I’m working on some more technical vision nerdy posts for the near future but meanwhile I came accross an interesting Time Magazine article.

A 30 year old commercial photographer named Dan McLaughlin living in Portland, Ore., quit his job and decided to make some changes. He committed himself to a goal. Someday he’d be playing the Masters Golf Tournament, but until then he had barely swung a club in his life. Since his 30th-birthday he has logged about 4000 hours of practice time and has lowered his ‘handicap’. Since April 2010, he has worked on his game six days a week, living off savings and some wise stock picks and by renting out the house he bought five years ago. Right now, he’s better than 85% of the male American golfing public.

For Robert Bjork, psychology professor at UCLA, McLaughlin is a lab rat in the human form. He’s testing a popular theory developed by Anders Ericsson that, on average, 10000 hours of deliberate, efficient practice can produce international expertise in fields like chess, dance and swimming. Ericsson based his theory on the careers of professional musicians who tended to start their 10000 hours before they could read. A 30-year-old starting from scratch was new to him. “I’ve never heard of anyone else committing to it like this,” says Ericsson, who has advised Mc Laughlin. “It’s like Dan is going into mental space, seeing what’s possible.”

McLaughlin knows it’s a long shot. “I couldn’t imagine a more frustrating pursuit,” he says during a practice round. Dan’s progress is amazing but as you start pushing the extreme of the distribution curve it gets increasingly difficult. Whatever McLaughlin’s odds, academics are watching him closely. On the annual Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Performance – a gathering of the country’s top learning and memory researchers- the Dan Plan was a hot topic. “It has much grander implications than golf”, says Mark Guadagnoli, a kinesiology professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

McLaughlin might be a case study for coaches, teachers and anyone interested in how to learn faster and remember better, because his training routine incorporates interleaving. Pupils often receive the message that blocked practice, or repeating a task over and over, will improve performance: hit 100 drives, shoot 100 free throws, read a chapter three times. But on the golf course, you don’t get 20 tries on the tee. Bjork’s hunch is that interleaving, or mixing things up, is the right way to train, so McLaughlin is continually switching up clubs and altering targets. As alluring as the 10000 hour rule has become, the number of hours you put in might not be as important as what you do with them. Bjork scans the other golfers on the range pounding ball after ball and pities them. “Ninety-five percent of the people here are doing it wrong,” he says.

 Studies show that interleaving works. Novice putters who mix practice distance perform better on follow-up tests. Variety helps not just motor learning; Bjork has shown in experiments that interleaving improves recall too. In one study, college students learned art styles better by interleaving various painters. …  

“What we’re talking about is finding the biological sweet spot,” says Guadagnoli. Interleaving gives the brain a better workout because mixing tasks provides just enough stress to trigger the release of a hormone called corticotropinreleasing factor (CRF) in the hippocampus, the brain area central to memory and learning. CRF strengthens synapses. For McLaughlin, all this just stressful-enough slogging is paying off. “The fun of this isn’t playing the rounds,” he says between shots. “It’s experiencing the payoff from practice. You work on something, and it starts to click. Those aha moments are gold.”

This article interested me for a couple of reasons:
1. Insane commitment. 
If you want to learn something you never learnt before and some people think is impossible, you must indeed go to that mental place and ‘see’ what’s possible. My first mental space of this kind in Vision Therapy was Fixing my gaze but the longer I pursue this alley, the more science and real life experience are proving me visual recovery is possible.

2. 10 000 hour rule
I like numbers, or at least I like quantifying things, in order to measure progress. In case of visual rehabilitation  the 10000 hour rule can be used differently in my opinion. After a life time of visual regression accumulating into three years of debilitating double vision and some counterproductive strabismus surgeries, I was ready to give up. In total despair I did one last attempt to find a solution and I found it. I started to understand what had gone wrong for all these years and started putting vision improvement first as much as I could. You are seeing every waking hour, but you aren’t training your vision every waking hour. But even if you are not training, as long as you don’t visually over-train by obsessively killing yourself over study loads you can start to allow visual improvement. If you are having double vision 24/7 you ARE doing vision training just by being awake. The only time you are comfortable is when your eyes are closed. The trick is not to over-train  Not kill improvement by wanting too much or let the environment push you into situations that jeopardize your goal. This is hard. Everyone and everything can be the enemy. Coming from absolute binocular vision rock bottom and assuming one tries to see (but doesn’t manage to even see a single image for the first 20 months) for 10 hours a day, I estimate it will take me a 1000 days of nearly uncompromising pursuit of proper binocular vision in order for me to achieve some stereovision. This comes down to two years and nine months. Interestingly enough that checks out with my former intuitive estimations. Earlier I expected to start seeing some single imagery in September 2012 and that prediction came true. I’m curious whether this next prediction will come true. I admit I just ‘made up’ that 10 hour assumption and might be considered arbitrary, but I didn’t make it up in advance so it would fit. Well, we’ll see in a few months, won’t we?

