Getting Better

Why do people become good at things? Because they stumble into a situation where they get strong positive reinforcement when they first try something giving them strong motivation to improve.

I suck at poetry, visual art, basketball and a lot of other things. And for all of those things I can specifically remember negative feedback when I first tried them. I was a little bit below average in these areas and got negative feedback, and so I never really improved at them.

I am really good at math, Salsa Dancing, and other random things. Why? Because I got strong positive feedback at the beginning and had certain fortunate opportunities. For example I find math a little bit intuitive, and so everyone always told me I was good at math while growing up. I also happen to go to a school which allowed me to take the highest level math us in my city which allowed me to progress faster. For Salsa Dancing I stumbled into a situation where I was a tiny bit above average at first and then got a ton of positive feedback which made me to improve.

Basically this can be summarized as the principles behind one study which shows a new learner is most motivated by positive feedback, and an experienced learners most motivated by negative feedback. If the timing of these two are switched, most people never tend to get anywhere.

Just read the story behind someone’s first experience with something that they are now world class at, and you’ll see it be consistent with this principle in almost all situations.

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