Quantity Mindset

Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up. ~Alfred from Batman Begins

You have heard this before. You need to eat healthily, develop good habits and cut bad ones, be more mindful of the present moment, and all the other yada yada. You know this, I know this. I mean it is everywhere. New research pops up with new results; then newspapers tout of the benefits and improvements; and then people voice and praise of how good X thing is. So then, we give X a try too, only to see we fail. Be it better eating, exercising more, stopping smoking, sleeping more, or restricting social media and smartphone use. We fail and continue the same old routines.

In the midst of this, we think we can achieve something once we have that knowledge X that explains everything about Y to the tiniest detail. Once we have all the information in the world we think we are ready. Not quite.

I tell you my experience what happened to me. Though not related to aforementioned examples like diet or exercising, but a skill I was trying to learn. I wanted to learn motion graphic design. I hoarded countless bookmarks, guides, and resources. I read all them books and blogs. I was actually pretty decent at figuring out how something was created and why something worked. However, all of this didn't help me to actually start doing anything. I was content in knowing how I could do something in theory, but I never got myself to actually create.

And when I finally did, somehow all that knowledge didn't translate into a comparable outcome. My creations were not even close! Did I then actually know how to do something? After all, I had all the information and computer know-how. The challenge was to turn that creative idea into reality. I was unsatisfied with my results, and then I quit. All that happened because my expectation was that knowledge equals skill. Wrong.

All this reminds me of the story in the book 'Art and Fear' by David Bayles & Ted Orland:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Furthermore, this story reminds me of how complex systems with lots of units (like neurons in the brain) result in emergent properties (like consciousness). It seems that even nature prefers quantity over quality. As an another example, if you think about it, animals and humans alike are evolved through thousands of generations (quantity). This has resulted in better adapted abilities and features (qualities) that outwit the earlier generations. But I digress.

Anyway, to recap, I wanted to become good at motion graphic design. I hoarded knowledge and information. I thought all that knowledge should automatically make me a great designer. I had a tendency back then to be perfectionist (it made things much, much worse). All of this was a recipe for quality mindset. That meant I didn't practice nearly as much as I should have had, and as a result I thought myself a failure. In retrospect, perhaps my ego was at fault too. Since I thought I was an “expert” I should be great at motion graphics. And when this expectation didn't meet the reality, hence I must have concluded I suck at this.

To contrast this to other habits or alike that one wishes to begin, one shouldn't be afraid to start doing. Like babies, they don't read all about walking or find motivation from memes or speeches. Babies just do. And then they fail stumbling their way to parents. This failure is the key to learn to walk. Even after many years of development, children still continue to be clumsy. Failure comes with quantity mindset. Failing is feedback, and feedback is information that you can use to your advantage — if you accept it humbly.

Do you want to get started? Then have a quantity mindset and start creating stuff or developing new habits. Say, you want to start jogging regularly. You should know that whilst you may have the energy and motivation to do it today, expect that you will fail tomorrow. But know that failure is feedback! And what can feedback tell you? Maybe you didn't have a measurable action plan to begin with? Perhaps you don't actually care for running, thus maybe some other sport is more up your alley? Could it be that you didn't eat or sleep well enough, which is why you feel tired and unmotivated?

We fall, we learn, and we do it again.

#essay #psychology