The Art & Science of Recovery [Chris Gaviglio, Jonah Oliver]

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“0.4% improvement is competitively significant.”

High stakes decisions, performance expectations, ambitious projects, adversity, balance, prioritisation, transition and change. We’re all living and working under uncertainty, stress and pressure.

Rather than just surviving, what can we do to thrive in these environments as individuals and teams?

Dr Chris Gaviglio is the Head of Strength & Conditioning at the Queensland Academy of Sport with nearly 20 years of strength and conditioning training experience with Olympic sports and professional codes (Wallabies, Gold Coast Suns, QLD Maroons Rugby League). He’s an applied sports science researcher (performance biomarkers, blood flow restriction training, warm-up and peri-competition strategies) and speaker and consultant on enhancing human performance: From World Class to World Best. He’s also a product designer/entrepreneur (Thera-wedge, Backsak, Sports Rehab Tourniquet),  husband and father of two.

Jonah Oliver is one of Australia’s top performance psychologists. He combines sport psychology and neuroscience to facilitate peak performance with experience ranging from Olympic gold medallists, executives, professional codes (Brisbane Roar, Gold Coast Suns, Essendon), to car racing teams (Porsche – Le Mans World Champion, V8s), indigenous performing artists and surgeons. He’s an executive coach, author, speaker, consultant on talent identification, leadership and organisational performance around the world. He’s also a husband and father of two.

Both of these guys have had a huge impact on me (personally, professionally and in my sporting career) and I thought this was a great opportunity for an in-depth exploration of the principles, tools and strategies for physical and mental recovery. While recovery is front and centre in any sporting endeavour, it is almost either completely ignored, or at worst, often seen as a sign of weakness, particularly in business and career contexts. 

I love the interplay of the physical and mental and that’s why having both of these guys’ perspectives was really interesting and the way they both think about recovery for both daily life and major events was fascinating.

We spoke about lessons learnt from elite performance for individuals and teams and how they can be applied at work, at home and in our daily lives. 

Enjoy!

PS:
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You might also be interested in my interview with Tatiana Grigorieva (Olympic silver medal, Pole Vault) on Transitions, Fear and Willingness.


Event Notes

Tools, Links and Resources

Conversation Notes (with time stamps for video)

[5:00] Backgrounds

Chris’ background – trainer to the stars
Jonah’s background – working in a prison, retraining

[12:00] What is Recovery and why is it important?
Jonah:
AFL: track, watches, wellness each morning, cortisol levels, urine samplesRecovery: it’s not about the amount of stress you’re exposed to, it’s the amount of recovery you have to to balance it.

Chris:
State of Origin: How can we provide an environment so that they can perform at their optimum? From the language that we talk about to ambient vision, colours etc.
How do we get someone back to their optimum as quickly as possible? So many options out there but ultimately it’s all individual: cryotherapy, flotation tanks.

The brain rules the body. Don’t want to spend hard energy in recovery. How can we potentiate or prepare our body for performance?

[16:48] How has the idea of recovery changed over the years? Have there been any surprises? 

Jonah:
Used to be passive (eg: go on holiday).
The evidence has transitioned to favour active recovery.
Do something more active and tap into more domains.

Chris:
Athletes do better with doing something on their day off – sets up the week better. Cryotherapy: -100 degrees gas
The rocks of recovery: sleep, work/life balance, nutrition – unless these are dealt with, there’s no point doing all the fancy stuff.

[22:29] What are the common misconceptions or mistakes you see people making around recovery?

Cold water immersion and the risk of blunting your growth response to the stress. Stress and reflection can help to grow and improve. Be sure to debrief experiences and stress with the right people.

[24:30] Chris’s reflection process in the car on his way home. What was I happy with today? What did I like? What didn’t I like? What can I do better?

[Toby: I reflect most days in the evening just before bed. I write down 4 things I’m grateful for, and then journal notes for the day starting at waking up and then work my way through the events of the day and what I’ve learned as a reflection process.]

