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Becoming a Learner - Page 5
Return to Becoming a Learner CONTENTS  PAGE
Page 5: The Gentle Art of Hard Work

The thing about hard work is just one issue we want to cover on this page. Here we’re going to look at three forms of deception and then, finally, some real people who should encourage us.
Part 1: The Right Frame of Mind
 Avoid the Deception of “You can do anything”
 Avoid the Deception of “Your genes will stop you”
 Avoid the Deception of “You don’t need to work hard”
Deception is about being conned into believing something that isn’t true. We’ve covered some of that on previous pages, the deception of believing that you’re rubbish, the deception of believing you can’t learn anything, and now the deception of believing you can do anything.

Watch out for that last one, for there is a school of coaching that declares that “anything and everything is possible” – and I was quoting from one of them there.

Well, no, actually it isn’t. It’s not possible for you to become the next King or Queen of England (unless you happen to be one or two particular people reading this!!!), it’s not possible for you to become a brain surgeon unless you have a very high IQ, and it’s not possible for you to become a top flight city lawyer unless you’re very bright and willing to often work an eighteen hour day, and you won’t become an RAF top pilot unless you have a high IQ, are incredibly fit and healthy and possibly a lot more. And while we’re on it, you probably won’t become an American Navy SEAL unless you are incredibly fit and you laugh at such words as perseverance and endurance and pain!

Of course, if you can match those conditions in that paragraph above, don’t waste your time on this website; it’s not designed for you! It’s designed for the much bigger majority of us who aren’t members of Mensa with very high IQ’s, who aren’t super fit and super healthy.

The balance is that for you, the people of the immediate paragraph above, we can learn, we can improve ourselves and we do have abilities that we ought to recognise and develop. This is your page!
Now the next deception, the big one I really want to address on this page, is the lie that you will only achieve what your genes allow you to do. There is a lot of research in genetics these days and sometimes the media says silly things. If you listen to the media, you are locked into the genes that you have and that even may include a disposition to be stupid. I exaggerate!  But note the word I have used – ‘disposition’.  It simply means you have a tendency towards something. It doesn’t mean you have to go that way. You can determine not to.  Here’s a snippet from Page 3 of our ‘Tapestry’ page from an article several years ago in the Sunday Times:

The implication that many of us are genetically predestined for failure ...sounds poisonous. What has kept such views going is science. Major studies seemed to support them.   “I wish I could exempt myself,” said Richard Nisbett, author of the new book Intelligence and How to Get It, “but unfortunately for many years I bought the claims of the hereditarians that family environments don’t matter much. Such thinking is extremely unfortunate, because it implies that hard work can produce little in the way of improvement. Fortunately, it is now becoming clear that that this view is quite wrong.”  Nisbett’s is a message of hope. He believes that, far from having their IQs determined at the moment of conception, people’s potential intelligence is almost infinitely flexible.
(Source: John-Paul Flintoff and Jonathan Leake   The Sunday Times May 17, 2009)

To reinforce the point here’s a similar quote from a book called Super Freakonomics

K. Anders Ericsson, is a professor of psychology at Florida State University, where he uses empirical research to learn what share of talent is “natural” and how the rest of it is acquired. His conclusion: the trait we commonly call "raw talent" is vastly overrated.  "A lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with," he says, "but there is surpris­ingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of excep­tional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it."  Or, to put another way, expert performers—whether in soccer or piano playing, surgery or computer programming—are nearly always made, not born.

And yes, just as your grandmother always told you, practice does make perfect. But not just willy-nilly practice. Mastery arrives through what Ericsson calls "deliberate practice." This entails more than simply playing a C-minor scale a hundred times or hitting tennis serves until your shoulder pops out of its socket. 
Deliberate practice has three key components: setting specific goals; obtaining immediate feedback; and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

The people who become excellent at a given thing aren't necessarily the same ones who seemed to be "gifted" at a young age. This suggests that when it comes to choosing a life path, people should do what they love—yes, your nana told you this too—because if you don't love what you're doing, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good at it.
(From ‘Super Freakonomics” by Levitt and Dubner)
The ‘con’ that is sometimes conveyed today, and which the lazy side of us buys into, is that because we have natural talents (which we have been emphasising in recent pages) we don’t need to make an effort.  There ARE a few super-brains around who have photographic memories and once seen never forget something, and once seen is straight away understood, but most of us aren’t like that.

But the message conveyed by the writers of our two quotes above, clearly shows that this is not true. If you want to learn something, you will make an effort. It helps if you enjoy whatever it is, but effort is needed.

Top football players have talent but they develop it by practice and hard training. Rugby Union kicking star, Jonny Wilkinson, was said to put in hour after hour of just kicking the ball to get it over the posts which eventually resulted in England winning the Rugby World Cup in 2003.

Perseverance also helps. Thomas Edison is reputed to have failed more than 1,000 times when trying to create the light bulb. When asked about it, Edison allegedly said, "I have not failed 1,000 times.  I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb." That is the power of determination. Will you go for it?
Impressive Example of Unimpressive Starts

And to finish with – I don’t know where this came from but I believe it is true – here are some people who didn’t have impressive starts:

1. Winston Churchill seemed so dull as a youth that his father thought he might be incapable of earning a living in England.

2. Charles Darwin did so poorly in school that his father once told him, “You will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.

3. G.K. Chesterton, the English writer, could not read until he was eight. One of his teachers told him, “If we could open your head we should not find any brain but only a lump of white fat.”

4. Thomas Edison’s first teacher described him as “addled,” and his father almost convinced him he was a dunce.”

5. Albert Einstein’s parents feared their child was dull, and he performed so badly in all high school courses except mathematics that a teacher asked him to drop out.

So, whatever the past held, don’t let it tie you down today! Yes, you may need to put in some hard work, but modern research says you can almost certainly do more than you once thought!