Thursday, November 17, 2011

Determination and Practice: the keys to success (who would have thought it?)

So I was reading this book the other day in the library (because that's what us librarians do all day ;) ) called 30 Second Psychology: the 50 most thought-provoking psychology theories, each explained in half a minute, edited by Christian Jarrett (2011, Murdoch Books).

I found this interesting entry entitled 'Ericsson's 10,000-hour rule':

'It's tempting to look at truly exceptional achievers - such as Olympic athletes and celebrated musicians - and conclude that they must have been born with a unique gift for what they do.

According to influential research by psychologist Anders Ericsson, however, the path to expertise is available to anyone who's prepared to put in the necessary levels of practice. How much? Studies of elite musicians, athletes and chess players suggest at least 10,000 hours of practice spread over a period of more than ten years.

What's more, not just any kind of practice will do. Ericsson says it needs to be what he calls 'deliberate practice', in which you don't just repeat what you know but instead constantly seek to stretch yourself. This inevitably involves forensic self-criticism, repeated failure and a dogged ability to keep dusting yourself down and trying again - a process that's not particularly enjoyable and quite distinct from leisurely practice.

Although Ericsson's perspective argues against the idea of innate gifts, his concept of deliberate practice does of course require a rare mix of motivation, good health and opportunity.' if we all give up our full time jobs and practice lots, we can become elite cyclists and compete in the grand tours or Olympics? Maybe not - I suspect that physiological giftedness does count for quite a bit, plus that 'opportunity' that is mentioned, such as racing cyclist parents, getting an early start as a junior in competition and training etc.

Where this theory IS useful for the rest of us though, is as a reminder that we shouldn't get down on ourselves so readily for not being the fastest, most skilled cyclist in our group (something that I need to repeat to myself regularly). We so quickly jump to the conclusion that we should be as good as that person we are riding next to, or behind (sometimes a fair way behind!), when all of us have had different amounts of time or opportunities to practice those skills and develop that power and speed.

I thought it was also valuable to read that we shouldn't expect that those hours of practice will always be easy or fun. It helps a lot to know that 'failure' and determination to stick with it even when it's hard and scary - to 'constantly seek to stretch yourself' - is key to improvement and success, even for elite athletes.

Of course, it shouldn't always be challenging - if every single training session is seen as a chore or 'hard work' rather than an opportunity to have fun, motivation to continue soon peters out - but it seems that a balance between the two is vital to improvement and success. And ultimately that's what gives long lasting satisfaction and a sense of achievement that keeps us all coming back for more!


  1. Very true words. Thanks Linda:-)

  2. Love it! what a great post Linda. two things ill add -

    Always remember that while you are training, everyone else in your group is training too.

    I've a sneaking suspicion that when some of you started you looked forward to the day when you could match another Valkyrie's pace up a hill or along a flat, and it can be a real mind bender if you never seem to get there. This was my experience in VMobile, I was the slowest, and when I go to a VMaxx session, I'm still the slowest. But its not because I haven't improved out of sight, its because they have improved too.

    There are also different strengths in cycling - which is what I love about it, there's something for everyone, and there's no 'one body type'.

    What will happen, if you train consistently, is that there will be more you can do in terms of keeping up on different rides. My smashing it up hills pace is never going to be anywhere near the climbers, but I can now comfortably hold a PROD with them - which I couldn't do initially.

    I know exactly what its like to be the one that gets dropped - but here's a sneaky tip for you, if you have a crack every now and again at a bunch ride where the pace is just a little out of your league, or a country scratch or handicap race thats just that bit faster than you've done before, or especially the crit races - those 5/10/15 minutes that you are smashing yourself to hang on are the most amazing training and practice that the others in the bunch who can hold the pace comfortably aren't getting.

    So when that happens - this is my big revelation - say to yourself; this is it. This is me, catching up to them and getting faster, right here and now.

    I think thats my favourite thing about cycling, those races that start off with all the 'omg ill never make it' in my head, and then you get to the point where you have to stop -

    and then you don't stop.

    See you at the crits tonight.