Discipline and Identity

You’ve probably read about the famous “10,000-hour rule”. It is widely used by many speakers and motivators. This rule says that to achieve mastery in any field, you must be ready to commit to at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. 

Defined by the journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”, the 10,000-hours rule is based on a study on violinists conducted in 1993. According to that study, the best artists had dedicated at least 10,000 hours to the relentless refinement of their talent.

Over the years the 10,000-hour rule has become very popular but has also received much criticism. In fact, it seems to suggest that practice and discipline are the only ways to reach excellence, placing the person’s talent and uniqueness in the background.

Recently, psychologist Brooke Macnamara of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland decided to repeat part of the 1993 study. Its results show that the 10,000 rule is quite an oversimplification.

In fact, among highly qualified performers, the amount of practice seems irrelevant. Every one of them has practised a lot and keep practising even once reached excellence. Therefore there must be other factors to explain why someone reaches higher levels of mastery.

Macnamara states that “When it comes to human skill, a complex combination of environmental factors, genetic factors and their interactions explains the performance differences across people.

Therefore, discipline is fundamental, but not sufficient to determine the final result. It must be combined with some other factors that, through disciplined practice, unleash the full potential of a person.

Another study, done in the 90s, again in the field of music, can give us a hint on where we should look at.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

In 1997, Professor Gary McPherson of the University of Melbourne decided to do an unconventional experiment to answer a simple question: Why do some children are quicker than others at learning an instrument?

For his study, he randomly picked 157 children between 7 and 9 years old. For years, he followed and monitored them, keeping track of their progress using biometric tests, recording their practice sessions and doing lots of interviews.

In particular, a question proved to be very insightful.

During the first interview, even before the begin of the first lesson, McPherson asked each child: “How long do you think you’ll play your new instrument?

Based on the answers, the children were divided into three groups depending on the length of their commitment: short, medium and long term.

What surprised McPherson was that the students of the group that had foreseen a long-term commitment improved at speed four times higher than the children of the group who planned to engage only in the short term. Even if they were doing the same number of hours of practice with the same frequency.

There it was, the most decisive element in defining the speed of learning in the kids was not the IQ or the sense of rhythm, or any particular motor skills. None of that.

The defining element was the perception of themselves that each child had, even before starting to play any note.

According to McPherson’s study, what was making some students better at learning an instrument was a voice within them saying “I’m a musician” instead of just “I’ll learn to play an instrument“.

The learning here is that when our actions are an expression of our identity, they are much more powerful and sustainable in the long term. Even for 10,000 hours.

To achieve excellence and success, we must, therefore, combine identity and discipline. Identity to design the direction and discipline to pursue it until we reach the aspired success.

We must, hence, develop what Don Miguel Ruiz calls the discipline of the warrior in his book, “The Four Agreements”. 

The discipline of being ourselves, whatever happens.

Maybe, for 10,000 hours until we fully realise who we are.

Sources

One Apple A Day #653 – being me

“When I shifted my attention from the change I wanted back to my identity, the change I was seeking just happened.”

This is a powerful insight that a dear friend gave me yesterday. 

In the past, when I wanted to change something in my life, I put all my energy and focus on the change I wanted to make.

Too many times, however, I’ve lost myself in the changes I was seeking. I was so focused on changing something in my world that I forgot who I was in that world. When that happened, I find my self lost and disconnected within the same changes I was longing for.

It is only when I shift my focus inward, that I can root my life in who I am and navigate through changes without losing my centre. 

While changes can depend on many factors. I’m the only one in the whole universe, who can be me.

“Know who you are because no one is better at being you than you are.” — David Droga

One Apple A Day #652 – the universe is my teacher

There is something to learn in everything.

In pain and joy.
In failure and success.
In fear and love.
In friends and foes.
In peace and conflicts.
In the present and in the past.
In my stories and in the stories of others.

Because for the soul, heart, mind and body of a student, everything and everyone is a teacher.

It doesn’t mean that we have to reflect on everything we go through in life to extract a lesson. That would be exhausting.

But we must nurture the learner’s attitude in our mind, heart, body and soul.

