Finding the Core Skills and the Most Common Errors

I was inspired to improve my cooking skills recently.  When I told my friend Jonathan about this – he was part of my inspiration to cook better – he offered the advice that excellent chefs do three things:

1)    They use more of the ‘bad’ stuff like salt and fat
2)    They aren’t afraid of high heat
3)    They taste everything

Keeping these priorities in mind as I practiced over the next weeks, I quickly experienced the main errors a novice chef can make.

For example, you can over-salt.  Once I made some kale chips that were inedible.  I learned how to salt carefully while tasting to make sure I didn’t cross the line to too much salt.

Another example: Depending on the thickness of a cut of meat, you can sear it too quickly on the outside, leaving the inside raw.  I had to learn how to combine high heat with other cooking methods to ensure thorough cooking.

Around this time, I bought Tim Ferriss’s book ‘The 4 Hour Chef.”  In the opening chapters, he articulates very nicely what I was experiencing. When you are learning a new skill, there are some key things that are critical to do right.  And corresponding to these, there are some key errors that learners make.  If you can get an expert to tell you what these errors are so you can focus on avoiding or solving them, your learning becomes much more efficient.

You can apply this way of thinking to learning evidence-based practices in mental health treatment.

Unfortunately, many evidence-based practice manuals don’t adopt this perspective.  They are written from the perspective of an expert who knows implicitly how to avoid the errors.  Not from the perspective of a learner.  It’s like when a recipe says ‘sear the meat to medium well’ or ‘season to taste.’  The beginner can make recipe-ruining mistakes when navigating these basic steps that the expert doesn’t think twice about.

For these reasons, at PracticeGround we are building trainings that focus on the key things a learner needs to practice and the mistakes they need to avoid.   This is the approach Kelly and Matt will take in their 2014 Learning Community tracks, for example.  Each month, they will provide a learner-focused lesson and tips for practice of a particular skill or principle, giving learner’s the opportunity to focus practice and get feedback on the most important elements of a skill.

How can you apply this principle to your own practice?  It is a variation on the notion of deliberate practice.  Look for the specific obstacles or hang-ups you run into when implementing a principle or protocol.  The most important step here might sound trivial but it is crucial:  find a way to describe exactly the obstacle you are running into.  Avoid jumping to the conclusion that this obstacle means the treatment ‘doesn’t work’ for you or for this client.  Instead, consider the possibility that you are running into this obstacle because the manual or training hasn’t provided enough guidance on how to overcome this particular obstacle – that you are not alone in experiencing this difficulty – and if you can learn the skill to overcome the obstacle, the way will be cleared to move forward.  You can then put on your own problem-solving hat or seek out consultation or training to help you move forward.