How and why “focusing on and finding joy in the process of achieving instead of [merely] having a goal…is magical and incredibly empowering”
For almost three decades, K. Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University have been conducting research on peak performance and the results clearly indicate that “deliberate practice” under expert supervision is far more important to success (however defined) than are talent and luck, although they have significance. This is precisely what Thomas Sterner has in mind when asserting that those who master the new skill to which the title of this review refers will possess “such qualities as self-discipline, focus, patience, and self awareness.” Moreover, he adds that these “all-important virtues are interwoven threads in the fabric of true inner peace and contentment in life.”
I agree with Sterner (who agrees with Ericsson) that it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of practice. “Everything in life worth achieving requires practice. In fact, life itself is nothing more than one long practice session, an endless effort of refining our motions.” Recall the reference to “deliberate practice,” also called “deep practice.” On average, peak performance in the creative and performing arts as well as in chess and competitive sports requires at least 10,000 hours of such practice (albeit difficult, repetitious, and boring pracice) under strict, expert supervision. Does that substantial commitment of time and energy guarantee success? No, but superior performance cannot be achieved without it.
As Sterner explains, he eventually became “immersed” – in his mid-30s — in practice after intensely disliking it for years and even abandoning it altogether. What he learned about music growing up “laid the foundation” that would later help him to understand both the mental and struggles in which he found himself when searching for answers. Whatever the nature of the activity (e.g. playing golf or a guitar or both), Sterner realized that various failures stemmed from a lack of understanding of “proper mechanics of practicing” as well as the mindset required to complete a process of goal setting and then do whatever must be done to achieve it. “Perhaps most important, I realized that I had learned how to accomplish just that without the frustration and anxiety usually associated with such an activity.” That in essence is the core insight that was finally revealed to him.
Here are three of Sterner’s the key points, supplemented by my parenthetical annotations:
1. The mind (what the brain is and does) can be expanded in two primary ways: by constant nourishment (e.g. meditation, knowledge, sensory experience) and by constant practice (i.e. increasing mastery of various skills).
2. Personal development and improvement requires a focused and disciplined approach to what is most important, especially when encountering setbacks, ambiguity, and fatigue.
3. Initiatives should be guided and informed by these four “S” words: simplify (“Make everything as simple as possible but no simpler,” Albert Einstein); small); short (the best way to eat a whale is one bite at a time), short (“baby steps” in the right direction rather than giant leaps in the wrong direction), and slow (establish an energy-efficient and awareness-expanding pace).
Development of the “practicing mind” is a never-ending process, best viewed as a journey, rather than as an ultimate destination. I agree with Thomas Sterner that none of the “truths” that he has examined are new. “They are just the eternal lessons that we have learned and relearned over the centuries from those who have questioned and found peace in the answers. This is where the fun begins.”
I envy those who have not as yet read this book and will soon do so, preparing for what I hope proves to the most enjoyable journey of personal discovery that they will ever experience. Bon voyage!
Joaquin Phoenix grabs Johnny Cash’s Guitar by the Neck – Your Communication (your Speaking) Tip of the Day
There are two kinds of speakers. The first kind – the far too frequent kind – is the kind that is afraid of the microphone, afraid of the audience, almost afraid of their own shadow. (Yes, I am overstating this to make a point). These speakers are simply too tentative. They approach the microphone slowly, tentatively, almost as if they were saying: “Is it okay if I speak to you now? Are you sure it’s okay? I’m not sure. I’m a little uncertain about all this…”
The other kind strides to the podium, grabs the microphone, and says, in attitude and almost in words, “Listen up. I’ve got something worthwhile to say; something that will be valuable for you to hear. I promise not to waste your time. So, let’s get going.” This speaker oozes self-confidence. This speaker is assertive, almost aggressive. Yes, he or she can cross the line into arrogance. But there is a self-confidence in this approach (and/or maybe it is not an approach; maybe it is close to attitude; maybe even “personality”) that grabs an audience by the throat and makes people want to listen.
This is the approach you want to aim for.
So, here is your model. I remembered this from years ago, in an interview with Joaquin Phoenix, as he prepared to play the role of Johnny Cash in the movie Walk the Line. Here’s a paragraph that describes it, taken from Cinema Review Production Notes:
From the minute he got the part, Phoenix began carrying a guitar.
Phoenix knew if was going to get inside the soul of Johnny Cash, he would first have to get inside the soul of the musician. Cash’s stage mannerisms and guitar style had to become an organic part of Phoenix’s performance. Recalls Mangold: “One of the things John told me about whoever was going to play him was, ‘I just hope they know how to hold a guitar. You don’t hold it like it’s a baby and you’re frightened it’s going to break. You grab it by the neck.’ So I knew that Joaquin had to approach his guitar like it was something he had lived with all his life and that’s what he did.”
“You don’t hold it like it’s a baby.” You grab it by the neck… You own that guitar; you grab the microphone; you own that microphone… And when you own that guitar, when you own that microphone, you have a shot at owning that audience.
(All of this assumes, of course, that have prepared your music/your speech well).
Was Johnny Cash arrogant? Maybe. But when he sang, he was certainly not tentative. He was in his element. And that’s what a good speaker is. Not tentative, but in his element.