|Weekly Reflections on Life and Music|
Back in November I did some posts on “deliberate practice” as one of the most significant keys to developing skills. It isn’t 10,000 hours, it's how you spend those 10,000 hours. That was taken from the book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. They clearly believe- and can show- that there is not such a thing as “natural talent. It takes work- and lots of it.“Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it.”
“It’s doing what you love. I get that.”
“Right, it’s doing what you love, but not just falling in love—staying in love.”
(Grit, p. 53)
Another book from last year takes this to a different level. Angela Duckworth, in her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance asks the excellent next question. “How do you stay motivated to practice all those hours?” Ericsson and Pool raised the same issue when they noted that this “deliberate practice” is not always fun or easy. You have to keep working at it. Duckworth digs deeply into what she calls “grit.”
Like Ericsson and Pool she demythologizes “natural talent.
Nietzsche said. “For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking. . . . To call someone ‘divine’ means: ‘here there is no need to compete.’ In other words, mythologizing natural talent lets us all off the hook." (Grit, pp. 43-44)Great quote, and right on target. I can never be as good as [fill in the blank] because they have natural talent. Even trumpet players, known for our supposedly over-sized egos, may try to imitate Doc, Miles, or Maynard, “but you know- those guys had natural talent. I can never do what they do.”
Malarkey Nietzsche says. As do Ericsson and Duckworth and many others. There may be other reasons why we may not end up at the level of the greats, but natural talent isn’t one of them.
After showing her reasons why she doesn’t accept “natural talent, Duckworth went on to study “grit”, stick-to-itiveness, motivation in many different areas. When she got to music she affirmed Ericsson’s ideas. She then lists four barriers, “buzz-killers” she calls them, that keep us from sticking to the long haul.
“I’m bored.”I don’t know about you, but any one of those can- and does- crop up on a much too regular basis. These are the questions raised by the inner voice that tells us we aren’t good enough or that fears failing. In the book The Inner Game of Music, Barry Green calls this voice Self 1. It is the voice of interference. On the other hand there is Self 2, the voice of our talents, abilities, desires, grace. The trick is giving Self 2 the go-ahead and bringing Self 1 along. Duckworth then writes (with my comments in between):
“The effort isn’t worth it.”
“This isn’t important to me.”
“I can’t do this, so I might as well give up.” (Grit, p. 80)
…the research reveals the psychological assets that mature paragons of grit have in common. There are four. They counter each of the buzz-killers listed above, and they tend to develop, over the years, in a particular order.I love the phrase enduring fascination and childlike curiosity. Remember last week and the discussion on mindfulness? This fascination and curiosity is part of what we are building when we practice mindfulness. (By the way, how are you doing at developing that? Just thought I’d ask.) Not everything we do is exciting and adrenaline producing (think- long tones.) There are aspects of every job that are mundane and, yes, boring. But there is that initial interest. Don’t lose it. Stay mindful
First comes interest. Passion begins with intrinsically enjoying what you do. Every gritty person I’ve studied can point to aspects of their work they enjoy less than others, and most have to put up with at least one or two chores they don’t enjoy at all. Nevertheless, they’re captivated by the endeavor as a whole. With enduring fascination and childlike curiosity, they practically shout out, “I love what I do!”
Next comes the capacity to practice. One form of perseverance is the daily discipline of trying to do things better than we did yesterday. So, after you’ve discovered and developed interest in a particular area, you must devote yourself to the sort of focused, full-hearted, challenge-exceeding-skill practice that leads to mastery. You must zero in on your weaknesses, and you must do so over and over again, for hours a day, week after month after year. To be gritty is to resist complacency. ““Whatever it takes, I want to improve!” is a refrain of all paragons of grit, no matter their particular interest, and no matter how excellent they already are.For some of us the capacity to practice may be greater than for others. If you have a 40-hour a week job, you won’t be able to put in four hours of practice every day. But there has to be a discipline of doing it- and seeking to do it better than the day before. This goes on month after month. There are days when we don’t want to pick up that horn and go through the routine. But I have never met anyone who was sorry they did when they finished.
Third is purpose. What ripens passion is the conviction that your work matters. For most people, interest without purpose is nearly impossible to sustain for a lifetime. It is therefore imperative that you identify your work as both personally interesting and, at the same time, integrally connected to the well-being of others. For a few, a sense of purpose dawns early, but for many, the motivation to serve others heightens after the development of interest and years of disciplined practice. Regardless, fully mature exemplars of grit invariably tell me, “My work is important—both to me and to others.”Why am I doing this? I am sixty-eight years old. I will never be at the level of my trumpet heroes. Why is it important for me to get out that horn and practice every day? If I was just doing it for my ego reward of sitting in my practice room and hitting a high C on a regular basis, I would soon lose interest. Even (finally) being able to play Al Hirt’s Java never kept me going. But ever since I have been playing in groups- concert bands, big bands, a quintet- I have begun to (re)discover the joy of playing for others, of watching an audience respond, and yes, the ego reward of playing more challenging music. I may never play the Charlier etude in public, but it gives me the skill to play Copland or Gabrieli.
And, finally, hope. Hope is a rising-to-the-occasion kind of perseverance. In this book, I discuss it after interest, practice, and purpose—but hope does not define the last stage of grit. It defines every stage. From the very beginning to the very end, it is inestimably important to learn to keep going even when things are difficult, even when we have doubts. “At various points, in big ways and small, we get knocked down. If we stay down, grit loses. If we get up, grit prevails.” (Grit, pp. 80-82)Again, a great phrase- hope “defines every stage” of grit. Yes, I have blown solos with the band, or missed entrances with the quintet. Yes, some days my embouchure just doesn’t want to cooperate. Does any of that mean I have reached the end of my skill development? I HOPE not. When I have gone as far as I think I am able to go, grit will lose. I have always wanted to be a skilled musician. Other passions, such as my career vocation, were more important. Now, with time and practice, I have the hope that this dream will continue to be fulfilled.
Could I have done this earlier? Sure, but I wasn’t ready I guess. The old saying- when the student is ready the teacher(s) will appear- is true. I didn’t know it was possible. Now I do. I have lived this way in my vocations, however. Those four things of interest, practice, purpose, and hope led me through over 40 years in my careers of choice. No matter what you or I do for a living, we can apply them there- and in whatever else may be important to us.
Just don’t quit.