“Willpower Hacks” That Get Us To Practice
Gary Marcus is an NYU psychologist who set out to learn guitar at the age of 40 and wrote a book about it, Guitar Zero. He had some interesting things to say about adult learning at a recent conference:
“Marcus says the research doesn’t support the notion that children simply learn things easier than adults. ‘There’s a classic idea that to learn things easily you have to start as a child that isn’t supported in the literature,’ he said. ‘Kids are practicing so much more because they don’t have day jobs, they don’t have children to raise, they don’t have parents to care for.’
Author Malcolm Gladwell reported that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to learn something, an idea that has limited resonance with Marcus. ‘The problem is that the 10,000 hours theory ignores the talent and ignores the kind of practice,’ Marcus said. ‘Practice is an absolute prerequisite and it can get you somewhere, but you have to focus on your weaknesses.’
For Marcus, the weakness was rhythm and timing. “The easiest way to better that is practicing with a metronome, which is unbelievably tedious,” he said. ‘I started practicing with a drum machine.’ The drum machine gave him variety and the learning brain likes variety.
That led Marcus to the idea of ‘willpower hacks,’ ways of tricking yourself into getting around obstacles or things that inspire resistance to doing unpleasant work, like facing and challenging your weaknesses. ‘A lot of adults are easily discouraged,’ he said.” Read more here.
I like Marcus’s notion that children learn so rapidly in part because they have more time to devote to single-minded practice. And I like his idea of “willpower hacks.” Do you have any that work for you? I find that I have much more willpower in the morning, so I do unpleasant tasks then—knowing that by the end of the day I’m frazzled and will do only the tasks that I damn well want to do.