What can we do to help our children become successful? It’s a question that reverberates deeply in every parent.
[box] “To give our kids the best possible potential for a successful life, we need to teach and model for them how to work well.” – Cal Newport[/box]
The summer I was 10 years old, I would ride my bike every morning to my local public library. There, I would greet the librarian, Mrs. Mascolo, and take home a stack of books: everything from mysteries to biographies, science fiction, and history.
For most of the day, I would be hidden among the leaves, high up in my backyard willow tree, diving into worlds far beyond my backyard.
There wasn’t much else to do in my suburban town.
To me, the book was the ultimate escape. I could sit reading in the tree all day, until Mom would cry out, “Andrew! Dinner time!”
Today there are so many ways to escape.
I doubt I would have spent so much time reading books if I had the options available today. Every kid has a “pocket computer” that can instantly look up anything, listen to music, “talk” to just about anyone, watch movies, videos, take photos, and play games.
It’s a blessing and a curse.
As a parent, I love the ability to “find my friend” and track my son’s location. I can instantly message him and send automated reminders for appointments with the orthodontist.
But these options have made a problem. A problem of focus.
With the lure of instant gratification, our attention has become shallow and scattered. (Note the rise in cases of ADHD.)
In his book, Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in A Distracted World, author Cal Newport states
“The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”
To be a contributing member of society today, one needs to achieve mastery of multiple areas. As the pace of innovation increases, we need to learn new skills, behaviors, and tools that didn’t exist a few years ago!
And to do this, we need to learn “how to learn.” We need to develop the muscle of concentrated focus. It’s a skill that is not inherent. Simply clearing away the noise is not going to make you a master of focus. It’s a skill that needs to be cultivated, honed, and practiced.
Perhaps because I was bored and lonely in my teens, I spent hours and hours practicing guitar. I felt like I had to “catch up” to all the other prodigies who started when they were 5 years old. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was engaging in the “10,000 hours” rule that Malcolm Gladwell describes in his fascinating book, Outliers – The Story of Success.
The basic idea is that it takes a long time, about 10,000 hours, to achieve mastery in anything.
The Zen of Practice
Studying a music instrument is like a zen practice on the art of practice! It cultivates attention skills required for deep focus. In psychology terms, they call it deliberate practice: repetitive performance of intended cognitive or psychomotor skills.
This is what will set apart your child for their future life success.
Deep work is not an inherent ability but a skill that needs to be practiced.
You can’t multi-task your way to mastery.
Multi-tasking is not a real thing.
Studies have shown that you are not actually doing more than one thing at the same time, but rather jumping between two or more things quickly. This results in a slow-down and lowering of quality of attention. So when you want to get things done, you need to go into the world of Deep Work.
Success is not about innate abilities / talent, but rather skills of focus, courage, action, and perseverance.
So the next time your child sits down to practice, take a moment to be fully present. Listen deeply, observe, and praise something specific. Your gift of attention and focus is a reward in itself. You are showing, not telling, that this is important and a priority.
And you are showing your child the path to mastery and success in life.
Note: also see the excellent TED Talk and book by MacArthur genius award winner Angela Duckworth.
[box] “The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint The greats were great cause they paint a lot Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands Ten thousand hands, they carry me” – 10,000 Hours by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis [/box]
“There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 rule that I talk about in Outliers…practice isn’t a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest.” – Malcom Gladwell Business Insider