Tag Archives: deliberate practice

All the leaves are brown…

…and the sky is gray (and the sky is gray)
I went for a walk (I went for a walk)
On a winter’s day…

Are you singing along with me yet? This afternoon, I randomly bought a cd. Wait a second, let this visual wash over you. That’s right, I didn’t click “Buy” on itunes or Amazon, I bought a physical compact disc. You know the ones, with the shiny backside you were only supposed to clean by rubbing a soft cloth away from the center!

As of late, I have been training up a bit in my running, and paying closer attention to my eating habits. That’s not to say I didn’t totally have chips and salsa for dinner the other night, cuz I did. Rather, I am paying attention to when I eat and why. Oftentimes, when I run errands in the evening, I end up buying a “treat.” I need the treat because I basically hate to run errands and will be employing someone to do the majority of errand-running for me just as soon as I can afford that never.

Being the moderation seeking eater that I strive to be, I often “treat” myself to a small bag of chips, gummy candies, a soda, or the like – nothing too extreme. Yet, as bathing suit season pulls into view on the horizon, I am feeling the urge to cut back a little bit. Okay, I am definitely picking up on the positive eating vibes a colleague is putting out in the office, too. (Yay – bonus for working in a cool office – !!! – always looking for work’s silver linings…).

In my quest to continue to take care of my personal needs by continuing to run errands, I have been trying to achieve a new habit of not buying “treats” and for the most part I have been successful. However, on a day like today, the only way for me to continue this new trend was going to be buying a substitute “treat.”

The qualities of today that made me crave a personal treat was that: (1) I left work an hour early, (2) it was a beautiful sunny day, (3) the kind of sunny day just screaming “why don’t you go home and enjoy an adult beverage on the terrace???” (4) yet, I had committed to not drinking due to the Base-to-Base run tomorrow (it’s here!!!), and (5) I knew the chances of me breaking my drinking commitment were high if I didn’t have some sort of distraction.

With all of these thoughts in mind, I embarked on my errand of dropping off my dry cleaning. On base, the dry cleaner is also the tailor in the uniform shop, which is in the Navy Exchange, which is also a mini-mart with an eclectic eccentric cd section (6-7 different Pink Floyd cds next to Christian sermons on cd). After making my dry cleaning arrangements, I rounded the corner to see the yummy groceries and beer cooler (less yummy, but still, it was a warm sunny afternoon…). I kept rotating my gaze until it fell on the cd aisle. A few moments and $7 later, I walked out the proud owner of The Mamas and the Papas.

Just listen to this jam and you will know that this “treat” will be pleasing me much longer than any salty snack or sudsy beer possibly could!

Buon weekend!


Filed under 5-100

Merry New Year!


(Uno) 1. Watching the fireworks from the roof terrace last night was among the best fireworks displays I have seen. Fireworks are widely available here and neighbors, business owners and individuals set off impressive displays. From our vantage point, we could see fireworks nearly 360 degrees, including the pop and flare of the shows on mainland Italy (Calabria), to the east. Truly awesome.

(Due) 2. Reviewing the High-Lo-High of our 2011’s as we awaited the fireworks last night. My contributions were:
High: Moving to Italy (on my “dream” list),
Lo: Feeling less able to connect in my conversations with others (it’s hard to make new friends),
High: Finding a good job on an overseas base!!!

(Tre) 3. Getting up this morning to read many of my favorite bloggers’ new year posts – full of reflection, ambition and humor. Blogging has been a wonderful addition to the second half of 2011, I cannot wait to see what 2012 has in store.

(Quattro) 4. Waking up to a brilliant sunshiney day with Mt. Etna sparkling in the light.

(Cinque) 5. Breakfast al fresco. Dave made his best hashbrown scramble yet, mmmmm. Bloody mary for Dave, tea for me, coffee for Jim.


Deliberate Practice.”

Enduring Discomfort.”

Stepping deeper into the reality of my life.”

These themes took shape over the past months; the concepts speak to me on a gut level. I feel vital and abuzz with life energy when I make deliberate choices about how to spend my time. Following through on my morals, on my goals, and on my responsibilities is often uncomfortable, yet the rewards for completing such actions are immeasurable, so I endure discomfort (as a deliberate practice). To avoid crafting a mere image of myself, I contemplate my goals, my practices and my failings in an effort to step deeper into the reality of my life. Bring on 2012!


