February 4, 2013

Stuck in Phase Two With a Sore Finger

I really should work on my knitting style again.

You see, I've developed a bad knitting habit.  I like to use my right pointer finger to push on the needle to help slide the stitches up the left needle.  I didn't actively learn this; it's just how I fell into doing it after I switched to continental style.  It's not a good thing to do, because you, at best, develop a nice callous (I wish.  As as someone who tried learning to play guitar long enough to know the benefits of callouses, I was hoping I would get one and that would be the end of it).  At worst you get constantly peeling dry skin, holes in your finger where you stabbed yourself with the sharp metal knitting needles you prefer, and an active split in the skin that hurts like hell (that started because you stabbed yourself with the knitting needle there).  Yeah.  It's not fun, and at this point it's bad enough that just brushing yarn against that finger hurts (because, of course, I use that finger to also hold the stitch on the right needle when I purl).

Every time I get the worst of it I tell myself I'm going to stop pushing the damn needle and learn a better way of moving the stitches up.  Then I start adjusting, end up knitting a few stitches slowly and carefully, then get annoyed with my speed and lack of understanding on how not to push, and go back to pushing.  Because as much as I accidentally hurt myself that way, I knit faster.  Even with the irritated cut.

Of course, I have no excuse.  I both learned the correct way to do English style and then switched styles (with minimal issue) when I figured out I was knitting wrong in English style.  Adjusting my technique shouldn't be a problem, right?  Well, it kind of is. 

I just finished reading a book called Answers for Aristotle by Massimo Pigliucci, which at one point touched upon what it takes to be an expert at an activity.  The book mentioned some research that it was found that a person trying to reach expert level goes through three distinct phases [1] The phases are (paraphrasing, here):
  1. Where the person is a novice and is focused on learning how to conduct the activity without making horrible mistakes
  2. Where the person has gained enough skill to preform the basics unconsciously and  at a decently satisfactory level
  3. Where the person becomes an expert in the activity (which is defined by having a high-level of skill at the activity)
You may be going 'duh', and you'll be right.  It seems pretty self-evident.  But that's not my point.  My point is best expressed from this direct book quote:
"Most people get stuck in phase two: they can do whatever it is they set out to do decently, but stop short of the level of accomplishment that provides the self-gratification that makes one’s outlook significantly more positive or purchases the external validation that results in raises and promotions. Phase three often remains elusive because while the initial improvement was aided by switching control from conscious thought to intuition—as the task became automatic and faster—further improvement requires mindful attention to the areas where mistakes are still being made and intense focus to correct them. Referred to as ‘deliberate practice,’ this phase is quite distinct from mindless or playful practice." (Pigliucci, 2012).
Now, I wouldn't go as far as to say that you can't get self-gratification from performing an activity at phase two.  Actually, I would say, especially in the world of hobbies, that many people have no problem staying firmly in some area of phase two; they're the knitters who are happily content with making plain sock after plain sock, garter stitch scarf after garter stitch scarf.  To them, playful practice is all the joy they need [2]. However, the aspect of that stage remains: unless you're both consciously mindful of what areas you need to improve in (aware of your mistakes or gaps in knowledge), learn how to correct them or learn the skill you're missing, AND mindfully practice it until it becomes second nature as they say, you're treading water skill-wise.  You just end up reinforcing the bad habits with the good ones you already know.  So of course I'm going to slip back to my bad habits because they're rote for me.  Unless I do my research, learn, and consistently practice how not to push with my pointer finger, I'm going to keep putting holes in my finger.

Not that this is going to stop me from knitting that way any time soon.  I both need to set more time aside to re-teach myself how to knit and I have a sweater that still needs to get done (on second sleeve, but that's another blog post).  Can you guess which one I'm picking?

[1]: Unfortunately, I don't have the book anymore and I stupidly forgot to see what study the author cited.  As well, I don't have any free access to academic literature, but a quick search on Google Scholar turned up this study for which the abstract sound like it's concluded a similar idea.  But I'm thinking there must be more studies somewhere, and who knows if the abstract matches the study.  Despite my lack of correlating evidence, it seems correct so I'll just go forward with it as if it's true for now.

[2]: Of course, I don't have any actual evidence for this claim, because who wants to study why some yarn crafters are happy producing the same basic stuff why others continuouly try new things (let alone everyone in-between the two extremes...it's more of a sliding scale, really).  Well, that, and I haven't bothered trying to look for anything similar yet.  Let's just say I'm skeptical that the claim holds true for everybody for now.

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