How do we get good at what we want to do? Are some people unbelievably talented or have they just found ways to maximize their ability? How is it that some people learn quickly, but lose interest over time, while others start slow, but with practice, achieve great skill? Having a talent does matter, (Einstein, Picasso, Aretha Franklin), but on its own, it isn’t enough. Here are some ideas for greatness, if you are willing to take the plunge.
Angela Duckworth, in her book, Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance, says it is the quality of practice, not the quantity that is important. She encourages the use of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is where the learner focuses on areas where they are weak. They identify goals and develop strategies. Practicing this way forces us out of our comfort zone. The body, trying to avoid discomfort will respond by building up tissue to support the activity. Body builders rely on this principle. Without deliberate practice, we cycle around at the same skill level or sometimes drift backwards.
Having a supportive environment is very important. A teacher/mentor can help by giving guidance and feedback. Family and friends bring needed encouragement and if you are inclined, performing can give you a lift.
For most people, endless repetitions, getting up at 4am to swim laps or being outside your comfort zone isn’t much fun. Practice is habitual and requires grit and determination.
Angela Duckworth describes four contributors to building good and lasting habits:
- An interest in the subject.
- A capacity to do deliberate practice. Know what is and is not deliberate practice.
- A sense of purpose. The activity is meaningful beyond the self. For example: winning a medal for your country.
- Hope. The hope to keep going when hope is lost. How individuals deal with inevitable disappointments. Einstein was rejected when he first applied to university.
For parents, thinking about this for their children. With small children, keep learning fun. Children are natural learners and will work at the things that give them joy. Respect their autonomy.
There is an enjoyable side to practice. The road to success is paved with small steps and each one achieved can bring great satisfaction. It is the journey that matters most.