Improving Academic Performance

Finding Your Inspiration

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Fri, Feb 21, 2014 @ 03:00 PM

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In a previous article The Underestimated Power of Practice, we talked about the power of practice when considering what makes someone an expert in any given subject.  We explored the idea that genes aren’t as essential as we tend to believe, that an incredible amount of concentrated practice is a much better determinant of future success.  We argued that talent is overrated, and practice is underrated.  We talked about a rule that researchers on performance have developed – you may need to spend 10,000 hours practicing intensely and deliberately to become a world-class athlete, musician, or mathematician.

10,000 hours.  10,000 hours of ‘deep practice’ seems to be the rule to live by when desiring to become a world-class expert at something.  When you begin to really consider that, it’s overwhelming.  Now, you of course don’t need to spend 10,000 hours to build certain types of skills for specific events.  It either isn’t necessary, or isn’t practical.  But, the point is that you need to spend a lot of really intense, focused time practicing and pushing yourself to improve.  

If you are reading this article as a high school or college student or parent of a student, it’s important to know that we are not recommending you spend 10,000 hours studying for the SATs to achieve a perfect score.

But, the idea is:

  1. To realize that practice can, to an extent, “make perfect,” so investing more time can typically lead to better results.  If the average person is investing 25 hours, double or triple that, and you’ll do far better than average.
  2. To use the time that you do have in the most efficient way possible, whether it be 20 hours or 200.  If the average person is texting or watching TV while studying, put away the phone and engage fully with the material, pushing yourself to understand every concept.

How can someone be passionate enough to push themselves like this? 

When you imagine an individual willingly spending thousands of hours practicing a subject or a specific talent, you have to realize that he or she was probably inspired in some implicit or explicit way.  No one can embark on that kind of task without a driving force behind the desire to practice. 

We fully realize that it may be incredibly difficult to be motivated, or to motivate your high school or college student, to fully engage in math homework or SAT/ACT practice exams that just aren’t enjoyable.  The key to maintaining a sufficient drive in an area that may not necessarily be naturally appealing is to truly believe that making mistakes and learning from those mistakes is a GOOD thing that will lead to impressive performance.  The struggle is well worth it.  Making mistakes and learning from them is what literally builds new connections in the brain and leads to higher and higher skill levels over time.  Once you believe that skills are built this way, it can change your mindset, and that can lead to higher levels of inspiration and motivation naturally.  So, we might recommend setting a specific goal that stretches your current abilities quite a bit, and enjoying the path towards meeting that goal.  Setting a finish line and enjoying the progress you’ve made are all essential parts of being motivated to keep practicing – in the right way.

However, natural challenges, role models, family expectations, and culture can all help explain why some folks are inspired to practice more and better than most of us. 

Here are a few examples to illustrate our point that inspiration is essential to putting in the practice that will lead to success.  These examples can all be found in some of the extremely interesting, entertaining and informative books about talent that we list on our page devoted to the latest research on academic performance.

Statistically, sprinters are third or fourth children in large families.  Why is it that the younger children are natural runners?  Where did that initial drive come from?  Research shows that siblings observe older brothers and sisters walking and running, and that sparks an incredibly strong desire to get up and do it themselves.  The urge to follow is so powerful that the motivation to walk sparks the development of foot speed. 

Professional female golfers didn’t exist in South Korea.  Then one woman broke the mold in the early 90’s and won many golf tournaments.  Soon after, there were five professional women golfers in South Korea.  Then fifteen.  These days, there are as many as twenty-five.  Something is triggered in our brains when we see someone like us doing something incredible.  A spark is ignited.  Motivation grows and encourages us to achieve the previously unheard-of accomplishment.

Apply these examples to your own life.  Find inspiration.  Even when the spark does not come naturally, you can find it through researching examples of individuals like you who have succeeded.  Know that the key to ‘deep practice’ is being willing and dedicated to the task at hand.

Now that you know that progress is possible with practice, run with it.  Observe the individuals who receive the highest grades in each of your classes and make it a goal to reach their level of understanding and academic performance.  If they can do it, why not you?  Realize and believe the power of practice, find the spark.  That’s when you achieve the motivation necessary to get that A, the 99th percentile on the SAT/ACT, or acceptance letter to that undergraduate or graduate institution.  With strong motivation, the sky’s the limit.