Friday, November 21, 2014

Do One Thing Better Than Anyone Else You Know

An excellent essay from Cal Newport's book - How To Win At College

If you want to succeed at college, you have to develop a healthy sense of self-confidence. This doesn't mean you should be arrogant-such people are often secretly insecure. Instead, you want to be self-assured, proud, and modest all at the time. These are the traits of a well-liked, successful student.

Easier said than done? Not really. One good technique for bolstering your confidence is mastering a skill. Everyone is good at something. All you need to do is to find out what this something is for you, and then practice until you are better at it than any of your friends at school. Be it playing a guitar, writing a fiction, shooting hoops, or cooking, develop a skill you can be known for. Again, this is not about bragging rights. People can know you are good at something without you having to constantly remind them. This is about reinforcing your identity and sense of self-confidence.

Why this is so important? Because college is an overwhelming social environment. You are thrown into a small space with thousands of other students who know nothing about you. Many students fail to maintain a strong sense of identity in this situation., and instead begin to peg their self-worth on receiving the respect and admiration of others. If you're invited to a hot party, do well on a test, or catch the eye of that cute girl (or boy) ahead of you in the lunch line, you feel good about yourself. But if you end up with no plans for Friday night, bomb a test, or realize that the cute girl was actually smiling at her bodybuilder boyfriend standing right behind you, well, then you feel pretty lousy. The state of your self-esteem is like a roller-coaster ride, differing from day to to day depending on events beyond your control. You cannot win at college with this mindset.

When you are dependent on good things happening to make you feel good, your life becomes centered on preserving a good mood. This will constrain you, because if you are constantly worried about avoiding anything negative, you will never do anything out of the ordinary. Standout students, on the other hand, do very little that is ordinary. This is what makes them so phenomenal. They find better ways, uncover new approaches, and question everything. The only way to develop such an aggressive mind-set is to have a strong sense of self-confidence to back you up.

Developing these trait is not easy. But doing one thing better than anyone else you know is an excellent start toward accomplishing this goal. By mastering one activity in your life, you are putting a stake into the ground, giving yourself one thing to feel sure of, and making a declaration about who you are. Don't let others dictate how you should feel about yourself, strengthen your identity-then conquer your world.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Road To Excellence

A few notes collected from 'The Road To Excellence' - An interesting book edited by K. Anders Ericsson.

A more direct claim about the necessity for intense preparation was made by Simon and Chase (1973). They found that about 10 years of preparation was necessary to attain an international level of chess skill and they suggested similar prerequisites in other domains.
. . .
Even when individuals have access to a similar training environment, large individual differences in performance are still often observed. Furthermore, amount of experience in a domain is often a weak predictor of performance. Rather than accepting these facts as evidence for innate differences in ability (i.e, talent), Ericcson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993) tried to identify those training activities that would be mist closely related to improvements in performance. Based on a review of a century of laboratory studies of learning and skill acquisition, Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993) concluded that the most effective learning requires a well-defined task with an appropriate difficulty level for the particular individual, informative feedback, and opportunities for repetition and corrections for error. When all these elements are present they used the term deliberate practice to characterize training activities.
. . .
They found that concentration is the most essential aspect of deliberate practice.  Deliberate practice in music is consistent with the critical role of concentration. Master teachers (Auer, 1921; Galamian, 1962) argue that full concentration is essential and that when it wanes the musician to rest, because practice without full concentration may actually impair rather improve performance (Seashore, 1938/1967).
    An analysis of practice sessions (extracted from the diaries of the expert musicians) is consistent with the requirement of concentration. After about an hour of practice in the morning when the ability to perform most complex cognitive activities has been found to be the highest (Folkard & Monk, 1985). There is also indirect evidence for the effortfulness of concentration through the additional need for rest among expert performers. Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993) found that the higher levels of practice were associated with longer duration of sleep, typically in the form of afternoon naps. This pattern of napping and resting has also been found in other domains expertise, such as sports.