[24:55] Jonah’s cup vs water jug metaphor for stress management Stress reduction vs stress expansionInterpretation of thoughts lead to elevated cortisol and adrenal response

[28:35] Antifragility (from Antifragile – Things that benefit from chaos and disorder Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

[28:50] Good stress (Eustress) vs Bad Stress

Strong emotion as an alarm clock
Pain is the only way to grow

[31:40] Stretch vs overload

[33:19] Chris – Taking people to the edge – putting stress into context – the right debriefing the right people around you. In times of stress you can draw on that experience. The brain

[35:25] Jonah – Good high performance director explains why the pain is going to occur.

[36:15] Broken glass metaphor – humans are crap at feeling pointless pain. Stress and recovery – not coping, struggling, suffering – lost the spotlight on the why. Not a deficit of recovery, it’s a loss connection to the why and meaning.

[38:42] Managing major life events

[40:50] Chris’ view of handling major events – load management – cognitive, physical, emotional, Rate of Perceived Exertion. The importance of support team and how that can be used. Being clear about the bare minimums of a session.
What is the 1 thing I want to get done? Prioritise tasks

[44:44] Jonah explains the “Duality of experience” – if you can realise that we are able to feel grief, fear, anxiety, joy, happiness all at once. Giving yourself permission to feel them. And then I can still choose to do the things that matter.
Finding the balance.

[47:02] Preparing for key moments

Chris:
Plan: work back from the event. The role of testosterone in peak performance for power, cognitive function, determination, assertiveness. Short sharp heavy lifting.
Passive ways to increase testosterone.
Getting in the zone: Watching videos, music.
Planning back from meeting: prep, decompression, caffeine, nutrition
Preparing for energy requirements.
Maintaining body heat.
Do you have the right tools with you? What happens if…? Preparing for the unexpected

Jonah:
Haphazard caffeine consumption – 45 minutes until caffeine peak. 
Homeostatis and the homeostatic response to caffeine dosing – why athletes yawn before big occasions.

[58:40] Tools and tips:
Jonah:
Fish oil and mindfulness
Book: The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris

[1:01:00] Jonah’s 4/8 breath mindfulness exercise
Breath in for 4 secs and then out for 8 secs.
Do this 3 times.
Then really notice the chair you’re sitting on. How is your body weight is distributed? What does it feel like?
Repeat this 3 times each day for a total of 3 mins of mindfulness.
Neurological changes will occur within 6 weeks of practice in the prefrontal cortex leading to improved focus and attention.

Le Mans driver 1.2 seconds of mindfulness @ 370kms/hr

Chris:
Book: How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
Exercise as the 1 recovery technique

Jonah:
Even a 7 min walk still has a huge impact.

Audience Q&A
[1:05:33] How to take physical lessons into a corporate environment to get into a peak state?
Chris:

  1. Work back from event. 
  2. Acute period of time prior (1 hr) – What time are you arriving? What are the key elements you’re focussing for the meeting. Plan a decompression time.
  3. Day of: What time are you waking up? Are you getting the right fuel in? Exercise done in the morning. Lower cognitive load of the tasks prior to the meeting. Get rid of distractions – eg shutting down email. Walk
  4. Day before: Travel the night before
  5. Reflection process post event is crucial to develop an individual plan and continue to refine it.
  6. Process vs Outcome

Jonah:

  1. Get nutrition right
  2. Phone off
  3. Look at diary – critical meeting and the week that leads in.
  4. Where’s down time?
  5. Where’s active recovery?
  6. Meeting requests for well being and recovery that can be moved but not taken out.

Chris:What’s happening 3 or 4 days before is just as important. What is your weekly flow? Hard session – where is your down session? 3 weeks on, 1 week off (later start, decompressing staff)

[1:12:41] Sustainable practices of CEOs to navigate daily stresses 
Reading/learning – don’t shut down your learning time.
Definition of happiness – doing things that are challenging.
Finding things in day and week that give us a sense of challenge
Mindfulness
Pinball effect – what did you used to do?
Stacking is about combining the answers to the below 4 questions to architect energising, fulfilling situations: 

  • Who is most important to me?
  • What is most important to me?
  • What are my values?
  • What do I do when I’m at my best?

[1:18:20] What should we be tracking as a layman?
Sleep: quantity and quality
4 nights of impoverished sleeps = a 20% increased risk of a hamstring tear.

[1:19:37] Hacks for sleeping
No caffeine after 2:30 in the afternoon
Reducing screen time
Mindfulness – don’t “try to sleep” – practicing mindfulness will take you to stage 3 sleep anyway.
Try to get a good sleep 2 nights before a major event
Movement and exercise will improve the quality of sleep.

