify a greater mastery of the field concerned. But with micromastery you start with the test piece and then—and only then—do you go back upstream to explore more.

Why?

Because the biggest reasons for not achieving anything are giving up, failing to gain momentum, and becoming distracted. You may imagine you are tough and self-contained, but we all need a payoff as soon as we start learning. Especially if it's been a while since we tried anything new. If you don't have microsuccesses along the way you'll lose heart and give up, especially if you are learning something on your own.

Rapid learning techniques, intensive courses, and shortcuts are all very well, but if you haven't got a show-offable product at the end you'll give up. It's no good telling your friends and family that you have a broad knowledge of the background of math or a working acquaintanceship with magic tricks. "Come on," they'll say, "show us something now!"

Having a micromastery gives you something to boast about (as loudly or as quietly as you like). It gives something to connect you to others, and earn that all-important feedback. No man, woman, or child is an island—and yet we are taught as if we are solitary brain- blobs who just suck up knowledge until one miraculous day we are "masters," "qualified," "ready to teach," or some other spurious designation. We are not like that. Humans want to pass on what they have learned straight away, not five years later.
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