Connect with us

Success Advice

What Mothers, Musicians & Marshmallows Have to Do With The Science of Success for Extreme Athletes

Published

on

extreme athletes

Over the past century, the science of expert performance has gotten rigorous and codified. Thousands and thousands of experiments have been run; plenty of conclusions reached. Three dominate.

Call them: Mothers, musicians, and marshmallows.

This famed trilogy represent our best ideas about the path to mastery. Yet there’s a wrench in these works: Most action and adventure athletes took a radically different path.

These athletes haven’t just redefined the limits of human potential; they’ve redefined those limits by doing the opposite of what the experts say they should have done. It’s peculiar, alright. Their stratospheric success suggests that we may have completely misjudged the path towards stratospheric success. In fact, it suggests something far more radical: that if we really want to be our best, we don’t just have to rethink the path towards mastery; we need to reconsider the way we live our lives.

 

But first, the mothers.

In the early 1980s, University of Chicago educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom launched the Talent Project, one of the larger and more thorough “retrospective” studies of expert performance ever undertaken. The Project examined the lives of 120 people, all under the age of thirty-five, all of whom had demonstrated the highest levels of accomplishment in one of six fields: swimming, tennis, sculpture, piano, mathematics, and research neuroscience. The question at the center of the study was: Where does prodigious talent come from, special individuals or special circumstances?

Few of Bloom’s research subjects showed any great promise as children. Instead, the one commonality was encouragement, a lot of encouragement. In each case, there was a parent or close relative who rewarded any display of talent, and ignored or punished the opposite. Prodigies, it seemed, were made, not born. As Bloom later told reporters: “We were looking for exceptional kids, but what we found were exceptional conditions.”

The idea settled an uneasy corner of the nature/nurture debate: It democratized expertise. Provided the right environment and the proper encouragement, it meant that everyone had a shot at perfection.

But many of the athletes involved in action and adventure sports came up the hard way. The wrong environment, little encouragement. “A lot of us were from broken homes,” skateboard pioneer Duane Peters once told the LA Times. We were freaks and misfits.” And if home life wasn’t rosy, the outside world even less supportive. Twenty-five years ago, skateboarding was a crime; snowboarding was banned at most resorts; and surfing, to quote the always relevant Point Break, was “for little rubber people who don’t shave yet.

Certainly, there are plenty of action and adventure athletes who came from incredibly supportive backgrounds. Bloom wasn’t wrong — “mothers” matter—but too many of these super athletes came up sideways, backward and feral for this to be the single deciding factor. Something else is going on. And that something else is where the mu- sicians come into play.

 

Next, the musicians.

In the early 1990s, Florida State psychologist Anders Ericsson performed one of the more famous studies of expertise in recent history. By surveying elite violinists at Berlin’s Academy of Music, Ericsson found that while one’s early environment was helpful, what truly distinguished excellent players from good players from average players was hours of practice. By the time they were twenty years old, expert violinists had put in 10,000 hours of “deliberate, well-structured practice.” The others had not. As Malcolm Gladwell famously explained in Outliers:

[The] research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

But another wrench. If 10,000 hours of “deliberate, well-structured practice” is the secret sauce, consider Shane McConkey’s goals while skiing:

“What I love to do on the hill is find an interesting way to do something fun.”   

Put differently, deliberate well-structure practice is a rigorous, compliance-based approach to mastery. It means you crawl before you walk. It doesn’t mean Laird Hamilton surfing Pipeline at age four, or Danny Way in the deep end of the pool at the Del Mar Skate Ranch by seven. In broader terms, deliberate practice is also how we train genius these days. It’s factory athletics. It’s Kumon math tutoring, Baby Einstein, Suzuki violin, et al. But it’s also the world McConkey walked away from. He turned his back on the factory, yet somehow, still went on to become Superman.

 

Finally, the trouble with marshmallows.

In 1972, Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel, performed a fairly straightforward study in delayed gratification: he offered four-year-old children a marshmallow. Either the kids could eat it immediately or, if they waited for him to return from running a short errand, they would get two marshmallows as a reward. Most kids couldn’t wait. They ate the marshmallow the moment Mischel left the room.

When interviewed fourteen years later, the kids who could wait were more self-confident, hardworking, and self-reliant. Those who resisted at four ended up scoring 210 points higher on their SAT’s at sixteen. This may not sound like that much, but, as fellow Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo explains:

“[That] is as large as the average difference recorded between the abilities of economically advantaged and disadvantaged children. It is larger than the difference between the abilities of children from families who parents have graduate degrees and children whose parents did not finish high school. The ability to delay gratification at four is twice as good a predictor of later SAT scores as IQ. Poor impulse control is also a better predictor of juvenile delinquency than IQ.” 

But there’s another issue. According to psychologists, by definition, action and adventure athletes are “sensation seekers.” They’re impulsive pleasure junkies. Delayed gratification is not their game.

So what gives? How do a bunch of impulsive hedonists raised far from the storied incubators of athletic excellence end up rewriting the rulebook on human potential? The short answer, of course, is flow.