[1:23:21] How do we create psychological expansion
Basic principle: Change the relationship to your internal dialogue – the stuff that’s traditionally been not wanted eg anxiety, fear etc.

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Mistakes, Facilitation and Coaching Olympic All Stars – Arjan Vos

Arjan Vos is a Dutch women’s water polo coach and was responsible for a diverse squad at Queensland Academy of Sport. Some members of the squad were just beginning their elite water polo journeys as teenagers. Two of them – Bronwen Knox and Ash Southern – have been named in Olympic All Star teams. He is renowned for his approach to his athletes and the loyalty and trust he inspires.

In this conversation Arjan shares his coaching philosophies including:

  • the role of facilitation vs goal setting as a coach
  • His key coaching question and why it applies to juniors and veterans: What is their goal and how can I contribute?
  • why it’s important stay out of the way and not to give too much as a coach
  • the importance of truth
  • why coaching is an attitude
  • why creating space for mistakes is essential to improving
  • how and why he develops critical thinking in his athletes
  • his reflection strategies
  • and more.

Have you had any great coaches, teachers or mentors? What were their philosophies? Let me know in the comments.


People mentioned:

Resources:


 

Questions for My Dying Father

I’ll never forget when Dad called to tell me he had a brain tumour.

That night, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. A million things were running through my head. Amongst them was a query: “If Dad might be dying, what questions  could or should I be asking him?”

[At that point we didn’t know that it was a glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an incredibly aggressive brain tumour. The clock was ticking fast. He died 6 months later on the 24th of Jan 2016.]

So I started an Evernote file called “Questions for Dad”.

I listed some of my own questions and began the search for others.

Over the following weeks and months, I collected questions from friends who’d had their fathers or mothers die – what they had found useful, wished they’d asked, or topics they wished they’d covered with the benefit of hindsight.

Recently I was asked for the questions I’d gathered so I wanted to share them here.

Some of these I was able to ask, others there just wasn’t time or capacity to address. The GBM dramatically affected Dad’s cognitive function and within two or three months, lucid conversations of any length became rare.

Uncomfortable conversations

As you’ll see below some of the questions sparked uncomfortable conversations, others were immensely practical, and others were really uplifting. Often they were a combination. I’m grateful for them all.

I found this 3 part framework really helpful as a purpose for the conversations I wanted to have with Dad:

  1. Please forgive me.
  2. I forgive you.
  3. Thank you, I love you.

(Unfortunately I can’t find the reference article but it may be linked the Hawaiian practice of Hoʻoponopono.)

I feel fortunate to have asked questions and had conversations that included the first two and that highlighted the third.

A small request – if you have any questions that you found to be good in the process, please leave them below in the comments. It would be great to make this a useful resource for people who stumble across this googling in the middle of a dark night.

I hope you find this list useful.

Thanks.


Questions for Dad

  1. What has become more important to you over time?
  2. What advice would you give your 30 year old self?
  3. What are you most proud of?
  4. What are you least proud of?
  5. Is there anything you’d do differently if you knew what you know now?
  6. What do you regret the most?
  7. When do you think you’ve been happiest in your life? Why?
  8. What do you wish you’d asked your parents before they’d died?
  9. What’s something I don’t know about you?
  10. Are you proud of me?
  11. Why did you and Mum get divorced? Why did you drift apart? What were the underlying reasons?
  12. Do you have any advice for me for my marriage?
  13. What do I want out of this?
  14. What do you want out of the next few weeks/months?
  15. Who would you like to spend time with?
  16. Is there anything you’d like to do together?
  17. Do you need help with your will or finances?
  18. Can you tell me about your childhood, teenage years, video/audio?
  19. What did you love in those years?
  20. What did it feel like to have children?
  21. How do you feel about mortality?
  22. What one thing would make you feel better today?
  23. Is there anything left unsaid in our relationship?
  24. Please forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, I love you.
  25. What event had the biggest impact on you?
  26. What was one of the worst moments in your life? What did you do about it?
  27. What was life like before you had children?

