Deliberate Practice and Dreams of Sushi

Deliberate practice has been en vogue on the internet for a few years – but it’s been a popular idea for hundreds of years. I watched the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi recently (it’s free on Amazon Prime), and it’s one of the best testaments to deliberate practice I’ve seen.

The movie focuses on the lives of an elderly man and his two sons, who are all sushi chefs. Although the film covers, at various points, the family relationship, sushi preparation, fish markets, apprenticeship, and the environment, the heart of the film is an ode to dedication, routine, and deliberate practice. Jiro is 85 years old, and in many ways he lives in a way I wouldn’t want to – he admits he wasn’t a good father – but he also works constantly to become a better chef. It’s his explicit stated goal to get better at has profession, every day – even after 75 years of study. So, he lives every day following the same pattern, leaving energy to focus on cooking skills. He loves his work – and his dedication has paid off: he’s considered the best sushi chef in the world.

The enemy of deliberate practice is not “no practice,” but rather “mindless routine.” It’s so easy to fall into a routine – and then you learn nothing. Even the littlest things can make a difference. For instance, I frequently export displays in Linux – almost daily at work. Basically, this means that you’re showing the display of one machine on a different machine (to oversimplify). You sometimes need to check which machine will be doing the displaying. I always ran the command env | grep DISPLAY – searching the environment for DISPLAY. But this is imprecise. Recently I saw a shell script and realized (to my chagrin) that I could just do echo $DISPLAY instead. It’s only a few characters shorter, but it’s just correct. It’s simply better than what I was doing before. And yet, I’d never really thought about a better way to find the display – for probably two years! I had something that worked, after all. This is a terrible attitude, but even if you recognize that, it’s still a common trap to fall into.

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