The Learning Curve

I heard a discourse once about training and practice and the predicated ability that came with them. In short, all talents and abilities follow the same pattern — rapid learning (A), followed by much slower growth (B), followed by more rapid learning(C) to the mastery level.

Now, how sharp A and C are, as well as how long B is, all depend on the activity, the individual, etc. I think piano is the classic example — in the beginning you can learn quite rapidly to play increasingly complex songs, but eventually the speed with which new songs are being learned slows dramatically, and the subsequent thrill of practice might well fade as well — the reward is no longer commensurate with the sacrifice. If one continues, however, and gradually improves over time, there will come a time when the learning accelerates once more, and the thrill returns, and the ability increases sharply.

Learning a foreign language might be another example — it’s easy to learn a bunch of phrases to get you from the train station to the bathroom, or to order the fish instead of the steak, but eventually you slow down in the learning process. Later, after much slower progress, you finally SPEAK the language, and accelerating to mastery comes much more easily.

Meh, maybe you buy all that, maybe you don’t. The gist, however, is that most folks get bored or frustrated in the slow-growth phase, and give up before getting to the exciting third phase. I see that in myself — I’ve done the early-learning for lots of talents, like drums and piano and guitar, speaking Spanish, surfing, programming in Pascal, C, Java, and PHP, water-skiing, snow-skiing, stand-up comedy, improv comedy, drawing, 3D modelling… etc. Some of those I’m still in the earliest stages of learning, and can still enjoy rapid improvement if I return to spending time at them. Others I’m well out of the starting gate, and won’t see the same dramatic results.

So, that’s the background. What I was actually thinking of recently is the correlation between righteous living and happiness. I’ve come to feel that sanctification — not conversion or the initial remission of sins, but rather “being made perfect” — is where the real happiness is. That’s where you’re eating the fruit of the trees Lehi and Alma described. That’s where your joy is as exquisite as your pain ever was, where you have no more desire to do evil, but to do good continually.

The long period leading up to that joy (B) is where you’re nurturing your tree, or holding to the rod. It’s also the trial of your faith. If happiness was rewarded in exact proportion to our obedience, there would be no need for faith, because we’d receive a witness after every improvement in our lives. I contend that the joy that comes from, say, stopping swearing, is probably NOT going to be that earth-shattering, even if it’s a major milestone for you.

So I was thinking about this as I read Alma’s analogy of faith as a seed, and the subsequent tree bearing fruit of happiness. Then I remembered and reread where he says as the seed begins to grow, we know of a surety that it’s a good seed. And I thought about how the amount of growth in a seed over a period of a month or a year is obvious, but how the SUBSEQUENT year’s growth is much more relaxed. And I saw that I had my mental graph wrong, and that it was actually more like the learning curve.

There’s an initial growth period as we begin living the Gospel where we ARE rewarded greatly — I should’ve remembered that from my days as a missionary. That’s our initial testimony — that the happiness coming from Gospel living is real.

It gets rough, though.

The increase in happiness slows down. We feel like we’ve been playing the same tunes on the piano forever, without any real development. And it’s easy to STOP practicing righteous living, and even slip in happiness — which, as Alma says, is not because the seed is not good, but because we’re not willing to nurture it.

I think most folks who go inactive have experienced the joy of part A of the curve, and are near stagnancy or even regression along slope B when they feel like maybe they were duped. I don’t think they’re always steeped in sin when they leave — just that they’re not getting as much happiness from Gospel-living as they want.

The answer, of course, is to hold to the rod, press forward with a perfect brightness of hope, nurture their tree with patience, etc., until they get to sanctification somewhere in or around C.

And looking forward to C — HAVING that hope — should make B more pleasant. I think most members of the Church actually seem to think that C is a reward in the afterlife, or a reward reserved for prophets, but I firmly believe it can be ours in this life. I believe we won’t have a Zion society without people living and working at the C-level of happiness. I believe when we see one person in our daily lives that has reached it, we will be encouraged and strive harder to reach it. The first fruit-bearing tree will lead to a grove for those around it.

I think the prophets and plenty of the leaders of the Church as well as a minority of the members have attained the C-curve. I look forward to the day when a majority have attained it. And I really look forward to when I have attained it.


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