Chris Mills introduces four transferable cubing skills we can all use to improve mental agility and problem-solving skills.
If you haven’t seen Netflix’s The Speed Cubers yet, set 40 minutes aside for one of the best documentaries of 2020.
Because while you might not associate the Rubik’s Cube with high-octane drama, elite-level ‘speedcubing’ – where the line between victory and defeat is defined by milliseconds – is some of the tensest, tightest competition around.
It’s also big business, with the World Cube Association (WCA) Rubik’s Cube World Championships attracting thousands of competitors every two years. And @RedBull have even got in on the action, with the Red Bull Rubik’s World Cup launching in 2018.
Eighteen-year-old Chris Mills is the UK’s fastest speedcuber. He holds national records for the fastest single solve time of a Rubik’s Cube (five seconds) and for the fastest average time over three solves (7.27 seconds).
When he’s not speedcubing, he studies part-time for an Open University degree and walks dogs around his village near Eastbourne, east Sussex, to cover his competition costs.
Here’s what he has to say about maximising the speed and power of your mind.
1. Find the ‘Flow’
I’ve been looking into ‘flow state’ a lot recently. I do my best cubing when I’m most relaxed, so I wanted to be able to regularly get in a stress-free frame of mind.
‘Flow state’ – popularised by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – is when your mind is completely relaxed and you’re not thinking about anything else. It allows you to lose track of time and get really quick solves.
When I got my record solve time at home – 3.98 seconds – I must’ve been in ‘flow state’ as I hardly remember anything about it.
To get into ‘flow state’ isn’t easy. You need to remove all external and internal distractions. Maybe listen to some music without words and focus on one very specific task – with a clear picture in your head of what you want to achieve.
Once you’re fully immersed in a task, in ‘flow state’, time slows down and you see more connections as your mind is at the peak of its problem-solving powers.
I’m still working on being able to recall my ‘flow state’ at will. Ultimately I want to be able to get into that mindset when I’m competing. If I can, it’ll ease some of the additional pressure that comes with having to perform in a tournament with only five chances at a solve.
2. Maximise Free Time
When I have a big break between competitions – like in the middle of a global pandemic – I try to use the time to develop my cubing technique.
Recently, I’ve been trying to learn more algorithms which I can implement into my solves in order to lower my move count and hopefully record even faster times.
My UK record for the fastest single solve time in competition is currently five seconds. But next month, when I compete in the Red Bull World Cup Finals, I’ll be up against cubers who regularly post sub-five solves.
They’re the best on the planet and it’s always amazing to test myself against those players – having as many algorithms as possible up my sleeve, which I can use in tandem, helps me get as close as I can to their solve times.
It’s important not to let your brain get lazy or stuck in a certain routine. With working from home so common now, there’s more hours in the day than ever before for people to develop skill sets or weave new techniques into tasks they’re already competent in.
3. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
In order to achieve automaticity being able to balance the various cubing algorithms and use them together – I need to ensure the moves are fully implanted into my brain.
When I’m solving in a competition, I don’t have time to stop and think. Everything has to be subconscious, recreating the patterns and moves which I’ve ingrained through muscle memory.
There’s no real substitute for this other than allocating time to repeating these processes, slowly integrating them into my brain and hands’ muscle memories.
On average, I’ll usually spend two to three hours a day just practising and repeating moves. Occasionally, when I don’t have much on, I’ll put on a Netflix show and cube for 12 hours straight. On those days I can complete up to 1,000 solves!
The key is to use whatever time you have available to repeat and ingrain your learned techniques. As some processes start to become automatic, your mind becomes more agile as you enable it to focus on more complex tasks.
4. Work Towards Something
Early in 2018, I noticed I was getting reasonably fast at solving – around the nine-second mark. The national record for average solve time was in reach, and suddenly I wanted it.
Having that clear goal in my mind gave my training purpose over the next few months: I knew what it was I was working towards.
With renewed focus and motivation in my practice, I ended up breaking the record. I think that’s a great life lesson: have a goal, visualise how you’re going to achieve it, then do it. You can apply it to pretty much anything.
Chris Mills is taking part in the Red Bull Rubik’s Cube World Cup 2020 on 7th November. Follow the competition at redbull.com