I was inspired this week by a Ted Talk by Eduardo Briceño called “How to Get Better at the Things you Care About”.  Briceño talks about our “learning” zone and our “performance” zone. He notices that in many areas we are in our performance zone when we should in fact be in our learning zone.  In our performance zone, he says, we are doing our very best and trying to perform at the very top of our game.

But constantly trying to put on our best performance means there is little room for learning and improvement…

At this point you are probably thinking that we should always be in that zone and bringing out our best performance shouldn’t we? Well, no.  Constantly trying to put on our best performance means there is little room for learning and improvement.  We are doing the same things over and over to tweak it and make it better, but we aren’t necessarily learning new things in order to go beyond what we can do now.  As Briceño puts it, “We concentrate on what we have already mastered in order to minimise mistakes”. We stagnate.

I suppose a crude example would be if you had the same skating programme all the time and just polished and perfected it without learning new and more difficult moves. If there were no ‘required’ jump each season to work towards.

Now there is definitely a place for both zones. Nobody wants to be operated on by a surgeon when he’s in his learning zone and likely to make mistakes. Or buy a car from a manufacturer in the learning zone when they haven’t quite got the engineering right.

Briceño says that the most successful people alternate between the two zones – using the learning zone to experiment, model and try out new things which we haven’t yet mastered to see what needs improvement. A time when we can be comfortable making mistakes. Then when we need to execute what we have learned, with the minimum of errors, we go into our performance zone.

In skating, when you are truly in your learning zone you will be

  • Falling on jumps over and over, or struggling with key points;
  • Modelling what your coach is showing you and focusing on the different parts of your body that need to work together to make the move happen;
  • Working hard and allowing yourself to enjoy the mistakes because they are an opportunity to learn and grow
  • Comfortable getting things wrong and not worried about what people will think;
  • Looking for the components of a move – breaking it down into smaller parts – in order to see what it is made up of and investigate what needs to be done to improve the overall execution.

You may have heard me say that you should perform in practice like you would in a competition so that when it comes to the competition, it feels like you are just doing a very good practice session. In that way the nerves are lessened and the end result should be a smoother, calmer and more focused skate. Yet at first glance that seems to be contrary to the idea of learning and performance zones.

Actually, it isn’t. In performing in practice like you would in a competition, you are learning how to handle competition conditions and your nerves. You are modelling – recreating what the competition conditions will be and learning how to handle them for the best execution of your programme.

So celebrate your mistakes. And if your coach is wondering what’s going on – tell them you’re in your learning zone!