Recently, I wrote a post about the importance of determination vs motivation in getting things done in life. As I said, motivation is often short-lived; people get fired up and motivated all the time, but the enthusiasm evaporates the minute they encounter pain, frustration, or failure. During those times, they need determination to carry them through.
This morning, I read an excellent article that takes it a step further in time. Cal Newport takes an even longer view (and expresses it much better than I did), with his focus on diligence, which is about sticking to a pursuit for years at a time. As he says:
We’ve created this fantasy world where everyone is just 30 days of courage boosting exercises and life hacks away from living an amazing life.
But when you study people like (Steve) Martin, who really do live remarkable lives, you almost always encounter stretches of years and years dedicated to honing craft.
Motivation is short term; it gets you started and chooses the goal. Determination gets you through the rough patches in the medium term. Diligence keeps you at it long enough to make a real difference in your life.
Want to be a great speaker, a great salesperson, or great _______? It’s simple: Do the work, learn all you can all the time, and stick with it for a long, long time.
I urge you to read Cal’s article yourself, and if you’re interested in a deep and thoughtful perspective on what it takes to succeed, follow his excellent blog, Study Hacks.
My Dad used to have an interesting little quirk that I have only recently begun to fully appreciate. If you came in late while he was watching a football game on TV, and asked him who was winning, he would say he didn’t know, even if he knew the score. His perspective was that while a team might be ahead, it could still be in the process of losing the game—and vice versa.
The score during a game is only a clue to which team is winning. Sometimes it’s an excellent clue, but not always.
It sounds like just a silly semantic difference, but it also dovetails nicely with another idea I have read in a book by Dr. Jason Selk, Executive Toughness. In the foreword, Andy Hill, who played for John Wooden at UCLA, tells of how Wooden would never focus on winning or losing. Instead he would focus on the processes that would most likely lead to winning. The reason is that the final score is ultimately out of your control. The only thing any player can control is the degree to which they stick to their process—the process they have learned and practiced. You can’t control outcomes, but you can control your preparation, execution and effort.
There’s a guy in Portland OR who is running a life experiment which definitely bears watching. Dan McLaughlin was inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, to test the 10,000 hour rule. In case you’re new to this, the 10,000 hour rule comes from a finding by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson that mastery in any skill—music, chess, golf, etc—requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is not what most of us think of—it’s about pushing your limits, finding out what you need to improve, healing working on it, analyzing results, making adjustments, and then working at it again and again until you get it right. Then you start over with something else to improve.
Dan decided to drop everything he was doing and try to see if he could become a successful professional golfer, despite the fact that he had never played a full round of golf in his life. He quit his job and dedicated himself to learning how to play golf. He hired a professional coach who has Dan performing deliberate practice exercises such as becoming proficient at 3 ft. putts, then longer putts, then chips, and so on, long before actually going out on the links to play a round.