The Importance of Struggling

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Weekly Go Wednesday, Issue #42

Credit to Business in Canada
Credit to Business in Canada
For most of the time I studied go, I was always focused on getting the right answer. Perhaps this is a result of being conditioned from school and being obsessed with answering the question correctly, but nonetheless it showed up in my approach to studying go. So more often than not, if I managed to guess what the correct answer was for a particular problem, that would be the end of it and I would move on to the next problem. After all, I got the right answer and that’s what’s important isn’t it?
Of course, the next question is what happened if I got the answer wrong. Well, since I got the answer wrong, the logical choice would be to see what the correct answer is and try to memorize it. In other words, I would focus on understanding why the correct answer was correct and was less concerned with why my answer was wrong. Standard studying mechanism for taking any test in a class right?
Unfortunately, while that sounds okay in theory and may have helped me get through school rather easily, it turns out I have been barking up the wrong tree this entire time.

Recently, fellow go player saxmaam gave her recommendation for The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, which is themed on the idea of “unlocking the secret to learning just about any skill.” I had heard of the book before and been told to read it in the past, but I was too caught up in other things at the time and never got around to it. However, as my approach and perspective on go has been undergoing a lot of transformation recently, so I decided to take it as a sign from the universe that it was time to finally read it.
I haven’t finished it yet, but I was presented with an idea that inspired the post for today: one of the key components to learning a skill is making mistakes along the way. In other words, the essence of getting stronger resides in the struggle it takes to the correct answer and not simply finding the correct answer. And though it seems like such an obvious statement, it is one that I ignored for most of my journey as a go player.
One of the things Coyle talks about is that people who master skills often spend a lot of time focused on what he calls “deliberate learning.” In other words, there is a significant conscious effort to constantly critically analyze and patch up weaknesses as the person encounters them. A good analogy for this would be like learning how to play a song on an instrument. Instead of simply trying to play through the whole thing and just barely getting by the tough parts of the song, a person will spend the time to really struggle with that section until they get it right before resuming with the rest of the song.
I grew up playing piano for most of my life and spent many years and hours in the field of music. And when I think back to it, I am rather ashamed of the fact that I was not always the most disciplined when it came to this kind of “deliberate learning.” In fact, my thought was always if I could get through most of song without a problem, it would be good enough. After all, who could tell the difference as long as I wasn’t perfect for the entire song. 80-90% should be good enough right?
When it came to go, the habit of “winging” it and getting by with only a general understanding of what was going on became the foundation of how I studied the game. And as a result, the time and energy I spent studying the game was more leisurely and less “deliberate learning.”
Upon reflection of my past, I realize now that I was wrong to avoid that stage of struggling during learning. For most of my life, I always felt that if I was struggling, then it was some sign of failure and/or ineptitude. And though you’ll think I was crazy, I really did think that things coming easy to a person was a sign of talent and the mark of potential success. Perhaps it’s because I was always surrounded by people more brilliant than I, but those ideas were a part of me for a long time.
I wanted to write this post because I don’t believe I’m the only one out there making this mistake. And though I haven’t figured out the magical equation for how one can ensure they are using “deliberate learning” in their study of go (which I will definitely write about when I starting figuring it out), hopefully this post will serve as an inspiration for some of you and a reminder to not get frustrated by those times you struggle with certain ideas and concepts. After all, it is the key to gaining that next stone.

About the author

BenGoZen

<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="5370 http://bengozen.com//?p=5370">10 comments</span>

    • Yup. And believe it or not, that is the trimmed down version. I probably could’ve written another 2 pages without realizing it, so I kept it as short as I possibly could.

  • That is GREAT advice. It says things that I’ve been learning lately, but didn’t have the words for. It’s like, it isn’t perfectionism, it’s just what you do when you love something enough to want to get it right: it’s how you go beyond competent and move toward talent.
    Great post.

    • Thanks Todd! I certainly hope that both of us will take this to heart and apply it to our own studies. Ganbatte!

  • Lol, Ben, you’re on the AGA’s website and they messed up your name there. They start off by calling you Benjamin Wong in the title and then midway through the article they get your name right.

  • Thanks for the post, Ben!
    You just opened my eyes to the right way of learning Go. I might just need to rethink my method of studying Go 🙂

  • I don’t think “deliberate learning” has to mean a struggle. I’ve had a lot of success finding the most glaring mistakes in a game and just thinking about why I made them. “Oh! I thought I’d win that semai because I didn’t notice these stones would get into a shortage of liberties. I need to pay better attention to that.” And then moving on. Under a minute of attention. Over time your brain starts fixing re-occurring themes.
    For example, I’ve been losing games lately because I get complacent with a lead and let my opponent seal off too much center territory. When that happens I try to find the key moves that gave up the lead, look at the board, and remind myself of the dangerous position that this is. Hopefully soon I’ll have warning sirens going off in the back of my head before I give up a won game, rather than after =)

    • Well to some degree, the “struggle” I’m referring to is in regards to actually spending time to rewire those circuits in your brain. And so when you find those glaring mistakes and think about why you made them, that is considered a “struggle” if you think about it.
      For me, learning has always been more like. “Oh that’s wrong. Okay I’ll try and remember next time.” Never really mulled over it or anything. Does that make sense?

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