Other resources I found useful through that time:

 

Tatiana Grigorieva – Transitions, Fear and Willingness

Tatiana Grigorieva is an Olympic silver medallist (in pole vault, Sydney 2000), mother, coach, entrepreneur and all round fascinating person.

In this interview I did for the Queensland Academy of Sport Action TV series, we explore:

  • the transitions that have shaped her life through sport, business and motherhood including how she went from a hurdler to a silver medallist pole vaulter in just 2.5 years
  • how she manages fear
  • her meditation habits and the importance of visualisation in accelerating her training
  • how she encourages her athletes to think about the long term
  • her early childhood in Russia and why her mother made her sign a study contract when she was 13 years old
  • why willingness is the #1 characteristic of the athletes she works with
  • what it felt like to be jumping in the middle of the Olympic stadium for Cathy Freeman’s historic 400m gold medal.
  • and much more.

Enjoy!

What’s helped you through transitions? Let me know in the comments below.

Links from the interview:

“2 Chairs” decision making

The first time I used the 2 chairs game as a decision making technique was when I was invited to go to the Australian Institute of Sport on scholarship for a year straight after finishing high school.

Frankly I was terrified.

The AIS was the training ground of the best players in the country and I was afraid of what the environment would be like, of being alone (I didn’t really know anyone well in Canberra), of leaving my mum and dad, siblings, friends and a university placement offer…

The stakes felt incredibly high. Should I go or should I stay? I asked everyone I trusted – coaches, family, friends –  some said yes, others no, others asked great questions.

I was secretly hoping someone would make the decision for me.

They didn’t and in hindsight couldn’t. It was mine to own.

Enter the 2 Chair game

It was my mum (who’d learned it from my gran) who suggested this 2 Chairs game to try to help clarify my thinking.

[Note: Part of great decision making and problem solving is how you frame the question in the first place. This exercise assumes you’ve done that. Once you’ve framed the question to a yes/no, go/stay kind of answer, then this 2 Chairs game can help to crystallise your thinking.]

Here’s how it’s played.

How to play

  1. Place 2 chairs in a room facing one another.
  2. Allocate one chair as the “Yes” chair, the other as the “No” chair. (Or Go/Stay chair etc)
  3. Sit in the Yes chair.
  4. Say out loud all of the reasons you can think of as to why you would say yes. Stop when you run out of reasons.
  5. Change chairs to the No chair.
  6. Say out loud all of the reasons you can think of as to why you would say no. Stop when you run out of reasons.
  7. Repeat the chair swap until you run out of reasons completely.
  8. Which chair will you sit in? Have you made your decision?

Guiding principles

  • There are no trivial reasons. Say them all out loud.
  • This can be played out with trusted people in the room to help prompt your thinking or can be done alone.
  • Keeping notes can be useful.
  • Keep moving between the chairs even if it’s only for 1 reason at a time.

The Outcome

I went to the AIS. This decision was pivotal in accomplishing my Olympic dream.

This game helped me to voice all of the opinions and data I had gathered and settle on a Yes decision. Ultimately the deciding reason in the Yes chair, was that I didn’t want to look back and regret passing up the opportunity. All of the other reasons really paled beside that.

Since then I’ve used this process and shared it with friends for similar decision making situations. Reflecting on the original and subsequent experiences, I’ll add a couple of final thoughts.

  • I’ve found the physical movement between the chairs useful to really get into the mindset to extract all the reasons running around my head.
  • Sometimes I find myself sitting in one chair over the other and realise that the decision has been made.
  • Even when it hasn’t led to a clear decision, it has always been useful to extract the for and against.
  • Decisions are rarely as binary as yes or no. Is there a third way? A middle path? What are other questions that are useful in making better decisions?

 

Using Death as a Compass

“But time, is on your side, it’s on your side, now” Cold Play

Sadly Coldplay were lying. It’s never on our side.

When I think about flying, it’s essentially a tin can thousands of meters above the earth travelling at hundreds of kilometres per hour. It’s a humbling reminder of how precious life is.

So every time I get on a plane, to fly through the air in essentially a tin can, I ask myself 2 questions:

“Does everyone I love know I love them?”

I mentally tick through my list of wife, children, family and friends. If they might not be sure, then I have a job to do when I land.

“If this plane goes down, am I content with what I’ve accomplished and the impact I’ve made so far in my life?”

