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Applying Deliberate Practice to Cubing

jeff081692

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Hey this is basically my accounts of my cube training history and views on deliberate practice. Hopefully if you are stuck you might gain something from it and understand why and what needs to be done to improve but the td;lr for this might be read the forum advice in other threads, understand it, and actually apply it. It is pretty long so I understand if you don't want to read the whole thing.

Now a lot of what I am about to say is probably more or less common knowledge however, I also know that there is a fair percentage out there that hear the generic advice given “practice” and “slow down and look ahead” and yet still hit plateaus and are frustrated because they can’t get out of them or they are improving but not at the rate they would like.

To start if you haven’t read Escher’s “How to practice” post then do so now as it is the inspiration for this post where I will elaborate on how I interpreted it and more.

Basically what Escher was describing was deliberate practice. Here are two articles that explain the effects of deliberate practice in more depth. One is about chess and one is about musical instruments, both of which I have had years of experience in and can identify with the connections of deliberate practice in each and their similarities to cubing.

http://calnewport.com/blog/2010/01/06/the-grandmaster-in-the-corner-office-what-the-study-of-chess-experts-teaches-us-about-building-a-remarkable-life/

http://calnewport.com/blog/2011/11/11/if-youre-busy-youre-doing-something-wrong-the-surprisingly-relaxed-lives-of-elite-achievers/

Hopefully those two articles got you thinking a little. One of the most interesting things I got from the second article in particular is that the elite performers spending so many more hours on deliberate practice may explain why some cubers can improve at such a faster rate than others while some cubers can be stuck at time barrier for months. The conclusion I draw is that if you are not improving you may be doing the wrong practice and cubers that have success have been doing deliberate practice without even realizing it because it was natural.

Now it is easy to understand how many of us fall into the trap of blind practice without any thought of how to improve. It is what led us to cubing. We solve the cube and become somewhat addicted to it and do it again and again, timing ourselves and watching the improvement. This is where we begin to see the effects of deliberate practice on cubing. Take riding a bike for example. The first time you are learning to ride a bike it is difficult to do. The many times you fall off and get back on to try again are deliberate practice.

Back to cubing, my early solve times of the cube when I could do it without an alg sheet was 10 minutes. I practiced by doing solves a lot and quickly got down to 2-3 minutes. But something happened. I stopped improving. Not like I cared though because it was just one of many hobbies at the time and it was enough to impress the people around me. Had I known about speedcubing and that I could be faster I could have made even more improvement.

So it was easy to solve the cube in 2-3 minutes but why couldn’t I break sub 2 out of all those casual solves? Because I wasn’t doing deliberate practice. I wasn’t questioning my method or anything that Escher wrote about because it was just for fun. I was in autopilot mode.

Let’s take a look at the characteristics of deliberate practice to explain this and how almost all cubing plateaus work. If someone told me to use the search function of the speedsolving forum to see how to get better, chances are the top answers would be practice. Which to many translates into doing more solves.

Practice as deliberate practice- (solving the cube at your normal average which is very easy because it is like riding a bike.)
1. Designed to improve performance. (yes)
2. It’s repeated a lot (yes)
3. Feedback on results is continuously available. (yes timers.)
4. It’s highly demanding mentally. (NO)
5. Its’ hard (NO)
6. It requires (good goals.) Since my goals had to do with a numerical value it did not take into account the process other than just doing what I have been doing.

There it is. Being hard and highly demanding are the two flaws of ‘just practice’ because some people can interpret this advice to just do the easy same old avg of 12 that never changes. They never push themselves in new ways to improve or question anything about their methods other than “why am I not sub 20 yet?” Which btw is the mistake of judging yourself by the numbers and not the process that leads to the numbers. I could go on about ignoring the numbers but I will spare you.

As for my cubing history story I eventually found that I was not the only person alive that could solve the cube and set a goal to become sub 20. When I learned the fridrich method I practiced nonstop for a whole summer (kind of like I’m doing now) and improved to about 40 seconds. If you were to check the 6 qualities of deliberate practice I was now meeting #4 and #5 because F2L takes recognition skills that were way beyond what is required in LBL.

