A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

New Scientist – The Secrets of Success (2/2)

This is a continuation of my previous post, because it grew a bit long.

Motivation, Willpower & Self-Control

So, the article then asks, “What makes people gritty?” It says that part of the answer is motivation and that people have been shown to score higher on IQ tests when they are given an incentive, such as money. The other part is willpower – the ability to see something through to the end. This includes hard work, resisting distractions and having self-control.

Self-control is shown to have lifelong benefits. The article says that its a better predictor of test results than IQ scores. Students with more self-control are more likely to stay in class, do homework and resist distractions such as television. I’m sure that they do their bass studies as well. All of this compounds into better grades, which in a school setting is a measure of achievement. To us bassists, it translates into more single-mindedness in our practice regimen, and ultimately a buildup of skill.

Apparently, a study in New Zealand found that after following 1,000 children from birth until they were 32 years old, those who showed greater self-control in childhood grew up healthier and more emotionally stable. They were also more financially-stable as adults.

An important feature of self-control is that it can be improved. In the article, its compared to a muscle that can be strengthened through exercise. Apparently, exercising self-control in one area improves it overall (kind of like burning fat – its a global thing, not region-specific).

The article says that self-control is also a key requirement for focused practice, which, of course, is vital for the development of any skill – like playing bass. Deliberate practice is about “pushing yourself to do the most difficult things, rather than just going through the motions.”

Self-imposed limitations

The article then says that because we know that willpower can be improved, and we can become grittier people, we should feel more optimistic about what we’re individually capable of. Unfortunately, we’re restrained by our own sense of what we’re capable of and by a penchant to remain in our comfort zones.

It says that “Developmental psychologists have shown that having a fixed mindset – viewing attributes such as intelligence and personality as set in stone – causes people to feat failure react badly to criticism and avoid new or difficult assignments”. This, of course, does not lead one to success. It continues with “The belief that your traits are malleable, on the other hand, makes you more willing to stretch yourself and learn new skills”.

Growth Mindset

The article then says that over the last 10 years, a team from Stanford University has improved the grades and attendance of thousands of school and college students in the US by simply teaching them that intelligence isn’t fixed – and that hard work can make you smarter, and struggling to adjust to college is a normal part of the learning process, and not a signifier of poor intellect. They claim that a “growth” mindset is an advantage throughout all of life and allows people to take on more challenges without becoming discouraged by setbacks or effort.

Hard Work vs Talent

Ericsson, who we mentioned somewhere earlier, argues that “in most cases a person can attain expertise in any domain provided they practice long enough in the right way.” However, Keith Simonton of University of California says that quick learners – those with more talent – will always out-compete slower ones. “Sure, I might be able to become a violin virtuoso if I just practiced hard enough for long enough, but if its not until I’m 50 years old that I’m ready to audition for a second chair position in a regional orchestra, what’s the point?”

This makes me worry about starting to learn skills soon enough. Its tough to figure out what we like enough to dedicate significant spans of our lives to pursue it. Most of my musician friends have 20 years of experience on me (at this point). Does that make my efforts useless?

Individualism and the pursuit of dreams

The last part of the article talked about the education systems in the US and UK. Basically, all of the psychologists and developmental experts interviewed have found that education systems that cater to a broader range of talents and interests, tailored to the individual, produce more successful students than those which rely on standardized curriculums. The idea is that a subset of learners can work well in an overly-standardized setting, but that others will not, because their special interests are not necessarily represented in those settings.

I find that interesting, as I’ve begun to learn about Common Core in the US, which didn’t exist when I was in school, in the 80s and 90s, and which I’ve read about and watched videos of. The overwhelming majority present information about why Common Core doesn’t work – but is still ignored by the US government. This is probably due to the amount of dollars poured into the system.

The key part of this section that I want to quote is, “Plenty of people bloom late, particularly in the arts and sciences, which demand a range of social and cognitive skills. It might take someone a long time to overcome some hurdles, and then eventually they break through to greatness.”

Ok. This post got a bit large, so I’m going to split it into two parts. I hope this is helpful to someone. The article provided me with a lot of food for thought – about both bass and baby-raisin’.


2 responses

  1. I can attest self-control works! For me, it’s a gradual process whereby I have to introduce new habits while removing old ones. I noticed self-control is easy for me as long as I don’t make the change all at once.

    Interesting points!

    March 20, 2014 at 11:39 pm

  2. Pingback: The Amazing Human Musical Mind, Part 7 | Ugly Bass Face

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