A Nod, A Smile, and Misunderstanding

When I was teaching Tae Kwan Do, I noticed that beginning students would smile and nod when I gave them instructions. They would then repeat their error. I would show them the correct way again. The smile would come, then the error. For some, the idea they were not executing the intended move correctly would eventually come. For others, it never did.
Don’t get me wrong, I am no exception. As an educator, I observed my own learning. I too would smile and nod, then continue to do things wrong until I eventually caught on. I think it’s part of human nature for beginners to believe they have grasped subtleties, when they don’t even know what subtleties exist. Time eventually sorts out those who aren’t going to learn, and those who will progress.
It doesn’t end there though. When I was a second-degree black belt, I observed a student who was a fourth degree, practicing Poomsae (memorized moves against an imaginary opponent). He broke every move down to its basics, he even studied the placement of each finger, his feet and toes, his eyes, and so on. I laughed at him—called him OCD.
He was promoted on his next test, I wasn’t. I wasn’t asked to test again for a long time. I plateaued. One day I was wondering why I wasn’t progressing as I watched Jay (not his real name) going through his compulsive routine. I had this thought, Maybe it’s me that’s crazy and not Jay.
I changed my routine to concentrate on breaking each move down to its basics, emulating Jay. In a few weeks, the Master Instructor asked me to test again for my third degree. I tested and passed.
I transferred that bit of learning from martial arts to my everyday life. When I’m stuck on something, say writing. Instead of trying harder, I go back to the basics and work on them.
(I’ll use the gender-neutral name Pat for the following.)
The reason this is on my mind now, is we have a new writer in my critique group, Pat. The first day Pat met with us and announced his/her fiction piece had reached seventeen paragraphs. Almost everyone said, do you mean chapters? Pat said, “No, I mean paragraphs.” Pat was a true newbie.
Time before last, when we met, two people in the critique group offered the same observations that would make Pat’s writing better. Pat, nodded, smiled, and thanked them.
At the most recent meeting, two others (not at the previous meeting) gave Pat the same exact critique. The nod came, then a smile, and a thank you. This time Pat took notes.