10,000 Wasted Hours

How are you getting on with your New Year resolutions? We’re 10 days into 2018 now and by now you should have been able to identify which of them are going to be straightforward and which are going to be more of a challenge. Some of the things you might want to achieve could involve overcoming a number of deeply ingrained habits.

Those things which are relatively easy to do are also easy to become habits. In terms of healthy habits you can probably train yourself to drink a glass of water every morning in about three weeks or eat a piece of fruit with your lunch in about six weeks. Anything more physical can take longer, even when you account for the amount of training you need to prepare your body for exercise.

In addition, anything more complex requiring the acquisition of new skills will take longer to become a habit. Suppose you wanted to spend an hour a day playing the piano and you don’t currently play the piano then you need to go through the whole learning how to play thing before you can have a go at bashing out a few bars of Beethoven or Bach before breakfast.

Establishing a habit is only the start. You have to maintain it. Doing a few press-ups two or three times in a couple of weeks is not a firm basis for a new exercise regime. Having said that, it’s precisely the sort of thing I do. I haven’t been for a swim or a bike ride yet this year. I have done 90 minutes of rather inelegant yoga and I might be able to get to another yoga class on Friday morning. That’s a start of sorts, depending on whether I actually get to Ashtanga.

The popular notion that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something is a little simplistic but it has some value. I have had a lot more than 10,000 hours of lying in bed in the morning, farting around on Facebook and Twitter instead of getting my arse up and moving and going for a run or a swim or getting to my yoga class. I am an life-long expert in indolence.

Those 10,000 hours need to be deliberate practice, focused on improving performance at whatever task you’ve taken on. Going back to our putative pianist, he needs to realise that he’s going to have to spend time on scales and studies, learn how to read music and that’s not the easiest thing to do. There is a piano in the corner of the room I’m sitting in now and it spends most of the time as the resting place for books full of unused sheet music and a forlorn ukulele. At least Anne is ignoring the piano and I am only neglecting the ukulele. (I am neglecting to mention the guitar lurking down the side of the piano.)

These are both things that we acquired when we thought it would be fun to try things we last tried when we were much younger. Life gets in the way and in Anne’s case she was tangled up in her next writing project while I was tangled up in the sheets of my bed and distracted by social media. My expert performance is in displacement activities.

So, if your resolutions aren’t going well, you can always step back, examine them, consider whether they’re worthwhile, give them another go if they are, and change a few things to give yourself more chance to succeed. If New Year is just another day, then so is tomorrow and it’s just as good an opportunity to make a new start as 1st January.

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