On Touch Typing and Failure

Mon 12 October 2015 by yaniv

I've started to learn touch typing. It's embarrassing to admit that I still haven't learned it, given the amount of time I spend on a keyboard everyday. But it's better to do it later than never.

My goals in doing so are 1) to become more efficient and proficient with my writing and 2) to reduce friction in my thought process. I want to be able to capture thoughts as soon and as they appear, and as accurately as possible.

I use an app, called typist, to walk me through the process, and monitor the two main KPIs that infer progress: accuracy (or error ratio) and words per minute (wpm).

Initially, everything went smoothly. I advanced quickly through the exercises, and felt I'm doing well. I thought it will take no time before I master the new skill. But then, this encouraging trend withered. My improvement stagnated, plateaued, and turned backward. Soon, I typed worst than I did before starting the exercises.

Not knowing how this can happen, I decided to sacrifice speed, and focus instead on accuracy. Once I type fluently, I thought, it will be easier to pick up speed. That didn't work, though. I spent hours trying to type the same paragraph over and over again, as slow as possible, but I just couldn't complete the task without making any mistake.

" be came clear that it was not only pointless to continue these exercises but positively dangerous, since I was oppressed more and more by a premonition of failure..." Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel

My conscious attempts to avoid mistakes actually also contributed to them. It was as if I had knew a mistake is imminent, and thus imminent it became.

I'm still learning, and fighting my anticipation of mistypings. But I did modify my strategy, aiming at crossing this chasm. Instead of focusing on an entire paragraph, I'm now trying to concentrate on only one word at a time, absorb this word, touch type it, return my fingers to the home row, move my attention to the next word, and repeat. This new routine improved my accuracy, and more importantly, redressed the anxious wait for a mistake to happen.

This pattern isn't new to me. I experienced it many times before, when acquiring various new skills. It's the accumulation of new knowledge that uncover subtleties I wasn't aware of before. Learning english was, and still is, one such experience. The more I learn, read and communicate, the more aware I become to the mistakes I make.

"Among swordmasters, on the basis of their own and their pupils' experience, it is taken as proved that the beginner, however strong and pugnacious he is, and however courageous and fearless he may be at the outset, loses not only his lack of self−consciousness, but his self−confidence, as soon as he starts taking lessons. He gets to know all the technical possibilities by which his life may be endangered in combat...", Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki

As frustrating as this progress is, I keep reminding myself that those mistakes are signs of improvement and progress. He who does not fail, nor makes mistakes, will not get anywhere.