Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Necessary, But Not Sufficient

If you just believe in yourself, you can... blah, blah, blah.

Here's the thing. It's great to develop self-confidence. Without it, we tend towards self-limited. Even with it, we still experience self-imposed limitations many of which we fail to recognize. Nonetheless, self-confidence doesn't make up for a lack of competence. It's one of those necessary but not sufficient types of phenomena. If you want to optimize whatever it is you want do, you want to develop both confidence and competence.

Competence can be elusive, specially if you spend lots of time being formally educated. Competence is something that you gain through doing, not through learning about. You can read books all day long, about playing piano, about cooking, about woodcraft, about running and still have no competence. You can ace exams and become valedictorian and still have no competence. You can critique and review and grade others and still have no competence.

On the other hand, many competents have never read a book on the topic of their competency, would fail standardized tests, and would be graded as poor. Yet, they have ability to consistently do what they do well. They deliver.

When I first started playing piano, I worked many hours a day on scales and arpeggios. After several months, I felt as though I'd made little progress. I still couldn't play as fast and cleanly as I wanted. My mental image of my fingers on the keys would drift and I'd lose my place. So, I asked a friend who was a pianist at Julliard what I'm doing wrong.

He watches me play a bit and then says, "Nothing."

I say, "Nothing? Didn't you hear how I fumbled each time I crossed from C# to D?"

"Sure, but that doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong. You just haven't been playing long enough yet. You haven't become intimate with the piano. Just keep playing and the rest will come to you. Play slow enough where you're not making mistakes and keep using the metronome so you play consistently. The rest will come once you've done it long enough."

So, I kept playing and slowly the piano became more and more familiar. At some point (I'd be pressed to tell you exactly when), I crossed the boundary of incompetence and competence and everything I'd struggled with became easy.

There's something about doing things repeatedly over extended periods. If you pay attention, do them slowly and consistently, you can't help but become competent and there's no amount of self-confidence that can make up for it.

I don't necessarily buy into the 10,000 hours requirement (i.e., it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to become an expert), but I'd agree that it works, that is, if you pay attention to what you're doing. In fact, the more you pay attention (the more aware you are), the fewer the hours required. This is primarily due to patterns and pattern recognition. If you really pay attention to what you do, you'll see patterns that reduce the number of things to be learned or skills to be acquired.

Self-confidence is great. How are you at self-competence?

Happy Wednesday,
Teflon

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