Bounce looks at the science of attaining high performance, and how to get there
Training can take you much farther than talent.
Many people overrate the importance of talent. Mozart, one of the greatest composers, for example, would be assumed to possess incredible talent.
But studies have discovered that practice time, not talent, is the deciding factor when it comes to prodigious talent. The book Outliers made the 10.000-hour rule famous.
It was discovered in many studies, that top world champions of any discipline had all put in an around 10.000 hours of practice.
A study of young violinists found that star performers had at least 10.000 hours of practice under their belts, while the least skilled had only practiced 4.000 hours. There was no exception to that rule.
Set the bar always higher than your current level of skill
Darius Knight, a promising table tennis player, was praised so much for his extraordinary talent that he reduced his training. The result was that his performance plummeted until a new coach got him to focus on working harder.
We tend to plateau once we reached a certain point of skill/performance. That threshold of skill differs, but most people practice less and less hard once they think that they are good enough.
That threshold where people stop working to improve their performance can be determined by peers, teachers, grades, or the level of pleasure derived from your performance.
The best way to never stop trying to improve a skill is to embrace failure, not as a failure, but as a learning opportunity. You should see failure as a feedback mechanism rather than something to avoid.
To become a champion you have to raise the bar continuously, strive for skills that are out of your reach. That way you will assure not to plateau and stay stuck on the same level of performance.
Intensive practice changes the way your brain works
Tenis player Desmond Douglas, one of the top player in the UK, was known for his lighting-fast reactions. Yet, after performing reaction speed tests on all national team players, Scientists found that Douglas had the slowest reaction time of them.
How can it be that he had one of the fastest reactions in practice?
The first reason is that his brain learned to read patterns more effectively. He learned to estimate the trajectory of the ball very efficiently, which gave him more time to respond than less experienced players who weren’t able to read those complex cues.
Second, due to the amount of practice he put in, his reactions became automatic, which means that he needed very little conscious thought to perform.
When we first learn a new skill our conscious part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex is very active as it has to monitor our actions steadily due to the unfamiliar settings. But once we have enough practice, the processing becomes automatic, and we don’t need to think about it, which decreases our reaction time dramatically.
Fixed vs. Growth Mindset
As explained in the book Mindset, people with a fixed mindset believe that skilled people owe their success solely to their talent. If they see a top-notch performer, they would suggest that it is a result of talent and not endless hours of practice.
If you want to maximize your skills, you have to adopt the growth mindset. Growth mindset means that you believe you can constantly improve and acquire new skills.
A study showed that children with a fixed mindset tended to doubt their intelligence and gave up earlier when being confronted with a puzzle. Other children faced the situation differently. They tried harder and became better puzzle solvers as the problems became more demanding.
Children should be rewarded for their commitment and enthusiasm rather than talents. Rewarding children for their talents makes can lead to a fixed mindset.
Motivation can be triggered by trivial conditions
South Korea for a long time, wasn’t really on the map of professional golf. But once a South Korean named Se Ri Pak won the LPGA Championship in 1998, South Koreans identified with his success, and the number of South Koreans on the LPGA tour multiplied. This effect is called motivation by association.
In another study, undergraduates had to work on unsolvable math puzzles. Before they began, they had to read a report written by a supposedly successful mathematics graduate. When the graduate’s birthday was tweaked to match the birthday of the students reading it, those students tended to persevere 65% longer than their peers.
Sometimes something as trivial as an insult or a demonstration can trigger our motivation. Football player Mia Hamm found such a motivation when her coach told her that she had to mentally switch on the motivation every day and demonstrated this point by turning off the light switch in the room.
You have to convince yourself to be a winner
Top athletes convince themselves to great lengths that they will win. The reason is simple. It improves their concentration, helps them remain calm, and enhances their motor control. Key factors necessary to reach top performance.
Doubts can lead your mind to “draw a blank.” A well-known phenomenon, for example in public speaking. Your mind influences your physical state, so you should adopt the right mindset first.
Pressure and the implicit/explicit brain.
Imagine you are in a situation which demands a lot of care like for example, walking over an expensive white carpet with a glass of wine at a party. You want to avoid spilling the carpet at all cost, which makes you focus consciously on your every step. This type of focus is called the explicit brain system.
The explicit brain system is activated whenever we try to control our movements consciously. It is rather slow, and we use it whenever we try to learn a new skill.
The other system is called the implicit brain system. It is the “autopilot,” we use it when we perform a task automatically without having to think consciously about it. This system can be developed through enough practice and has many benefits. It lets us perform more swiftly, and even process several tasks simultaneously.
Avoid choking by undermining the importance of the situation
Whether public speakers or top athletes, facing a career-defining situation can make people perform suboptimally despite being well prepared.
The reason is that when we face a lot of pressure, our brain switches to the explicit system, which as you know, performs much worse at complex tasks and multitasking. As a consequence, we choke.
A good way to eliminate the pressure and avoid choking is to convince oneself that the competition is irrelevant. Doing so in crucial moments, can avoid switching to the explicit system and thus, result in optimal performance.
Also published on Medium.