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Improving our riding - coping with a block on improvement
Riders can get stuck in their development. Some years back I took on a trainee who felt that his riding development had reached a plateau. He had several years of riding behind him after passing the bike test, and had starting on a course of advanced training. But after some initial improvement, the feedback being given to him after his observed rides wasn't showing any further development. He knew there was more to learn - after all, that was what his observer was telling him - but his forward progress had stalled and he didn't know why, nor how to resume forward development. His observer had been telling him he needed to develop some 'gloss' on his riding, but he felt he'd peaked. His enquiry email asked: "Is this kind of normal - learning a bit, levelling off for a while, learning a bit more, levelling off even more etc or am I right in thinking I'll just never be better than I am now?" So here's another question. Can we identify the barriers that stop our development in its tracks?
The first thing I'll say is that 'advanced' training does not replace what we learned when we started out as a motorcyclist. The fact is that basic training teaches us 90% of the skills we'll use 90% of the time. So post-test training supplements, but does not supplant, what would better be termed 'core skills'. And if that's the case, there should be a couple of obvious reasons for a levelling-off effect:
each new level of learning produces less-dramatic results because we're increasingly 'improving' rather than 'adding' skills and knowledge- the improvements are ever more subtle
each new level of learning is usually harder work - we'll only see results if we're prepared to put in the effort and that may push us outside our comfort zone
Putting in the effort emphasises the need for practice. 'PRACTICE makes PERMANENT' (and not perfect). In other words, if we want ANY learning to stick, we need to keep going out and using what we learned. It doesn't matter whether it's a new language or riding a motorcycle round bends. It's often LACK of practice that stalls development. It's a point I make several times during one of my advanced motorcycle training courses, but I cannot make riders go out and practice.
Practice must also has to be targeted. Simply going out riding isn't the answer, because it's "the same day's experience, experienced one thousand times". We have to spend time working on what we learned.
So when progress has stalled, it may well be a failure to spend time working with the new skills.
Here's something else to consider. Learning occurs in a series of sequential steps starting from the point where initially, we don't even know what we don't know.
UNCONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE: This is '16er with a CBT on a scoot' syndrome - not enough experience and not enough knowledge to know what we need to know.
CONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE: after a while, we begin to recognise we have issues and that we don't know how to deal with it. This is roughly the level the DVSA hazard perception test aims at - the ability to click a button when a car might cause a SMIDSY collision, but no understanding of how or why it happens is needed, nor any strategy to deal with the problem.
CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE: maybe more experience or after training for a DVSA test pass, we've learning, but it's still a 'work-in-progress' - we have to constantly remind ourselves to what to do. It's good developmental stage, but it's essentially still a 'reactive' one where we respond AFTER a hazard develops and prone to lapses where we forget.
UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE: ride long enough or take the short-cut of some post-test training and with a bit of luck our ability to read the road, analyse what we see, and respond to hazards has all become 'proactive' - we no longer have to think our way through problems, it's become a smooth, well-practiced drill.
These four sequential steps are sometimes known as the 'Ladder of Learning'.
The first two stages impose serious limitations on safety which is why basic training aims to push us straight into the third 'conscious competence' phase, and post-test training aims to take us beyond. The trouble is that learning is hard work. As we try out the new ideas or techniques, we're consciously processing what we're doing and using our real-time thinking brain in this way is exhausting. We simply can't keep it up for long - it's a real problem with day-long CBT training - and that can lead to two mistakes:
trying too hard - just as with my own advanced coaching sessions, we'll achieve far more from short practice sessions than by going out for long rides
trying to do everything at once - tackle one thing at a time, it's the way I teach riders and it's the way I advise them to practice. I call it the Salami Principle. Why? Slices of salami eaten over time are delicious and digestible. But if we try to eat the whole thing at once, we'll be sick. The same applies to skills - sliced up, we can practice and achieve the result we were looking for, attempt everything at once and we'll be overwhelmed with the task.
And simply mastering any technique isn't enough either. Longer term, we have to work to embed what we learned into our regular riding. Just 'knowing' what we should be doing isn't enough. The moment I hear - as someone wrote on a forum recently - "I have to concentrate too hard when I'm riding advanced", it means they haven't worked at making the techniques so automatic that they have become an unconscious part of everyday riding technique. If we don't USE it, we LOSE it.
What's far less obvious is that once we get to the top of one particular ladder, we'll be at the bottom of the next - there's always something we don't know. But of course we don't know that. Another way our development can stall is if we only ever do the same riding with the same group of people or ride the same kinds of roads. With no new benchmarks, we'll never discover if we need new skills - we'll assume we're good enough. If we want to continue to develop, we need to understand that the learning process doesn't end.
So if we're feeling comfortable with our riding, it could be time to push ourselves out of our comfort zone again, to head back to the level of conscious incompetence where we're ready to learn new ideas and skills. And just possibly, a change of perspective is needed. Perhaps a Survival Skills advanced rider training course may be just the change you need to kick-start development again.
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