The Land of Diminishing Returns

I’m often asked ‘how much training is enough?’

Popular answers vary little. Most include some variation on the ideas that no amount is enough to stop, or any amount that you can afford is the minimum. Great. Thanks for that. Throw my life at every single thing I do. Got it.

Thing is, as a great urban sage once uttered, ‘ain’t nobody got time for that’.

Those are great paths to aimless mediocrity.

What else is wrong with those commonly spouted responses?

I’m not a fan of such nebulous answers. When I ask a question I want something more definite. I want something that is quantitatively measured. While the answer to this question is certainly not a single number of hours or classes that every person should strive for, I believe there is a way to quantify the amount of training necessary to put you in the ‘better than most who try’ category, which is where we ought to be (at minimum) in any task we want to be good at.

The terms generic training, fundamentals training, or basic training all express a similar idea at their root. They teach the mass of skills that are applicable in MOST situations, making the focus mastery of the concepts and repetition of a base set of drills to the point of diminishing returns.

The upper end of this point can always be measured as an average of experts ability on any of the standardized drills used to teach and quantify performance on a set of standards.

The lower end of the diminishing returns threshold is the point at which any individual first experiences the drop off in training returns. All of us owe it to ourselves to train to THIS point in anything we endeavor to do well in life. Anything before this point is generally ‘below average’ amongst peers who are endeavoring to master the same skill set. In other words, anything before this point is dabbling- not training.

So there it is- simply defined. How much should you train? Always train beyond the point of quantifiable diminishing returns. Next, train to the accepted experts level of diminishing returns using their standards and measurement criteria.

How do you know the experts level of diminishing returns? Simple. Find the lowest acceptable performance in any metric for professional performance. It may be a failure rate. It might be a speed and accuracy standard that is agreed upon by multiple experts (like the sub 1 second draw at a 7yd COM A). It will ALWAYS be measured quantitatively- pass/fail or a numerically expressed score.

Approaching performance at that level should always focus on the area with the lowest hanging fruit. Attack the parts of your desired skill that have the easiest gains. Attack the parts that give you the largest gains. If you can clean a B8 drill every time, but can’t ever stick a 1 second draw at any distance, you are doing it WRONG. Analyze your performance framed by your goals, focus on one area, and drill it until it is a strength. Reassess. Repeat.

The focus, for the vast majority of tasks, should always remain in fundamentals training. Specialized training has a time and a place that it should be considered and approached. That time is AFTER achieving an experts level of diminishing returns on fundamentals, and/or AFTER reaching a point where mastery of a specialized skill set becomes more important than the fundamentals.

If you are a breacher and carry a shotgun as a breaching tool, it may be more important to master the specialty training of shotgun breaching before or alongside the journey to mastering general shotgun proficiency. If you are not in this role, dedicating precious mental facilities to accomplishing a task that will likely never be needed from you is at best a waste of time and at worst a deadly distraction that puts you further from skills mastery that could have saved your life.

In short, drive to achieve standards of fundamental skills set by the experts. Let ‘good enough’ be determined by performance on quantitatively measured tests and drills.

Think about it. You know plenty of idiots that graduated the same school you did. They did the same training. What is important is your scores in comparison to the best. Not the amount of time spent at study or the place that you learned.

Train yourself to the point of diminishing returns. Teach yourself how to learn. Then, identify your weak points (still talking fundamentals here). Seek training from an expert who does well in addressing THOSE weak points.

If you can’t approach ANY task and train yourself to the point of general novice understanding, with the use of Google, THAT is your weak point. No amount of classes will help you, because you don’t know how to learn. Most people can train themselves far beyond novice levels of performance in any task without any formal training. The internet has really changed the game in self teaching. Use it. Get as much as you can on your own first. By doing so, you’ll get much more out of the professional training that you seek, and you will likely find better instructors for that teaching.

Get as much as you can by yourself. Know what you want before you seek instruction. Get the best instruction for the skill you are focused on. Quantify your goals and gains. Live in the land of diminishing returns.

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