Being inspired

Sometimes I write things on this blog that am almost ashamed to admit it took me years to realise. I find that the great revelations for me appear not as a flash of light but a slap on the forehead. The corollory of that is that I also hesitate to tell you guys what I learned because...well.... you probably all worked it out long ago....

My latest flash of the bloody obvious is that working on things you truly enjoy will cause you to become much, much better at them. I read a while ago that the latest research on the creation of expertise, a high level of a particular skill, has little to do with innate talents (yes that is NOT what you expect) and everything to do with large amounts of mindful practice. About 10,000 hours of mindful practice actually. That means gaining expertise at anything requires remaining motivated during many hours of practice AND being prepared to think carefully and critically about what you did: that is what mindful means. If you rattle off a non-challenging task and are not looking to improve in any way the practice will not benefit you.

So you had better love it. To bits. Otherwise you will never, ever put in that amount of effort. I must certainly have clocked up the requisite number of hours driving cars of various kinds by now, but I am not an "expert" car driver. That is because I do not pay attention to what I am doing, I am not engaged with driving the car and seeking to perfect my practice of it. On the other hand, I can swim a pretty decent crawl now, because I once spent a six months (between girlfriends) swimming four times a week. I did a lot of laps and, crucially, swam with great attention. I noticed what worked well and what could be better. I tried new positions, different timing and also observed other people who could swim faster than I could. I enjoyed getting better and better and relished the feeling of growing skill.

The lesson I took from all of this was to look carefully at the work I do and to write down in a journal exactly which activities had been the most enjoyable and fulfilling and what exactly I had been doing when I had those feelings. That did not change my job title, description or responsibilities. It did lead to me working in a certain style. Where other people do things by making a detailed breakdown, I do similar things by getting my ideal team together and focussing them on what needs to be done. Where one person will make a huge GANTT chart, I will make a simpler chart and run fast, sharp meetings to track the details. I am just happier, and a ton more effective, doing it my way.

A nice side effect is that having a big list of sucessful moments is wonderful for cheering you up when times are tough. All you need is a notebook and a little quiet time to focus on "what did I do really, really well this week/month/year?"

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