3. Interleaving

It’s also one of the basic principles in VT. If you monotonously do one exercise or train one aspect of vision you won’t build a diverse repertoire of visual skills you need in life. The goal is a strong and solid visual system that can easily adapt to any situation or task. In fact, it’s just a fact of nature as far as I can tell… Diversity is stronger than mono-culture  It’s also yet another indication of why having your eye sight checked with a Snellen chart at a distance of 10 meters without further testing of visual skills is just idiotic.

4. Aha moments

It’s true that this whole process of vision improvement isn’t exactly fun. Acquiring vision skills everyone takes for granted or as the article puts it, everyone has started their 10000 hours of training for before they could even read, isn’t much of a blast. In fact it’s mind crushing most of the time as you are trying to cope with the other symptoms. However, if you keep at it and see that you do actually start to have some single vision after 1 year and 8 months of putting your vision first despite what everyone says is pretty cool. I wouldn’t go so far to call it rewarding yet but still. Lately I can track birds and passing cars with both eyes and they don’t go double, that’s pretty neat too. You gotta live in your own mind though, no one is going to understand what’s so awesome about it.

5. Frustration/Stress

Frustration and stress are part of the factors that made me end up in this mess. Once the whole thing comes down and all expectations are shattered, I tried to let go and manage the stress and frustration in a way that would not compromise the visual improvement. Now that’s what I call FRUSTRATION… After twenty years of maltreatment and leaving you with this visual mess, you and no one else have to clean up. So after already losing all that time you realize you are gonna have to put your life on hold  and put in more years because of other peoples stupidity and try to acquire some basic skills most people have effortlessly.

6. Learning how to golf is not the same as overcoming visual brain deficits and VT is not a choice 

I like the guys attitude and stamina though. It’s that kind of perseverance  that gets an adult through VT, except for the fact that this isn’t just some kind of training. Visually traumatized patients really are sick and often are in a less favorable position financially because of it. So if you are unlucky enough to have your strabismus treated by regular eye doctors it’s going to take an obsessive mind, lots of stamina, courage, pain and some kind of social network to help you. That’s why I am very grateful I have been granted the opportunity to correct this grave error.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Charlie B Scroggins Reply

    HI, My name is Charlie. I am 28 and about a year ago I found out that I had this strabismus in my right eye. I often stuggled with double vision but never thought it was anything different from what everyone else saw because to me it was normal. I found out when looking back on every picture I ever took I had a head tilt. I thought this was weird, and when I would tilt it the opposite direction I would instantly get double vision and not be able to see. I asked an eye doctor finally and got the news. Most people probably wouldnt care having lived with it their whole life and never noticing. But this is really affecting my life now and if there is hope to correct this I desperately wish to. See I play golf and I’m trying to do it for a living. I’ve been playing my whole life, I recently graduated from a Division 1 university where I played at the top collegiant level. I’m really good but something is really holding me back and it’s my putting. Ive always noticed my putting problem but never knew why other then just your not good enough and I needed to practice more. See Im right handing and when I address putts and look up to see the hole with my head cocked I get double vision and lose perception and depth. Since I’ve went most of my life with a tilted head I now understand why I see break in the greens when there isn’t and not when there is. What led me to your article was googling golf and strabismus hoping to find someone with my problem. I have been unable to find anyone complaining about how difficult it is to putt with this problem. Interesting enough I did see this guy and his 10,000hrs of golf. I still think this guy can never make it because even with all the proper practice there is still the six inches between your ears, which ruins great golfers. But that is not my topic. I was hoping you could share some treatment and give me hope that I can correct this. The eye doctor I saw said it was too late and nothing could be done now. I didn’t come this far to hit a road block in putting to give up. But if I’m blind I can’t win no matter how strong my will.

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