Couch Potato to Outlier: Practice is Key

Did your parents ever make you take piano or tuba lessons when you were a kid?  I bet they did and I bet you hated doing it because you didn’t think you had much of a future as a professional tuba player or it just wasn’t your passion.  There were, probably, things that you were passionate about and I bet you spent much of your free time doing those things simply because it made you happy to do it.  Motivation is a powerful force in our lives!

I tell my boys all the time that we get good at the things we do the most, the things we practice on a regular basis whether or not we are even aware of practicing.  Really?  How can you practice something and not be aware that you are practicing?  Easy.  Look at how you spend your time.  How much do you know about the contestants or judges on American Idol, or what happened on every episode of Lost last season? How much can you tell me about vampires?  Are you awesome at Assassin’s Creed on the Xbox or Words With Friends on your iPhone?  Guess what?  You’ve been practicing!  You get good at the things you do the most and most of us spend the bulk of our free time doing the things we enjoy…  Get the point?

In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell explores the reasons behind the phenomenal success of some people.  People who are not just good at what they do, but beyond good–off the charts good–outliers!  He discovered that these truly outstanding people had put in around 10,000 hours of practice by the time they became an “overnight success.” When the Beatles burst onto the American music scene, they had already put in over 10,000 hours of practicing and performing in night clubs in England.  When Michael Jordan turned pro, he had spend every available minute of his youth with a basketball in his hand!  Bill Gates had put in well over 10,000 hours programming computers by the time he started Microsoft.  While you may not aspire to be a “rock star” at whatever it is you want to do, the undeniable truth is this: you become good (or great) at something the more you do it!

So you want to start something, right?  You’re ready to be brave and face the fear of starting something new, right?  You’re ready to break the inertia of sitting still on your new endeavor, right?  Well, the way to begin is simply to begin practicing!  Do the thing and do it regularly so you develop the muscles needed to do it well.  Do it until it becomes a habit.

“But there are only so many hours in the day and I’m so very busy already”, you say.  I know.  I’m busy, too!  You may have to give up something or change your daily routine in order to start practicing something new.  It is also very important that you spend the time practicing in a way that doesn’t steal time from your family or employer! Here are some suggestions for finding the time to practice:

  • Get up 1-2 hours earlier every morning (my personal favorite!).
  • Stay up 1-2 hours later at night
  • Use your lunch break
  • Schedule an appointment with yourself
  • Turn off the TV for a few hours (you won’t miss anything important!)
  • Put down the game controller
  • Turn off your iPhone, iPad, computer, etc. for a few hours
  • Give up the time used doing something else (i.e. stop doing something!)

You’ve heard the phrase “practice makes perfect.”  Well, that’s wrong!  However, practice does make habits and that can make you better at what you are trying to achieve.

You may have guessed already that Day 4 of the “15 Habits of Great Writers” workshop is titled “Practice”.

Now, GO!  Go practice something!

Fear and Inertia

“She started it!” “No, he started it!” “No, she started it!”… We’ve all heard this one before… Somebody did something that didn’t go quite the way it was supposed to and now nobody wants to take responsibility for it. That’s the problem and part of the fear that keeps us from starting something: “It might not go as planned and I don’t want to look foolish or have to take the responsibility for the failure.” Am I right?

Take this blog for instance… I’ve been wanting to start a blog for a very long time. I think I’ve got some pretty interesting thoughts on a lot of different topics. I listen to a lot of really interesting audiobooks. I run. I coach. I play music. I’m a owner/partner in an amazing company ( with a wide variety of clients. I know lots of interesting people. My life, itself, is anything but boring and consistently produces lots of fodder worth blogging about. So why didn’t I start years ago? Answer: Fear and inertia!

Fear: Everybody is afraid of something. Snakes, spiders, the dark, clowns, gummy worms (well, maybe not those). The level of fear that you have concerning these areas will vary from person to person. Some people will be so scared of spiders that if they see just one or two in their homes, they’ll be ringing up their friends to come and remove them instead. Failing that, they may even consider using a professional terminix company to come and exterminate all of the spiders they may be loitering in their residence. There will be others, however, who will have this level of fear when it comes to something else. I’ve had to deal with many fears throughout my life, with the fear of rejection and embarrassment being the biggest. I remember writing poems and short stories in high school, but never showing them to anyone because I was afraid they weren’t good enough. I remember learning to play the guitar and sing and how terrified I was during my first public performance in college–worried that my friends would laugh or disapprove. We all deal with fear on many levels and it keeps us from doing the things we dream of doing.

Inertia: According to Wikipedia, “Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion.” Bottom line is this: it’s simply easier to keep doing the things we are already doing, rather than spend the energy (physical and/or emotion) needed to start something new. Procrastination is another problem that has plagued me for most of my life. I’ll just do it tomorrow. I’m even fond of quoting Benjamin Franklin, who said “Don’t put off to tomorrow the things you can put off until the day after tomorrow!” There are so many songs, stories, poems, letters and blog posts left unwritten just because I haven’t been in the regular practice of writing.

Day 3 of the “15 Habits of Great Writers” workshop is titled “Initiate”. Start something. Say something. Write something, anything. Just do it! That’s the theme of today’s lesson, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m starting the ball rolling, hoping it will pick up speed and develop it’s own inertia. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. It’s hard to change. I know all too well how hard it is to start something. But I look back on all of things I do now–things I love doing and are now part of who I am–and I remember the work it took to get those things moving and I am encouraged. I CAN DO IT!

What do you want to start but haven’t because of fear and inertia? A blog? A business? Exercising? Be bold, be strong and do it! You can start by leaving me a comment about this post!