Monday, April 29, 2013

Self-identity resonance, primary and secondary skills, and commitment.

I really want to be good at Skill A (e.g. basketball or public speaking).  It is part of how I see myself.  It is part of my self-identity, which as I have discussed before (for example here and here) is powerful in driving behavior.  Behaviors that support your true self-identity are much easier to stick to, even when they are hard. 

But most skills require you to also develop secondary skills that on their own are pretty boring.  To be a good basketball player, you might have to practice free throws – shooting 100 per day and focusing on the boring mechanics that will lead to expertise.  To be good at public speaking you may need to build slide templates or practice where to put your hands.  These secondary skills are not part of your self-identity, so they are hard to commit to.  It is easy to take short cuts.  To quit early and do something else. To convince yourself that you have done enough already.  That developing this sub-skill is not really that important. 

So we know we want to be good at the primary task and are willing to dedicate ourselves to practicing.  But to develop expertise requires a lot of practice (10,000 hours is now the bestselling benchmark) and includes a deliberate and concentrated focus on the secondary skills as well.  How do you keep at it?  I have to admit, this is a personal weakness of mine.  There are a lot of skills I want to get better at, some of them important to my career or personal life.  But those secondary skills get in the way.  I haven’t figured out the secret of dedicating the mental concentration needed to build expertise in the boring parts.  If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them.