But guess what? I hit another plateau. One strong enough for me to make a thread here asking how to get faster and they told me the same old use the search and practice. So I continued what I was doing by doing solves and eventually made it to sub 20 then I quit for a while.

What made the push to sub 20 although it was long was really the quality of my cube, turning faster and time. But the time could have been a lot faster again had I known more about the specific things you can do or think about to improve. Just look at how fast other cubers have improved on the forum. It is not impossible to get results like these if you are very serious and had enough free time with the right resources.

I write all this at this time though because I just felt the effects of deliberate practice that I wish I had been implementing from the beginning of my cubing. I have reached sub 15 averages but normally average 16-17 of 100. But when I do my cross I have to look at the pieces often, especially for the last move that adjusts the pieces to the centers. I have been improving steadily since my return to cubing but I have always ignored my weakness in the cross until today. I am certain that I could get even faster just by improving other things like alg execution but the part of the solve that I have always hated the most was the cross. For years I have known that you should be able to do the cross BLD but yet I have done thousands of solves ignoring this gem of advice. In my session today I decided to attempt as many BLD cross solves as possible in an hour and if I screwed up I delete the time so I can count how many were successful. Well I got 20 solves in that hour. To put this into perspective I can do an avg of 100 in about an hour. But my brain was strained and it was hard and If I keep this up I will shortly be able to always do the cross BLD and I can work on my First pair transition.

My lesson here is that if you are at a plateau. Ask yourself this question “does your practice incorporate any deliberate practice?” Note that if you have just learned something new it can make your solves little worse for a period but this is also deliberate practice with the goal of making whatever you learned as instant as you best PLL alg. The downside of deliberate practice is that it is hard. For me it was so hard I ignored advice around me because it was frustrating to practice what you are bad at. However think about how easily I could have been doing the cross had I practiced BLD when I first heard of it. I would have so much more experience with F2L piece tracking/prediction. Also I have been cubing for over 5 years now and didn’t finish learning OLL until this year. If I wanted to improve faster I should have learned one alg a day and I would have been done within the first couple months of learning fridrich.

To get a feel for what this is like right now try to be color neutral for a few solves. The feeling you get is a form of deliberate practice because chances are you can’t recognize the pieces as well as your normal color and your brain is trying to adapt to the change which is initially hard. Now you don’t have to go an become CN but whatever it is you are doing you need to be stretching your limits in new ways for a long period of time like an hour or two a day to get the best results possible.

I kind of wanted to build a list of deliberated practice cubing activities each meant for a specific phase or transition of the cube that have been tried and tested but I think I will hold off on that for another day since this post is pretty long. But If you made it this far I would appreciate if you shared your specific practice techniques for some part of your solve.

http://www.cubefreak.net/speed/articles/tips.php

This site has some nice ones too by the way and I currently use this to guide my training. The idea is that by exposing yourselves to the many things you can practice like 2side PLL recognition and BLD cross you increase your potential just by being aware of them and next time you are stuck take a look at the list and see what you can and can’t do perfectly and figure out how to apply the ideas of deliberate practice to it. And don’t forget to do normal solves too. I am probably going to divide my time by half deliberate practice and half normal solves applying what I am learning.

Also as an end note you know what you need to work on to improve. If you have been avoiding something that relates to cube training chances are that is what is needed for you to make the best improvement whether it is not looking ahead or finishing those OLL/PLL. Other than that you have to keep at it or just wait for your tps to improve.
 
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RaresB

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Very interesting read, although i dont have much to say i was wondering if something like practicing just your f2l for example is deliberate and effective, or does it have to be something more specific such as practicing lookahead.
 

jeff081692

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Very interesting read, although i dont have much to say i was wondering if something like practicing just your f2l for example is deliberate and effective, or does it have to be something more specific such as practicing lookahead.
I am sure many people would tell you that doing full solves is better because you practice each transition with every solve. However cubing above all is meant to be fun and if I am not having fun doing full solves and want my F2L to be better then I will ignore the LL and just focus on F2L (same goal different paths) it's up to you to decide what is worth practicing in the end and it is not the same for everybody.