If the answer is no or halfhearted, it’s time to take stock.

 

The Art of Learning: Fractals, Water Polo and Marketing Templates

“We do not learn from experience, but from reflecting on the experience.” – John Dewey

[This post started out as a book review and became a reflection on my own experiences of learning. The idea of fractal learning is one that I would love your feedback on in the comments. Is it useful? Could it be applied in a way that helps us to learn more rapidly or teach more effectively? With more depth or more focus on the passions we have?]

Josh Waitzkin has a fascinating story. He is:

  • 2 x US Junior Chess champion (his father wrote a book about his journey called Searching for Bobby Fischer which was turned into a feature film of the same name),

  • Tai Chi Push Hands World Champion (2004) – the martial arts version of Tai Chi – and has subsequently coached others to that same title,

  • and founder of The Art of Learning Project.

I’ve read his book, The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance and loved it.

The Art of Learning:

The Art of Learning

The book explores Josh’s journey from US Junior chess champion to world champion as a martial artist in Tai Chi Push Hands. As he learned TaiChi, Josh began to see how his deep understanding of chess was influencing his learning process and vice versa. Josh subsequently spent years deconstructing his learning process across the 2 pursuits and shares his universal themes in the The Art of Learning.

Josh’s principles of learning:

  • Cultivating a beginner’s mindset
    A beginner is open to all possibilities, is excited to learn and is not afraid of failing. As a beginner there is no expectation to succeed or produce results.

    As your skill level increases, so too does the expectation (often self-imposed) for you to produce results. We stop learning when those expectations make us too afraid of making mistakes. Cultivating a beginner’s mindset helps us overcome this fear of mistakes so we can continue to learn and improve.

  • Invest in loss
    By training, practicing and competing with people who are better than you, you will be forced into making mistakes (losses). These losses become investments when you take the time to reflect on them to understand what happened and why. Through this reflection you can learn and then refine and improve your skills and performance.

  • The study of numbers to leave numbers
    Another way of wording this principle might be to call it the study of a skill to make that skill automatic. By studying and practicing your skills, you gradually absorb them. They become intuitive, automatic, no thinking required.

    Remember the basics of how to catch a ball? Keep your eye on the ball and watch it into your hands. Do you repeat this to yourself every time you catch a ball? When you’re first learning – sure. However, after practicing for a while, you don’t think about it anymore. In fact, often you forget someone even taught that to you.

    This is one of the key difficulties for masters trying to teach beginners – they have forgotten what they have learnt and how they learnt it.

  • Making smaller circles (condensed technique)
    Over time you work on finer and finer details within a skill, condensing your technique to use less effort to achieve the same result. To progress to smaller and smaller circles you’ll need to follow the above 3 elements every time:

    • adopt your beginner’s mindset,

    • invest in loss to understand and learn the finer level of a skill

    • then reflect, study, and practice the new “smaller circle” of the skill until it is automatic. Then you can progress to even deeper levels.

  • Slowing down time (enhanced perception)
    In a competitive arena, if you are “making smaller circles” by focussing on finer details of a skill than your opponent, you will feel like you have more time. The greater the difference in skill level, the greater the time difference will feel.

Fractal Learning

As I was trying to understand these principles, I started to draw. This is my original drawing and notes:

Fractal Learning.png

 My notes on the side tie it back to Josh’s themes:

  • Level 1 Novice sees 3 skills to master

  • Level 2 Intermediate sees 3 skills to master

  • Level 3 Expert sees 3 skills to master

  • And so on

  • Cultivating a beginner’s mindset is about forever being open to, and then seeing the next 3 skills to master.

  • To move deeper into the pattern and down a level to more condensed technique you must invest in loss.

  • You progress to a deeper level when it is internalised by study, reflection and practice.

This drawing – of smaller and smaller circles within circles – immediately reminded me of fractals.

From Wikipedia: A fractal is a mathematical set that typically displays self-similar patterns. Fractals may be exactly the same at every scale or they may be nearly the same at different scales.

I started to look for a fractal that would help me visualise Josh’s concept of “making smaller circles”. I found the Apollonian Gasket. Here is an animated version:

Apollonian Gasket.gif

As the animation proceeds, it is exactly the same at each level – a bit like the drawing in my initial notes although with much more detail.

