Purposeful Practice – the key to success
At our recent School Assembly we acknowledged the academic efforts and achievements of many of our students. I offer my sincere congratulations to all those who received awards and extend my gratitude to our academic staff whose dedicated efforts, support and inspiration have enabled our students to learn and develop.
Skills and natural talent alone are no guarantees for success. I have seen many very talented people achieve little in life – it is those who show tenacity and drive – who are prepared to persevere – they are the ones who will conquer the challenges before them.
The American writer Dale Carnegie said: “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”
The British writer and three times Commonwealth Table Tennis Champion Matthew Syed, undertook a study to see what makes people successful. He revealed his findings in the international best seller ‘Bounce’ – the Science of Success (2010).
We tend to assign words like ‘genius’, naturally gifted’ and ‘prodigy’ to people who achieve great success – yet Syed claims that excellence is primarily down to sustained ‘purposeful practice’. This cultural belief in giftedness creates problems at both ends of the scale: 1st the ‘gifted’ believe they therefore do not need to work hard at something and so squander their ability and 2nd ‘the non-gifted’, do not believe they have the talent and therefore do not bother to make the effort. His book asserts that with effort comes excellence (and through excellence, often comes success).
Therefore we should praise effort – not talent. Syed’s research has revealed the key factors that drive success: 10,000 hours of purposeful practice. Syed supports Gladwell’s assertion that a major component of success is many hours of sustained practice (10,000 hours = 2.7 hours a day for 10 years). However Syed insists it more then just hours – the practice itself needs to be ‘purposeful’ with high standards and quality feedback.
Another researcher by the name of Ericsson (’91) looked at violinists at the Music Academy in West Berlin. They were assessed into three groups (from able to least able). The only difference was the number of hours they practiced – 10,000; 8,000; and 6,000 hours – and the rule was unbroken – all 10,000 hour students were in the top category (and nor were there any 6,000 hour students in this top category).
They concluded, “The difference between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long persistence of deliberate effort to improve performance”.
Another study of British musicians found that the high achievers learned no faster than others per hour – they merely did more hours.
This finding has been validated in many sports (e.g. Tennis – Agassi hit a million balls a year). Even so called child prodigies (such as Mozart) put in the hours (he had clocked up 3,500 hours by the time he was 6 and had studied his art for 18 years before he wrote his Piano Concerto No 9 at the age of 21. Tigers Woods started when he was 2 years old. Serena Williams started playing at 3, and her sister Venus, at 4 years old.
Every now and then there is a new technique that dramatically lifts performance levels (eg - Fosbury flop in High Jump). But these are not sudden sparks of creative inspiration – they actually come from deep, sustained immersion in purposeful practice.
Artists such as Picasso, Michelangelo, and research amongst poets have all identified their creative inspiration came from hours upon hours of dedicated practice. Can I encourage you all to possess the courage and character to be the best you can be, to honour the gifts that you have been given and the future you deserve.
Have the courage to persevere. The determination not to give up when things are difficult.
Perseverance is one of the key qualities that you need to reach success. Persistence almost always leads to success. No matter what area or goals you are striving for, if you persevere you will succeed.
As Churchill reminds us:
“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence is the key to unlocking our potential.”