There’s not an artist, musician or sportsperson who doesn’t understand the 10,000 hour rule. No matter how inherently talented they are, they know that to get better they have to keep practicing. Regularly, every day, forever.
The same is true for the rest of us. Part of life-satisfaction comes from finding what we enjoy doing and then pushing ourselves, a little past our comfort zone, to keep trying to do it better. Sometimes that includes the mundane, it often feels hard and always requires grit. Grit is defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” It’s going hammer and tongs for about ten years with focused effort to get even close to Mastery. Of course we never reach absolute Mastery or perfection, but it is the seductive allure that keeps us going.
Carol Dweck, psychology professor at Stanford University says “Effort is one of the things that gives meaning to life. Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you and you are willing to work for it. It would be an impoverished existence if you were not willing to value things and commit yourself to working toward them”
Some people think Mastery is only for the talented. But Mastery is a choice, a mindset, a determination. The old Entity theory believed that intelligence or talent is hard-wired with a finite supply handed out only to the lucky ones, the rest of us left scrabbling for the remaining crumbs. However, the shiny new Incremental Theory has much more interesting things to say on the subject. It works on the belief that the mind is a muscle and needs constant work to gradually pump it up. We build intelligence, skill and talent. Musicians know this to be fact. No matter what bright little stars they were at five, they are not going to be walking the boards towards the grand piano at Carnegie Hall until they have worked their fingers to the bone to improve their game.
Your ‘thing’ may not be to tinkle the keys of the Moonlight Sonata, but as long as your starting point is something that you could enjoy doing a lot, for a long period of time, then you can work towards Mastery and life-satisfaction. Choose something that will give you the opportunity to grow and develop ad infinitum. You will never regret it. The process of stretching that mastery mindset muscle, is powerfully life enhancing. It doesn’t require Gongs, Trophies, Oscars or Big Bucks to bring a sense of achievement. It delivers that on its own. As Dweck says “the goal is to learn” not to prove you’re smart.
In her book the ‘Power of Yet’ Dweck describes her extensive work with children on the subject of Gifted or Learned Ability. She devised studies with two groups of students. One who believed themselves to be naturally gifted and another who were not burdened with this label. The tasks set were for children much older than the kids in either group, so essentially beyond the ability of any of the children selected. Dweck found that when the Naturally Gifted discovered they couldn’t do the tasks, they blamed the game and gave up. The other group, the Willing Learners, didn’t blame anything or anyone. They knuckled down, enjoyed the challenge and kept persevering through the difficulties, trying different approaches until they had achieved an end result. They weren’t hampered by a belief in their own in-built ability, they simply knew they didn’t know and set about learning how.
How liberating to set out into the world as explorers and Willing Learners, with a mindset open to expansion, buzzing with curiosity and commitment. Imagine how schools could help young people develop this way of thinking if education was not about getting an A* in French but about building up an ability to speak the language over many years, with exposure, encouragement, engagement and exploration. Take out the Ego of End results and put in the perseverance of ongoing process. My daughter struggled in her Spanish A level but instead of worrying about what result comes back to her on a piece of paper in August she is making plans to go to South America, volunteer to work with young children and improve her Spanish language that way. She has a learning approach to mastery, certainly not an entrenched gridlocked belief in her own static hard-wired ability. Improving her Spanish will become part of her life because it will be useful and enjoyable in an elastic and expansive experience of exploring the world.
Everyone has the ability to move mountains, it’s just done one clod of earth at a time.
If you want to learn more about mastering something in your life why not work with a Creative Thinking Coach. Email me on Lou@createlab.co.uk
For inspirational daily Picture Posts and illustrations follow me on Twitter @createlab or Instagram create_lab or Facebook Lou Hamilton