Per my last post, I have a pretty anal-retentive approach to goals, habits, and projects, which has helped me to push forward on a wide array of big pursuits that I care about. But, over the years, I’ve also slowly accumulated a list of small, random skills I’d also like to improve or acquire. And, precisely because I don’t care that much about them, I never really get around to doing anything about them; they seem to perpetually live on my back burner.
This fall, however, I came up with a new idea: each quarter, I’d choose one of those random back-burner pursuits, and commit to spending 5-10 minutes on it daily for three months. At the end of the quarter, I could make a more permanent, ongoing habit of anything I discovered I really cared about; for everything else, a quarter’s worth of daily progress would be enough to check the box, and to make me feel like I had put in the effort.
So, in September, I started off with chess. Prior to that, I had played perhaps five games of chess in my life. I knew how the pieces moved, but that was about it. So I read a handful of chess books (in case you’re on a similar quest, I highly recommend Bobby Fischer Teachers Chess), and then started playing games. Three months later, I’m still a bit short of grandmaster. But I can, at least, hold my own in a casual game – well enough to play with a friend, or against a simulator on the iPhone to kill time on a plane or train ride. Which, really, was all I wanted.
This week, with a new quarter, I moved on to a new skill: playing pool. Fortuitously, there’s a pool table in my building lobby, which is almost always abandoned in the mornings. So, for five or ten minutes on the way to work, I stop in and practice some pool drills.
Much like with chess, I think I’ve played maybe two dozen pool games in my life – usually while in a bar, fairly drunk. It’s a frustrating game for me, as, in my mind, I’m excellent. The geometry and strategy make perfect sense. But somehow, when the stick hits the cue ball, things never unfold quite like I envisioned them.
We’ll see how much that changes over a quarter of practice. But if I’m diligent, I think I should be able to make it from horrific to just moderately terrible. And, for me, that should be good enough. I can move on next quarter to massacring drawing instead, and can keep crossing those little things, one by one, off my back-burner bucket list.