Saturday, January 23, 2021

Desirable Difficulty

UCLA professor Robert Bjork has argued that desirable difficulty is actually required for us to upskill and move to another level.

Consider two kinds of batting practice. In one, the pitches are chunked into categories—twenty-five fastballs, twenty-five curve balls—in a predictable rhythm. At the end of this practice, hitters reported feeling a sense of confidence and flow.

The alternative involves mixing up the pitches randomly. Here, the batters reported frustration and less satisfaction. But teacher Torre’ Mills points out that the random method, where desirable difficulty is at work, actually improves players’ skills more than the chunked approach.

Desirable difficulty is the hard work of doing hard work. Setting ourselves up for things that cause a struggle, because we know that after the struggle, we’ll be at a new level.

Learning almost always involves incompetence. Shortly before we get to the next level, we realize that we’re not yet at that level and we feel insufficient. The difficulty is real, and it’s desirable if our goal is to move forward.

When we intentionally avoid desirable difficulty, our practice suffers, because we’re only coasting.

The commitment, then, is to sign up for days, weeks, or years of serial incompetence and occasional frustration. To seek out desirable difficulty on our way to a place where our flow is actually productive in service of the change we seek to make.

Seth Godin. “The Practice.”