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Origami, golf and the immeasurable value of learning a new skill

I don’t play golf. But a friend of mine tells the story of a game, early in his career, which pushed him over the edge.

After multiple shanks, chunks, and fluffs, culminating in a triple bogey on the eleventh green, he snatched the bag of clubs from his caddie, stormed to the edge of a nearby lake, and threw the lot – woods, irons, putters and all – into the water.

Fortunately, it was a second-hand set so he was only down by about £75. But he never went back to the fairways. That was it. No more rounds for him.

Sheer persistence. A skill in itself

Although not all of us play golf, it’s a feeling everyone experiences when learning a new skill. My most recent ‘clubs in the lake moment’ hit me about an hour into an origami tutorial in the pub last week.

A bit of context – a couple of good friends are getting married in a few weeks’ time. Part of the decoration involves 1,000 origami peace cranes. After a lengthy bout of arm twisting I volunteered for the production line. What could be hard about folding paper after all?

Several botched attempts later, I was ready to scrunch up my latest failure and chuck it into the bin. I was angry, frustrated, somewhat humiliated. I wasn’t used to being bottom of the class. I know it sounds comical (and it was), but the sheer persistence required to learn a new skill was beyond me.

Getting through the frustration barrier

But I stuck with it. Half an hour later – give or take half-a-dozen slips of wasted paper – I was turning out passable peace cranes that were just about recognisable as such. Although I suspect they’ll be hidden behind hundreds of pristine versions on the big day itself.

Getting through the frustration barrier was critical, a lesson in how important it is to be learning constantly. It reminded me that the skills you acquire at the end of the journey are only one of the benefits.

Being a beginner at something, anything, required a completely different mindset. I had to surrender all control to patient friends who walked me through the folding process. I had to work up the courage – yes, courage – to ask for help when I got stuck along the way.

My communication abilities also improved. Origami brings a whole new vocabulary: squash folds, valley folds, fish bases, to name but three. I had to be as dexterous with my words as I was with my hands.

Learning in a group was a refreshing experience too. Away from screens and devices, Google and YouTube, I had no choice but to observe the experts around the table.

Re-wiring the brain

I started to understand the value of doing nothing, instead of running around in circles. Whenever my learning curve started to plateau, I took a break for a few minutes.

When I came back, folding and creasing felt much more natural, as if the brain, in resting mode, has time to ‘hard-wire’ the skills that you’ve been practising over and over again.

Finally, yes, I took real delight in being able to fold a small piece of paper into a recognisable object. Peace cranes rate about two out of five on the origami difficulty scale, but for me it felt like a real achievement.

I’d also recommend origami as a very effective form of relaxation and meditation. But make sure you get a patient teacher, and resist the temptation to throw everything in the lake when the going gets tough, because it will!

Interested in a bit of origami 101? Here’s a good tutorial: How to fold a peace crane

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