Filed under 5-100

A Question for Readers – How do you celebrate?


  1. Check, check, check on the to-do list.
  2. Finished “South of Superior,” by Ellen Airgood. I really enjoyed this book, look for a review in the coming weeks. It takes place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on the shores of Lake Superior and I keep wishing I could read more about the characters.
  3. Set an appointment to schedule internet and local phone to our new home.
  4. Slogged through some paperwork related to my new job, policies, practices, and timesheets, oh my!
  5. Rounded out the evening by watching North by Northwest, with the wonderful Cary Grant at the helm and Eva Marie Saint joining him there for the last third of the movie.

I am 32 whopping years old and let me tell you, I am still pretty freaking young. However, my body seems to think it is allowed to morph and reshape. To dissuade it, I have agreed to eat more sensibly and my body has agreed to change more slowly. One way to eat more sensibly is by creating non-food rewards. For example, to celebrate my new job, my first instinct was to have prosecco or a special dinner. Instead, I hugged Dave til his eyes bugged out and called my family. What are the non-food rewards you look forward to?


Filed under 5-100, Adjusting

Why ask why?

My personality teeters on the razor sharp fence between introvert and extrovert. I like to think that I have pretty successfully adapted to utilize each tendency to its maximum utility (uh, law school = introvert tendency helped me zero in; ability to talk to people from across the world & socioeconomic spectrum = extrovert skills rock). Even so, it was with some practice that I steered myself a little more into the extrovert world during my late teens and early twenties; who didn’t? During that time, I stopped asking “why” so much, I stopped thinking about consequences and I started living in the moment, or so I thought. Now that my 20s are safely in the past, I can look back and report that denial is stronger than the moment. I digress! All of this musing is merely an introduction to a post about why I blog.

The following line inspired me to corral my errant thoughts about blogging and summarize them in a post:

“It’s about the value of living a passionate life, one with self-imbued purpose and empowerment, with active, deliberate living.”

That line was written on the blog “Maleficus Amor” in a post called “Social Networking.”

It echoes a theme of the book “Moonwalking with Einstein” – (which I reviewed late last week): deliberate practice leads to excellence. Whether achieving a certain level of performance is the end goal, or perhaps just achieving any goal, you only reach goals with deliberate action. Sure, you may stumble your way into a good life, with few complaints, and you could live quite contently that way for a long time. Yet, that is not the way of Jill – I have never been attracted to that sort of existence. I wanted to talk to strangers, I wanted to read read read, I wanted to be a painter, ballerina, environmental warrior, lawyer, doctor, novelist, journalist, scientist, philosopher, and on and on. I wanted adventure!

This curiosity and verve for life has served me well socially and physically (I generally move my body enough to offset my food and drink indulgences, all in moderation of course). Yet, it also extended my time as an undergrad (well, at least I have fewer college semesters than Uncle Bill!). My varied interests, along with a healthy fear of commitment, led to a varied set of experiences, and expertise in almost none of them (except those that are considered “hobbies” by employers, geesh). I can barely make my way through this paragraph without writing parentheses in every sentence, is that really deliberate living? Is it deliberate practice?

For me, it was fairly deliberate. But now I am entering a new phase of my life and my goals are changing. To live  a passionate life has always been my greatest dream. I am fortunate to be passionate about my life partner, family and friends, about living in Sicilia, and about the balance I strive for in my spiritual, physical and emotional health. The missing piece for me is being passionate about my vocation. What is my life’s work?

Reviewing my work history, I smile and laugh as I think about the joys of babysitting and earning precious spending cash at such a young age. Then, there was Marketplace (yay, Lisa!), a gas station, the Frost Top, a very short stint at McDonald’s, and then many serving jobs (restaurants, people!), a lab assistant in a neurophysiology lab, autism therapist, law clerk/assistant office manager, and on and on. I had a broad range of volunteer experiences, too, hospital greeter, environmental groups, teen crisis counseling, sexual assault survivor group, interning on Capitol Hill, other campaigning, community meal programs. Yet, even though I feel a solid sense of having served my community, and being fulfilled in return, I still do not see that steady thread of a vocation, I do not know that any of this makes up my life’s work, and I cannot see where that silver thread of motivation and ambition is leading to next.