Psychologists describe flow as “autotelic,” from the Greek auto (self) and telos (goal). When something is autotelic — i.e., produces the flow high — it is its own reward. No one has to drag a surfer out of bed for overhead tubes. No one has to motivate a snowboarder on a powder day. These activities are intrinsically motivating, autotelic experiences done for their own sake. The high to end all highs.

When doing what we most love transforms us into the best possible version of ourselves and that version hints at even-greater future possibilities, the urge to explore those possibilities becomes feverish compulsion. Intrinsic motivation goes through the roof. Thus flow becomes an alternative path to mastery, sans the misery. Forget 10,000 hours of delayed gratification. Flow junkies turn instant gratification into their North Star—putting in far more hours of “practice time” by gleefully harnessing their hedonic impulse. In other words, when it comes to time perspectives, flow allows Presents to achieve Future’s results.

Advertisement
5 Comments

5 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Success Advice

20 Ways You Can Become a Powerful Communicator

Published

on

Emile Steenveld Speaker and Coach

Some people seem to naturally know how to effectively communicate in a group setting. They can express themselves clearly and listen attentively without dominating the conversation.

Being a powerful communicator is important for several reasons, including building and maintaining relationships, achieving goals, resolving conflicts, improving productivity, leading and influencing others, advancing in your career, expressing yourself more confidently and authentically, and improving your mental and emotional well-being. Effective communication is an essential life skill that can benefit you in all aspects of your life.

But, don’t worry if you don’t naturally possess this skill, as effective communication is something that can be developed with practice, planning and preparation.
 

1.  Listen actively: Practice active listening by giving your full attention to the speaker and responding to what they are saying.

 

2. Use “I” statements: Speak from your own perspective and avoid placing blame or making accusations.

 

3. Avoid assumptions: Don’t make assumptions about what the other person is thinking or feeling.

 

4. Be clear: Express your thoughts and feelings clearly and concisely by getting to the point and avoid using jargon or overly complex language.

 

5. Show empathy: Show that you understand and care about the other person’s feelings.

 

6. Offer valuable insights: When speaking in a group, provide a valuable takeaway or actionable item that people can walk away with.

 

7. Be an active listener: Listen attentively and respond accordingly, incorporating your points into the conversation.

 

8. Choose the right time: Pick the most opportune time to speak to ensure that you have the group’s attention and can deliver your message without interruption.

 

9. Be the unifying voice: Step in and unify the group’s thoughts to calm down the discussion and insert your point effectively.

 

10. Keep responses concise: Keep responses short and to the point to show respect for others’ time.

 

11. Avoid unnecessary comments: Avoid commenting on everything and only speak when you have something important to say.

 

12. Cut the fluff: Avoid being long-winded and get straight to the point.

 

13. Prepare ahead of time: Sort out your points and practice them before speaking in a group.

 

14. Smile and be positive: Smile and nod along as others speak, to build a positive relationship and be respected when it’s your turn to speak.

 

15. Take responsibility: Take responsibility for your own actions and feelings.

 

16. Ask questions: Ask questions to clarify any confusion or misunderstandings.

 

17. Avoid interrupting: Allow the other person to finish speaking without interruption.

 

18. Practice active listening: Repeat what the other person said to ensure you have understood correctly.

 

19. Use your body language too: Use nonverbal cues such as eye contact, facial expressions, and body language to convey your message and build rapport.

 

20. Be aware of the tone of your voice: it should be calm and assertive, not aggressive or passive.

 

By keeping these tips in mind, you can improve your communication skills and become a more powerful communicator, which can help you build better relationships, achieve your goals, and lead a more fulfilling life.

I you want to learn how to become more confident in life then you can join my weekly mentorship calls and 40+ online workshops at AweBliss.com so you can master your life with more success.

 
Continue Reading

Success Advice

Dead Men Tell No Tales: How to Navigate a Mutiny as a Leader in 10 Steps

You’re the manager. You’re the supervisor. You’re the leader. But maybe your people don’t see it that way

Published

on

Image Credit: Unsplash

You’re the manager. You’re the supervisor. You’re the leader. But maybe your people don’t see it that way and perhaps that has created a divisive and adversarial working environment that makes it difficult for you to influence and inspire your team in a way that meets your vision. (more…)

Continue Reading

Success Advice

How to Think Like a CEO for Your Future Success

A blueprint for CEOs to draw a disciplined strategy

Published

on

Image Credit: Unsplash

Strategic thinking helps CEOs build successful businesses. It helps them establish everlasting enterprises. It is one of the key elements of decision-making. It is different from strategic leadership. It differentiates between leaders from managers.  (more…)

Continue Reading

Success Advice

How to Focus Your Mind on Your Goals in 2023 Constructively

In this world of distractions due to information overload, it has become a big challenge to focus our minds

Published

on

Image Credit: Unsplash

In this world of distractions due to information overload, it has become a big challenge to focus our minds on positive aspects and constructive activities. Sometimes we waste our precious time mentally and physically due to distractions arising out of technology. We must understand our priorities and learn how to focus on them religiously. (more…)

Continue Reading

Trending