Sometimes the learning is manifest, sometimes is subtle, and other times it is apparently invisible.
However, if we keep the learner’s attitude, the learning will manifest itself at some point, in its own way.

One Apple A Day #645 – learn, always

“What is there to learn for me from this?”

Where “this” can be any experiences or situations, either positive or negative.

This is an important question that I’ve learned to ask myself as much as I can. In particular, when I go through something adverse or painful.

“What is there to learn for me from this?”

When I find something, even the tiniest lesson, to learn from an experience I live, then that experience becomes meaningful.

I know, it can be damn hard. 

However, I always found something to learn from everything that happened in my life. Sometimes, it took me literally years to discover what was my learning. Though, once I had that. Once I had uncovered my own lesson, all the suffering faded away, leaving space for new energy to come in.

One Apple a Day #637 – integrate and expand

I had a few experiences so powerful that they cracked the surface of my life. Some were tough and painful, others exciting and blissful.
All of them gave me the possibility to glimpse at my infinite potential opening up slits through the layers I’ve built around my essence.

However, those layers that I’ve built are not rigid and sturdy, like walls. Oh no, instead they are made of thick, viscous and sticky material.

So, creating an opening is not enough. Once the energy that opened the gap is released, those layers immediately begin to close on it. They slowly back to the old and well-known form. And the light gleaming from within begin to fade until it is all gone, and I am back where I started.

This is why what we do after a transformative experience is as vital as the experience itself.
The first days we must focus on integration. Using the strength pouring out from the newly opened gap, we must integrate into our lives what we’ve learned and discovered. We must take the time to reconnect with that energy and expand it from day one.
So the layers won’t go back to the old form, and maybe a crack, even if a tiny one, will remain on the surface.
And crack by crack, gap by gap we will be able to liberate our infinite potential.

 

Photo by Ben Klea on Unsplash

One Apple A Day #632 – outgrow your systems

I am a big fan of structures and systems. 

Maybe because willpower is not high on my list of strengths, I learned that they are vital to reaching any goal.

But there’s a caveat. 

They, systems and structures, should never become the goal.

If you want to reach a particular outcome, you can just rely on defining goals. No matter how S.M.A.R.T. your goals are, they are not enough to move you forward.

In the past, before I understood the importance of systems, I use to think that I wasn’t achieving success because my goals weren’t high, bold or smart enough.

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” — James Clear

Goals are the starting point to set the direction. But it’s only when you design a system around those goals that you make real progress.

Unfortunately, it is easy to fall in love with the systems we create. In particular when they work, obviously. 

Systems and structures are very sexy for the rational mind. They are made of shapes and forms. That means that, no matter how flexible they are, they still have boundaries and limitations.

When the system becomes the goal, then we are limiting our potential to grow within the boundaries of the system itself.

The best system is one designed to support and sustain our growth, as individuals, teams or organisations. 

The ultimate purpose of a system is to become obsolete.

So, when we outgrow it, we can mould into an evolved version of ourselves.

 

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

One Apple A Day #620 – good fences

They say that “good fences make good neighbours.
But is it?
Do they really make our neighbours better? If yes, how?

We build walls around us made of rules, policies and laws to feel safe. To protect what we have from others. To be sure that we can collaborate with others even if we don’t trust them fully.

But that’s the trap with walls. They close you in as much as they keep the rest of the world out. They protect your world, but at the same time, they make it smaller.

I believe that within every human being, there is this bigger extraordinary WHO longing to expand.
Like any substance, to expand it needs space.
Our bigger WHO also needs structures that can support its growth.
But it’s a delicate balance. Because if we don’t pay attention, those same structures become walls and fences that closed ourselves in. And without space to grow, we shrink.

So, that’s my challenge.
How can I make good fences that really make us good neighbours?
Fences that help all of us expand our bigger WHO instead of shrinking into our walled garden?

Searching for the source of this proverb, I found out it became common after Robert Frost used it in his poem “Mending Wall” published in 1914.

 

One Apple A Day #615 – out of the clay

Last Sunday, I joined an extraordinary group of men in a one day workshop. It never ceases to amaze me the magic that can bloom from a circle of men showing up with authenticity and willing to explore their vulnerability.