In my life now, I seek a connection to a community; such a connection that will sustain itself through my future re-locations (as long as we stay in the Navy), through my child-bearing years (yes, Mom, it’s still on the table), through my mid-life musings. I am not sure that blogging is that connection (who knows, maybe!), though blogging is one of the deliberate steps I am taking toward finding my vocation. Through blogging, I am finding my voice, meeting new people, deciding how I want to write and where I want my voice to be in the conversation.

I am starting to ask “why” again, and it feels f***ing great. (See how sometimes expletives are apt? Yea, I think so, too.)


Because I like photos, I am including this photo of a woman cooling herself with her feet in the sea. She was resting on this rock just beyond the seaside bar we ate at one afternoon in Lipari. She was completely at peace, contemplative maybe, and she moved with self-assurance and deliberation when she left the rock.

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Filed under Adjusting

Book Review: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer

Personal Blurb-style Intro (aka “Why I picked up this book”):  Like most people, I look at the celebrity magazines next to the candy and soda displays at the cashier check-out in the grocery store. And, like most people, I don’t pick up anything from those bins unless there are extenuating circumstances. In particular, celebrity magazines just don’t end up in my hands all that often because if I want any celebrity gossip, it is much more humorous to read Michael K’s version of it over at dlisted.com. Be careful there, if you get hooked before you’re offended, you could spend tens of minutes reading posts about decidedly non-celebrity happenings. The upside is you’ll laugh out loud at some point.

The displays I am most susceptible to are the ones at my local library, the Sigonella library on base. It doesn’t matter what the genre is, I will take a few moments on my way to the check-out desk, or even on my way out the door and just browse titles. I browse the travel books, the YA section (that’s “Young Adult”), and the eclectic mix of new and not-so-new books lovingly arranged by the library staff. I say lovingly because I’ve shared my library love with the staff, and we got goosebumps together when I was the first person to check out the 2011 Fodor’s Italy guidebook! Weee!

“Moonwalking with Einstein” was one of these display books that caught my eye. The title attracted me with its mix of pop culture (Michael Jackson moonwalking) and respected historical science (Einstein). Of course, I immediately bonked myself of the head and groaned – I had walked right into some marketing genius’s trap. Nevertheless, I opened the dust jacket (which I only do for non-fiction, I like to be surprised by fiction), read as far as “…draws on cutting-edge research, a surprising cultural history of memory…” and I decided to take the book with me. I have no problem checking out more books than I can possibly read and then finding out which one triumphs in earning my attention.

“Moonwalking” grabbed me right away and I groaned and laughed my way from start to finish.


Budding journalist Joshua Foer documents his rise from reporter to “memory athlete” in this story of how he dominated the U.S. Memory Championship in 2006.  The book starts with Foer covering the 2005 competition as a journalist-hustler’s attempt to creatively get another byline. Foer’s ambition and drive to achieve at something are a result of his post-collegiate angst about living in his parents’ home and operating out of a basement office. Early on, we meet his insistent memory coach, Ed Cooke. Cooke is a European memory champ and Foer presents him as a lovable geek of a character. Cooke introduces Foer to the international memory community and through his stories, Foer offers us a glimpse into the mishmash of lifestyles of memory competitors.

While we are introduced to the main “memory athletes” in the contemporary forefront, you get the sense that Foer himself never decided whether he admired or pitied these guys (almost exclusively men). He describes endearing and pathetic behaviors both, though he always shows a deliberate respect for those mentioned in the book. Is this respect a mask behind which Foer hides some disdain or can we trust that he isn’t holding back any insights? With one particular character, who seems to cross the line between a natural wonder and a memory athlete, Foer honestly shares his doubts with the man. The description Foer provides of confronting the man with his doubts was persuasive to me. Whatever Foer might be keeping from the book is likely only petty drivel that I am not interested in reading anyway. Kudos to you for keeping your prose focused.

From there, we journey through Foer’s run at the U.S. Memory Championships through one-hour-a-day practices, or maybe a little less. Though this storyline sounds as boring as it is, Foer does a great job of inserting trivia, research and anecdotes into the chronology of his short-lived memory career to keep momentum going. Foer reviews the history of memory, brings us up to speed with current memory research, and features exceptional persons, such as Kim Peek (who inspired the movie Rain Man) and his brethren. The mix of extreme personal examples with well-researched detail reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell‘s writing style (and leaves me just a little skeptical of the prose, same as with Gladwell). As the competition draws near, Foer focuses on his competition strategy and opponents. He offers colorful descriptions of his competitors, with a unique mix of factual competitive history and Foeresque whimsical fancy to build suspense out of a one-day event.

