How you can develop your abilities through purposeful practice

There are some philosophies that can be transformational if you live by them. The belief that I can become good at anything if I put in the time is such a belief for me.  My yoga practice has been a place where I have been able to see this put into practice. When I was younger, I was very clumsy not particularly talented in any fitness activity.

One of the great things about yoga is that it is non competitive but also that it doesn’t really matter how flexible or strong you become. That’s really liberating. The idea is to practice and to stay present, to be here and now. Incidentally if you do this every day for some years not only does your body change but your mind changes too. People will say, “You are so flexible, coordinated, calm, happy, focused… (insert your own word)”, and you will find yourself thinking “It’s just practice.” Some people believe me, others roll their eyes, but it’s true – practice has transformed my body. That’s not to say practice is easy – it requires dedication but it is possible for anybody.

This concept of practice and its transformational effect fascinate me because it means that I am only limited by time – I can learn any skill and if I don’t seem very good at it first it doesn’t bother me. I feel some people are limited by their belief in talent being an innate skill. People tell me they are not like that, they are not very good at learning languages, building strength or staying focused. We all have skills and we all have areas where we want to improve but the main thing that makes a difference is purposeful practice. So inevitably there will be things you are good at and things that you aren’t but you get to choose what they are. When I taught myself Thai – I wasn’t good at learning languages but I was motivated and living in Thailand and so I had lots of opportunity to practice.

Bounce book cover
Over Christmas I read the book Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice‘Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice’. It’s a great book, which explores this concept in detail.  The author, Matthew Sayed, was a professional table tennis player and believes that it is practice rather than talent that set him apart. He makes a great case and uses lots of research throughout the book. The only area that I felt wasn’t fully explored was that of opportunity. This plays a big part in whether someone has the time and drive to put in the practice in the first place. This opportunity can be dependent on finance, but not always.This concept is also explored in another, similarly great book, Outliers: The Story of Success

In it he describes how purposeful practice is necessary for someone to become an expert in something. The nature of the practice is important, it is not enough to merely do an activity. You have to do it in focused way, always challenging the limits of what you think you can do. The amount of purposeful practice is thought to be about 10,000 hours, which usually takes around ten years of dedication.

This concept of purposeful practice where you are always challenging the limits of what is possible for you reminds me of the traditional Mysore method of Ashtanga yoga. In this method you are given more poses when you are able to do the ones you are practicing, so there is always something to challenge you. If you want to get stronger you have to challenge yourself to do things that you can not currently do, if you just use the strength you already have you will maintain your strength but it won’t increase. By challenging your mental and physical limits daily – change is inevitable.

My daily yoga practice has taught me a great deal about the power of practice but the reason that this matters is because I can then take this into any area of my life that I want to improve. If I want to learn to be more efficient, to learn a language, to play an instrument or to write better, I know that I can. The only limitation is with all the wonderful things there are out there to practice and become better at there are only 24 hours a day.  So choose wisely.

Do you believe in the power of practice? What skills would you like to develop in 2014?

About Helen Aldred

Helen Aldred practices and teaches ashtanga yoga in Liverpool. She loves to share and discuss yoga, as well as health and wellbeing. Follow her on twitter and join Ashtanga yoga Liverpool’s Facebook community .

Comments

  1. Hi Helen, I love this blog, its so concise aswell.. I was thinking of the contradiction when someone is a master at something like great musicians or seeing you in some of the more advanced poses it appears effortless… I also think its interesting what you mention about drive and opportunity, they can be intertwimed.. but if someone has some crippling self beliefs that their no good at something or anything, to get the drive to do something must be very difficult. Like children as young as primary age who have already picked up (falsely of course) that they arent clever or good at anything, those beliefs that are perpetuated in many school systems for some children is so damaging..

  2. Great blog, Helen. I really believe you can achieve anything (even things you were convinced you could never do) if you commit time to them. For me personally this is true in yoga as well as other areas of my life. Really enjoyed reading your post.

  3. Thank you so much for the marvelous article. This has helped me loads as Im currently in the middle of a research Masters at the university of Berlin. I’ll of course be referring to this post in my in text quotes and end of text references.

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