That said I love isolating parts of my solve to practice in addition to my daily solves. I was able to get my first sub 5 in the LL competition because I drilled my LL like crazy going through each alg and making sure they were as perfect as I could get them. Whereas now a days it is more F2L work putting together documents of my algs and timing them and comparing to other cubers.

But for F2L solves just doing F2L solves is not enough if you do it the exact same way you would in solve. The benefit that I have found in just practicing F2L is that I can experiment with different turning styles and figure out how slow I need to turn with what look ahead I need to get the times I want without my LL times throwing me off. Yes you can get the same benefit doing full solves so it is really your choice and there are people that will argue both ways.

I did a lot of F2L on the prisma timer where the cross is already solved. I can insert the pairs at about 7 seconds on average and I had set a goal of 6 seconds which is possible because I have gotten sub 6 a few times and my LL is good for my average so I don't worry about it. But I see that my biggest problem is Cross to F2L transition and I wouldn't have so many F2L times that are 11 seconds if I perfected it so I have found where to focus my training and on the first day I realized just how important it was to find the right training.

What you want to do when practicing F2L is analyze your worst solves. When I do a F2L solve if I repeat the scramble I am pretty good figuring out what moves I made. Your worst solves will likely have a common theme (lock up on a certain alg or didn't look ahead properly) if you can figure out why your F2L is not as fast as others then you know what to work on. But in general I think deliberate practice should be as specific as possible in what you want to achieve and look ahead should be on everybody's list. If look ahead is hard for you then all the more reason you need to work on it.
 
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Joël

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I agree that just doing speedsolves isn't really practicing. (Well, it's part of practicing, but only after doing some 'deliberate practice', as you call it).

I think a good way to practice look-ahead (and multislotting) is to do a cross, and then speed-blindsolve 2 CE pairs (twice). In other words, look at the cube (for a good while) and figure out all the moves to do 2 pairs, and them perform them without looking. I got this tip from a cuber on yt a while ago, and remember that after trying it for just 15 minutes, my regular solves felt more fluent immediately.
 

Dene

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meh, I know I'm not a great cuber by any standard, but as a percentage of my practise, about 0.0001% over the course of 5 years has been dedicated to targeted practise. I virtually always just straight solve over and over. Progress for me has been fairly slow, and possibly would have gone faster if I had targeted my practise. But I think there is no actual need for it to reach the top speeds, as long as there is plenty of any practise there should be progress.

For reference, my averages on a good day:
3x3 sub13
4x4 sub55
5x5 sub1:30
And once upon a time Square-1 was sub20.
 

Escher

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@Dene: There might not be a need for it to reach the top speeds (relatively) but who cares about how fast other people are?

It's about being as good at speed-cubing as possible in a technical sense.
 

jeff081692

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@ Joël yes I think that is a great exercise and fits the requirements of being challenging enough to push your limits in new ways. For example I have heard advice on going full speed on the last slot since you would have to pause for LL recog anyway. But someone that practiced this over time would eventually be able to go full speed on the last two slots with zero delay.

@ Dene Of course I agree that normal practice is good and in my story I explain that I have reached most of my cubing goals because of it, but look at how long it took both of us to get where we are as opposed to people like 5BLD and Feliks?
As the articles I linked show, elite performers have been shown to spend more time on deliberate practice without necessarily practicing more than the rest. It would be interesting to see what the cubers I mentioned above thought about this.

So yes there is no need to do it (especially since hard work is not what everyone wants when cubing) but it can definitely speed along the process which is what I am trying to show.
 

Dene

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@Dene: There might not be a need for it to reach the top speeds (relatively) but who cares about how fast other people are?

It's about being as good at speed-cubing as possible in a technical sense.
Well I guess that could be one goal. Personally for me it's always been about fun, and I always found practising specific things boring ^_^
 

Smiles

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Before reading this, I somewhat applied this "deliberate practice".

And now reading this i can see why i have improved quickly.
I've been using my brain on color neutrality, and after less than month my average went from like 21 to 17.
I'm almost completely CN now and practice isn't just tedious repetition like before.
 
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