On the other hand, The Mandelbrot Set – one of the most famous visualisations of a fractal pattern – varies at each level:

1024px-Mandel_zoom_00_mandelbrot_set.jpg

Here’s an animated zoom of it (you don’t need to watch the whole thing):

You’ll notice that as you zoom into the structure, you don’t get an identical pattern repeating. Unlike the Apollonian Gasket, you get something different at each level. BUT it is still related to the whole.

Fractals really helped me to visualise Josh’s principles. So I wanted to step through 2 examples from water polo and web marketing to make these ideas more concrete.

Water Polo

I created a simplified water polo example:

Level 1 – A beginner, keen to learn, watches a game of water polo and sees 3 circles of skills she will need to learn to be able to play the game:

    • Water Polo:

      • Ball skills

      • Swimming

      • Game play

  • Level 2 – When she arrives at her first training session, the player becomes aware (with the help of her coach) that these 3 skills can be broken down further. For example she learns that in Ball skills there are 3 more circles – Passing, Shooting and Blocking:

    • Water Polo:

      • Ball skills

        • Passing

        • Shooting

        • Blocking

      • Swimming

      • Game play

  • Level 3 – This cycle of awareness of more detail (and capability to progress) then repeats and she then breaks each of these skills down even further.

So a branch of this water polo example might look like this:

  • Water Polo:

    • Ball skills

      • Passing

        • Forehand pass

        • Backhand pass

        • Push pass

      • Shooting

      • Blocking

    • Swimming

    • Game play

Drawn out, the pattern of smaller circles looks like this:

Water polo example

It looks a bit like a very simple Apollonian Gasket. In reality, there a more than 3 circles at each level of water polo, so let’s look at web marketing to provide a more detailed example.

Web Marketing and Templates

We started to create web marketing templates to help us teach our clients how web marketing worked and how all the various pieces of the puzzle fitted together. In hindsight, we were deconstructing the relevant skills as we learnt them.

So let’s consider web marketing as a skill set you might want to master.

The visual side of the Web Strategy Planning Template works as a good representation of the broadest level of web marketing.

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 7.46.52 am.png

Level 1: In the above image there are 5 areas that will need to be understood:

  • Outcomes

  • Website

  • Search

  • Backlinks

  • Social Media/Content Marketing

Level 2: Let’s zoom in on one – Search. There are 2 skills to learn in Search:

  • SEO – Organic searches

  • SEM – Google Adwords

Level 3: Let’s zoom in again – SEO. The Web Strategy Planning Template doesn’t give more detail, so we can use the SEO planning template to explore the smaller circles:

SEO can be broken down into:

  • Keyword Research

  • On-page SEO

  • Off-page SEO

Level 4: Let’s zoom in one final time – On-page SEO. Again, the template helps us to clarify that we need to learn:

  • Target Keyword

  • URL

  • Page Title

  • Header tags

  • Meta description

  • Image alt tags

  • SEO Yoast

  • Web page copy

  • Google Authorship

So one branch of Web Marketing might look like this:

Web Marketing:

  • Outcomes

  • Website

  • Search

    • SEO – Organic searches

      • Keyword Research

      • On-page SEO

        • Target Keyword

        • URL

        • Page Title

        • Header tags

        • Meta description

        • Image alt tags

        • SEO Yoast

        • Web page copy

        • Google Authorship

      • Off-page SEO

    • SEM – Google Adwords

  • Backlinks

  • Social Media/Content Marketing

Imagine if you expanded each of these – it would be complex right? Visually it might start to look more like the Mandelbrot Set with related but not identical patterns at each level.

In order to progress through the levels of either of these skills and “make smaller circles”, we need to look back at Josh’s principles:

  • Cultivate a beginner’s mindset
  • Invest in loss
  • Study numbers to leave numbers

All with the purpose of making smaller circles as we learn to condense our technique in order to enhance our perception.

So thanks to Josh for an incredibly thought provoking book that inspired me to explore and reflect on my own learning journeys. I can’t recommend The Art of Learning highly enough.

Finally I’d be really interested to hear what you think:

  • Could fractals help you to visualise your learning journey? Or to help you to teach others?
  • How might your expertise or specific skill set look laid out as a pattern?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!