- How good can I get at whatever I want to do? Let’s understand the general misunderstanding of talent. What does the research tell us?
- What is the process involved in all levels of meaningful skill development? How do I do it?
- Why don’t most people do it? Let’s understand the sociological factors that stand in the way of learning that most people do not even realize exist.
- How can I get myself to do it? Among other things – how can I get myself to practice more and/or better? Well take a look at what the research shows us about habit pattern development.
Helping others to best understand these things, and use them in their own improvement and teaching is what I do. Practice Coaching is in addition to lessons and examines what lessons do not have time for, “exactly how do I best learn this to prepare for my next lesson?” I also give clinics and workshops to groups of students and teachers, many times at the same time, in the Art and Science of Learning.
For 13 years I built and ran an internationally renowned high school music program. Through my experience as Chairman of the Music Program as well as classroom teaching, I came to realize that, with very few exceptions, anyone can accomplish high levels of performance. There are no B+’s in music (Imagine a concert in which a full 11% of the time there were mistakes!). Yet many times teachers who maintain a B+ average for a class are considered excellent. There is something missing here.
Through research and experience I began to identify the underlying process for this achievement and came to realize that there is a central generic process which underpins all improvement/skill acquisition, and it is not talent. This led me to research in the field of cognitive neuroscience. I have been able to apply what I have learned in the classroom as well teaching it to other teachers. This central process, broadly known as ‘deliberate practice,’ can be applied in any domain yet rarely is. Those who do apply it, even some of it, are the ones who appear talented. They advance and will continue to do so as they continue to apply that process.
Yet most people will not apply this process. Why? That is the subject of many papers and books, but to put it very simply it is because it is initially intellectually unpleasant. It is real brain work. Think of it as weight lifting for the brain (actually the same things are happening in the brain during this process that happen to your muscles when lifting. The brain is physically rearranging and growing in the areas governing whatever skill you are working on). You also must start it like weightlifting; small amounts at a time with recovery periods (breaks) when mental fatigue (confusion) sets in. The ability to apply the type of focus necessary will grow, but it can be difficult to work through the early stages without good coaching. Also, there are very many moving parts to this and a master coach can lead the less than experienced through this process thus avoiding many mistakes and making quicker progress.
And while there are certainly great short term benefits to applying this, getting to very high levels takes a very serious commitment. Therefore it is something few will do, and thus talent seems rare (Colvin). However if you apply the best practices in skill development for however many hours you are going to devote to it you will always be ahead of the crowd and truly enjoy performing.
The greatest performers in any field put in thousands of hours, which, on the surface, seems unimaginable, however as one progresses the work becomes inspiring and motivating.
So, how is this done? How do we make the most of whatever we are doing at any given time whatever our individual goals may be? First we need to realize that sustaining effort requires self-control which is regulated by the pre-frontal cortex of the brain (Baumeister). This area can be trained a little at a time to achieve the desired motivation. Principals of habit pattern development (Duhig) can be applied slowly until a process efficiency change occurs in the brain. Upon that foundation more work and greater focus can be developed.
Understanding the deep misunderstanding of talent can be very motivating. Understanding the mindset necessary (Dweck), such as that failure does not indicate you are bad at something, is important. You are supposed to learn from that. Everyone fails. There are many misunderstandings such as this that impede growth in skill development.
In short – hard work to improve is not at all what most people think it is and thus those that understand it stand out.
While this sounds hard there are ways to make it easier to the point it becomes fun. One of the most enjoyable states for your brain is to be involved in higher level tasks that are just beyond your ability in which you are problem solving using your previously developed skill. This is the state you are in when you are involved in something and hours melt off the clock. There is very good research on how to create this highly productive and enjoyable state, though it takes an initial stage of sustained unpleasant deliberate practice. One researcher who has dedicated his career to this, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced: Csikszentmihalyi), has given it the name, “flow.”
Each of these issues can be complex and there are many more as well. I’ve spent years researching this and applying it. It is important to have a coach/teacher who can see the big picture and know the 3 major areas governing skill acquisition (understanding the misunderstanding of talent/deliberate practice, self-control, and mindset) work together and how to navigate them efficiently and successfully.
We hope you will take a look around and find inspiration for your teaching and learning!