The only downside to the delightful Foer journey was the sense that he is holding something back. Is it some insecurity? Is he angry? I specifically disliked the barbs he laid out for his father in the book. We get a hint of Foer’s resentment as he describes his setup at his parents house. The clear disdain for his set-up made me question whether I was reading the memoir of some entitled jerk. His family history of success certainly offers Foer many advantages (live rent-free at home, love and support for his intellectual pursuits without income), along with a lot of pressure to deliver (see: sibling rivalry).

Was he attempting to commiserate with the large numbers of unemployed college graduates? If so, he belly-flopped miserably. I could send out an email and in minutes have a shortlist of law school grads willing to move into your parents’ basement office while they search down their dream job. Maybe he was just trying to offer some color to his back story, I don’t know; it just felt whiny to me.

Whatever his reasons for complaining about his physical set-up, he largely avoided indulging in discussion of any family insecurities, except for a poignant slam on his father’s golf game. It happens while Foer discusses the OK Plateau, which he deems “the point at which you decide you’re OK with how good you are at something, turn on autopilot, and stop improving.” (170). After acknowledging that “it will hurt him to read this,” he accuses his father’s golf game as being stuck in the OK plateau and calls his father a “duffer.” (170). While he could have easily found myriad other humorous examples to use, he rails on his father. While I may be missing out on a family inside joke, it made Foer seem callous and ungrateful for the parental support that afforded him the opportunity to write this book.

It may be that Foer was trying to build some mystery in the father-son relationship. There is another mention of him hiding his memory work from his father, who regularly checks in with the basement office. But this relationship isn’t touched again and its mention only functions to make me doubt Foer’s affinity for his fellow memory athletes all the more. This leads to the real reason I am uncomfortable with these parts of the book: Is Foer”slumming it” to get a book idea? (Hello, I have a cynical side!)

For the few uncomfortable moments like these, the rest of the book is charming, informative and humorous. Despite his questionable opinion of the memory athlete career path, Foer does take himself and memory training seriously in a way that challenges the reader to take her own life as seriously. After all, if we choose to engage in an activity, we only have ourselves to laugh at if it is making a joke of our life. So, even if your passion is not mainstream, and advancing to become its leader only affords you minor celebrity, only you have the opportunity to know that you’ve led your life with a certain amount of integrity, which comes from treating your life seriously and acting deliberately. The book left me with the sense that I have untapped skills and talents within me and inspired me to start investing in deliberate practice. Thank you, Mr. Foer!

Best excerpts:

“Cicero agreed that the best way to memorize a speech is point by point, not word by word, by employing memoria rerum. In his De Oratore, he suggests that an orator delivering a speech should make one image for each major topic he wants to cover, and place each of those images at a locus. Indeed, the word “topic” comes from the Greek word topos, or place. (The phrase “in the first place” is a vestige from the art of memory).” p. 123

“What separates experts from the rest of us is that they tend to engage in a very directed, highly focused routine, which [Anders] Ericsson has labeled “deliberate practice.” Having studied the best of the best in many different fields, he has found that top achievers tend to follow the same general pattern of development. They develop strategies for consciously keeping out of the autonomous stage while they practice by doing three things: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented, and getting constant and immediate feedback on their performance.” p. 171

“Ed [Cooke] sent me a quote from the venerable martial artist Bruce Lee, which he hoped would serve as inspiration: “There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you.” I copied that thought onto a Post-it note and stuck it on my wall. Then I tore it down and memorized it.” p. 185

“And yet clearly I had changed. Or at least how I thought about myself had changed. The most important lesson I took away from my year on the competitive memory circuit was not the secret to learning poetry by heart, but rather something far more global and, in a way, far more likely to be of service in my life. My experience had validated the old saw that practice makes perfect. But only if it’s the right kind of concentrated, self-conscious, deliberate practice. I’d learned firsthand that with focus, motivation, and, above all, time, the mind can be trained to do extraordinary things. This was a tremendously empowering discovery. It made me ask myself: what else was I capable of doing, if only I used the right approach?” pp. 267-8

ISBN 978-1594202292 “Moonwalking with Einstein”, Penguin Press HC, March 3, 2011

Book’s Website:  http://joshuafoer.com/moonwalking-with-einstein/


Filed under Book Review, Media