Learning curve dip

Friday 27th November 2015

I've had two recent experiences of learning new skills and they're both doing my head in. I've hired a race instructor to teach me how to drive my car on track, and I've hired a poker coach to improve my game.


L plates

I've had a driving licence for over twenty years, but I only felt I learned to drive in August when I went out for a day with Mike Cooper, a driving tutor. I drove a 160-mile circuit of Oxon, Berks and Bucks while Mike sat in the passenger seat, explaining how to improve my car control, situational awareness and improve my fuel efficiency. We then had a second day on a race track at Castle Combe, where Mike expanded the lesson to driving at speed.

Mike used to be a physics teacher, and his driving training is grounded in physics. We spent most of the days talking about the forces involved in driving such as weight transfer during braking and cornering.

Ever since then I've felt like I'm learning to drive again, and it's a really strange feeling. Like most people I used to drive mainly on autopilot, and sometimes I'd get to my destination without remembering any of the journey there.

After spending a couple of days in the car with Mike I initially struggled to have the radio on because I found it distracting. It was really frustrating that I couldn't drive without concentrating any more.


Poker coaching

My second experience of learning again has been hiring a poker coach, who'd rather remain nameless. He's won $100,000 over the last few years playing online, which seems like pretty good qualifications!

I'd previously read a few books on poker, and I was pretty happy with my skill, enjoying the game and I thought that a coach would just fine-tune my game. It turns out I was doing it all wrong though, and he suggested changes to pretty much every part of the way I played. 

My game completely disintegrated and I started losing money, even playing against opponents that I could easily beat before. I was extremely frustrated at my play, and it took a good two or three months for this to recover.


Learning curve dips

Both of these experiences have shown me a phenomenon that I've just noticed in myself - a learning curve dip.

When I start learning a new skill, my understanding goes up quickly and I have a lot of fun, but then as I learn more my skill actually drops and I enter a phase that I find very frustrating.

If I've got the patience to keep going, eventually I come out of the other end and my skill level goes up again beyond the level that I go to during the fun phase, and after that it's satisfying.

Here's a graph of what I mean:

I think what happens is that I only understand the skill at a very basic level by the end of the fun phase, and as I learn more I realise how much more there is to learn, which makes me feel like a novice again. The initial fun phase could be called beginner's luck.

One thing that I've come to understand is that if I haven't experienced the frustrating phase, I haven't got a good understanding of the subject! Looking back at skills I've learned this year, I'd say that I've quit during the frustrating phase of most of them.

This might also be what is commonly called Second Album Syndrome, where a band produces a great first album, released at the top of the fun phase, and then as they progress they release a second album which isn't as good as the first.

I couldn't find a lot of information about this on the web, so maybe it's just me? Do you find the same thing? Leave a comment below.




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