How do you become good at something? Most psychologists agree it’s repetition that makes something easy for us to do and that’s borne out by a study of our brain, which fires neurons in a repetitive way, called habituation.
But when we do something so repetitively that we don’t enjoy it any more, it becomes boring.
Unless we have a particular taste for it, or it keeps our interest. A friend of mine has had the hobby of building model cars for many years. It would bore me to tears, but he absolutely loves it, and cannot wait to get his hands on new model cars to build. Even though he has over 150 already!
What makes it so he can really enjoy that hobby? And how could we become good at something through practice without boring ourselves rigid?
Well, it’s been proved that we can become good at something if:
1) We really want to achieve it
2) We believe we really can achieve it
3) We enjoy trying to achieve it
And that third point is the real biggee!
Most people, when they are trying to improve or develop a skill, really want it and believe they can achieve it. However, if they practice on and on and on, and don’t achieve it, then most start to give up, eventually coming to a halt and leaving it. The trying to do it is the everyday reality of practice. Trying is exactly the opposite of achieving. Trying is actually NOT achieving it.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about research carried out at the Berlin Academy of music. The researchers studied three categories of violin players: the stars, the good performers and those who would end up teaching but not performing.
It turned out that the number one predictor of which category the violinist would fall into was the number of hours they tried and practiced.
The future teachers had practiced up to four thousand hours. The good performer, up to eight thousand hours. And the stars? Each one had practiced over ten thousand hours. According to the author, ten thousand hours was the magical number that people need to practice before they become stars at anything. That equates to over five years of full-time work to become a star. And that’s while learning and practicing along the way.
This means you had better start enjoying something you are practicing. You’ll simply not spend ten thousand hours practicing something you won’t enjoy. Find your passion first. Then practice. You’ll not practice long enough if you don’t enjoy it.
Make sure that you’re persistent in what you enjoy. That way, you’ll enjoy spending the time it will take to master it.
Head of Training
Originally published: 6 June, 2012
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