One year ago today, I blogged about my New Year’s resolution to “take up the study of expertise and expert performance.” The promise marked a significant departure from my work up to that point in time and was not without controversy:
“Was I no longer interested in psychotherapy?”
“Had I given up on the common factors?
“What about the ORS and SRS?” and was I abandoning the field and pursue magic as a profession?”
The answer to all of the questions was, of course, an emphatic “NO!” At the same time, I recognized that I’d reached an empirical precipice–or, stated more accurately, dead end. The common factors, while explaining why therapy works did not and could never tell us how to work. And while seeking and obtaining ongoing feedback (via the ORS and SRS) had proven successful in boosting treatment outcomes, there was no evidence that the practice had a lasting impact on the professionals providing the service.
Understanding how to improve my performance as a clinician has, as is true of many therapists, been a goal and passion from the earliest days of my career. The vast literature on expertise and expert performance appeared to provide the answers I’d long sought. In fields as diverse as music and medicine, researchers had identified specific principles and methods associated with superior performance. On January 2nd, 2009, I vowed to apply what I was learning to, “a subject I know nothing about…put[ting] into practice the insights gleaned from the study of expertise and expert performance.”
The subject? Magic (and the ukulele).
How have I done? Definitely better than average I can say. In a column written by Barbara Brotman in today’s Chicago Tribune, psychologist Janine Gauthier notes that while 45% of people make New Year’s resolutions, only 8% actually keep them! I’m a solid 50%. I am still studying and learning magic–as attendees at the 2009 “Training of Trainers” and my other workshops can testify. The uke is another story, however. To paraphrase 1988 Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Lloyd Bentsen , “I know great ukulele players, and Scott, you are no Jake Shimabukuro.”
I first saw Jake Shimabukuro play the ukulele at a concert in Hawaii. I was in the islands working with behavioral health professionals in the military (Watch the video below and tell me if it doesn’t sound like more than one instrument is playing even though Jake is the only one pictured).
Interestingly, the reasons for my success with one and failure with the other are as simple and straightforward as the principles and practices that researchers say account for superior (and inferior) performance. I promise to lay out these findings, along with my experiences, over the next several weeks. If you are about to make a New Year’s resolution, let me give you step numero uno: make sure your goal/resolution is realistic. I know, I know…how mundane. And yet, while I’ve lectured extensively about the relationship between goal-setting and successful psychotherapy for over 15 years, my reading about expert performance combined with my attempts to master two novel skills, has made me aware of aspects I never knew about or considered before.
Anyway, stay tuned for more. In the meantime, just for fun, take a look at the video below from master magician Bill Malone. The effect he is performing is called, “Sam the Bellhop.” I’ve been practicing this routine since early summer, using what I’ve learned from my study of the literature on expertise to master the effect (Ask me to perform it for you on break if you happen to be in attendance at one of my upcoming workshops).