One of the activities we did during the day involved the use of clay.
At the end of this practice, we all were entirely covered with clay.
No wonder that people were stopping by to admire us.
A circle of man, standing still on the shore, covered in white clay head to toe. Like a group of statues from some ancient Greek temple.
We were beautiful.
Really.
At least, this is how I felt.
Beautiful.
The clay hiding all my imperfections.
So, I was standing there.
Still.
The sound of the waves, the warmth of the sun, the slight chill of the breeze.
And the clay was drying out.

The more the thick layer of clay was drying up, the harder it became to move. At some point, even opening my eyes was a struggle.
I was still feeling beautiful but, at the same time, I started feeling trapped.
And then I couldn’t feel the sun anymore. Nor the breeze.

Then we finally moved, the skin itching while the clay crumbled.
We entered the sea and quickly the clay dissolved into the salty water.
It was again me, welcoming back all my imperfections and all my freedom.

It was a fascinating experience.
Going through life, we add layers and layers of beliefs and stories around ourselves. And little by little, these layers become a shell, transforming us in a beautiful statue.
But also limiting our freedom to move, transform and grow.
So, sometimes we need to break that shell, to mould so we can create freedom and make space for new stories.
Like my experience with clay, the more we wait, the harder the shell gets. Getting out of it becomes painful, at the point that someone may decide that it’s easier to learn to stand still.

P.S. Talking about synchronicity. While we were there, standing in the circle becoming statues, a small crab started walking between us on the shore. And I was reminded of the story of the lobster that I love so much.

 

Photo by Karen Maes on Unsplash

One Apple A Day #604 – Connection

All of a sudden, the woods go silent. 

All the others are behind me and observing my movements, however, at that moment, I am alone.

There is nobody else. There is nothing else but me, the bow, the arrow and the prey.

It’s an incredible feeling that words struggle to describe.

Like being out of space and time.

Everything is happening incredibly slowly and fast at the same time.

I look at the prey. I choose the exact spot where I want to hit and then we are one.

The prey and me.

I can feel the connection as if there’s no distance at all.

I raise the bow, pull the cord and then liberate the arrow.

I know where the arrow is flying. I know where it is going to hit. 

I feel as if I always knew.

The arrow hits the exact spot that I visualise.

And then the world comes back.

The sounds of the woods, the voices of my friends.

I am back in the current space and time.

 

That was my experience of flow last Saturday. An utter sensation of just being one with everything. And everything happens effortless and naturally as if any obstacles have been removed.

It was not a pleasure for a good shot. That came only later.

It was a profound and potent sense of being whole.

It wasn’t the first time. I have the same experience sometimes when I’m writing, or when I’m immersed in a powerful conversation.

I’m still not sure how it happens. 

Anytime I try to deliberately create that feeling, I fail. 

And maybe that’s the secret. 

It’s not about trying more or harder.

It’s about setting the stage and allows for the flow to happen.

For sure, I’ve learned a valuable lesson.

Knowing your goal with clarity is not enough to get it. 

I must create a connection with it. I have to become one with my objective.

And then it will pull me towards itself.

P.S. Obviously, the prey wasn’t a real animal.

One Apple A Day #603 – Curiosity

“Being curious is better than being smart.” — James Clear

Curiosity is a propellent that ignites growth. Being smart is about using what you know in the best way possible. Yet, you’re still limited by what you know. It is curiosity that pushes you to explore beyond the boundaries of what you know. 

The word “curiosity” comes from the Latin curiositatem; “desire of knowledge, inquisitiveness“. And obviously, it’s connected to the Latin word curiosus “careful, diligent; inquiring eagerly, meddlesome“. 

So, when we nurture our curiosity, the unknown becomes like a magnet, calling us to explore and inquire. 

To do so, to cultivate a mindset of curiosity, we must train ourselves to look at things with fresh eyes. As if everything is new, with the same awe of a child exploring the world.

I also found it fascinating that the word curiosity is akin to cura, “care”. A curious person is also someone who takes “care” of something. And that made me realise that the other ingredient of a curious person is love. 

Love is what gives us the courage to go beyond the resistance created by fear. It is vital to act on curiosity.