Why Practice Matters

by Elli Caldwell

In his book Outliers, writer Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion that the only thing standing between you and becoming an expert at something–anything–is 10,000 hours of practice. While this idea may oversimplify the process by excluding the impacts of genetics and environmental factors, it does point to something that we see repeatedly in our work which is being explored in intriguing ways by a wide range of disciplines:

Practice matters. Repetition, trial and error and dogged commitment are what change habits, build skills and develop new ways of being.

Change Bob_Gilmour

Our clients come to us with an interest and resolve in developing themselves for the better in both personal and professional capacities. We call this work “leadership development,” though we refer here not to our roles in the work place but to the responsibility we each have as we lead the whole of our lives.

With our clients, we identify the skills and capacities that will be the focus of our work with each person. Common threads include developing openness, curiosity and authenticity, among many other qualities. We use inquiry as a way in to what can be somewhat heady topics:

How can I remain open, even when challenged or triggered by another person or event? How can I approach adversity with curiosity instead of fear? How can I stay authentic in environments where I feel diminished?

And then, we get out of our heads and we practice. We go to work, we interact with our families, we go through our day to day and we observe, we try, we falter, we reflect and we try again.

As Daniel Goleman explores in a recent article, engaging consciously in this way with our habitual responses involves rewiring the basal ganglia, the part of the brain involved in routine behaviors. With practice, our brains can effectively unlearn old habits and learn new ones in their place. Goleman outlines the five key steps of this process that we have seen be so effective in our work.

Time Flies - Neal Fowler

So why is it so difficult, and what about those 10,000 hours? While we haven’t measured ourselves, we are certain that changing our ways of being is no small feat, and that while a five-step process seems simple enough, it is complicated by several other factors. In supporting our clients, we have seen that growth takes sincere commitment, great strength, rigor and tenacity. In my next blog post I will explore some of the challenges we are up against as we try to improve ourselves and bring our best selves to bear.

I would love to hear from you about how you engage with the process of change. What has worked for you? What has been difficult? How do you practice?



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While they were saying it couldn't be done, it was done.
— Helen Keller