10,000 Hours and Counting!

Sshhhh! Don’t tell my husband, but I’ve developed a bit of a crush. A couple of weeks ago we went to my favourite Turkish store, D&R Books, where I laid my hands on the last Malcolm Gladwell book that I had not yet read – David and Goliath.
I am truly in awe of the way this man’s mind work, and how he is able to work his way round so many varied and misleading wrong turns to get to the final truthful nugget of an issue. He takes our world and looks at it from every obscure angle – angles that most people do not even know exist.
But most importantly, he does not spout fluffy, spiritual, magical nonsense which has no evidence at all to back it up. Rather he goes to the psychologists and unearths what many policy makers and money men would prefer to cover up – the real truth of what is going on.
One of my favourite ‘stories’ is from his book Outliers, where he talks about the 10,000 hour rule, based on a piece of research done psychologist K.Anders Ericsson at Berlin’s Academy of Music.
They divided the school’s violinists into three groups. The first group were the crème de la crème, with the potential to be world class performers. The second group were considered ‘good’, and the last group included those who would probably end up as music teachers. Information was then taken about the age they started playing, and the hours per week they practised.
Everyone from all three groups started playing around the same age – five years old – and initially practised for about the same amount of time – 2-3 hours per week. However, at about eight years old things began to change.
The students who would end up the best in class began to practise more than everyone else – six hours by age nine, eight hours a week by age 12, 16 hours a week by age 14, increasing until by age 20, when they were doggedly practising for well over 30 hours a week. In fact, by the age of 20, the elite performers had each totalled 10,000 hours of practice. The ‘good’ students totalled 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers totalled just over 4000 hours.
What this piece of research demonstrates is the amount of effort and dedication that is required to succeed. To be the best of the best, musicians, performers, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers – anyone and everyone – need to comply to the 10,000 hour (see Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for more information).
Inventor Thomas Edison made several hundred attempts at designing the light bulb until he got it just right. When asked by a newspaper reporter: ‘How does it feel to have failed 700 times?’ the great inventor replied: ‘I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work’. What a fantastic example of someone processing something positively!
It was also Thomas Edison who coined the phrase: “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
This all underpins my own view that in our instant gratification, results oriented society, we want and expect things to happen as close to immediately as possible. We want to know something, we Google it. We start to get anxious if someone doesn’t answer our text messages/emails/Facebook comments within minutes. We are assailed by instant make over shows which transform our homes, gardens and ourselves in 60 minutes. We’re constantly being sold dramatic weight loss programmes which promise that you’ll lose 7lbs in 7 days. We want 15 minute meals. We have 24 hour rolling news channels.
We rarely tolerate the discomfort of not knowing. Or denying ourselves.
When we feel down or fed up, we want something that is immediately going to make us feel better. “Emotionally distraught people indulge their impulses because they hope that indulgence will bring pleasure that may repair their mood and dispel distress.” Tice, Bratslavsky & Baumeister, 2001.
For many of us this involves food (of usually the wrong kind!), cigarettes, a glass or three of wine. Because the result of instant gratification means that you momentarily feel better, you reinforce your belief that a particular substance has those ‘healing, magical qualities’. So next time you feel crap, you reach for those same healing, magical substances. And so begins the vicious cycle.
I can’t help thinking that someone like Malcolm Gladwell would approve of the Thrive programme – the fact that it is evidence based, the fact that it teaches people how to dig deep and develop reserves of self efficacy and resilience.
After all, we all just want to be happy. But being happy takes effort – at least 10,000 hours worth of effort, but more likely a lifetime’s worth!.
The good news is – the more we learn how to create our own happiness by putting in all this effort, the more it becomes second nature, so ultimately less effort is required. Being happy eventually becomes implicit in everything we do.

Develop better coping skills for everyday stressful situations

I was struck recently, when hiring a car, how much anticipatory anxiety is used by businesses to try and get more money out of us. The car hire company was painting a very gloomy picture of what might happen out on the roads, and how much it was going to cost me if I decided not to buy additional insurance and thereby decrease my excess.

Now, I’ve been driving now for the best part of 26 years, and consider myself pretty competent on the roads. Yet the way they were ‘selling’ this to me set off a cognitive freight train that was rattling away, completely out of control, with frightening speed – I saw white vans pulling out in front of me at busy crossroads. I saw me skidding precariously on black ice and tumbling inelegantly into a ditch. I saw great big lorries ramming into the back of me and wiping out my whole family! I could feel my anxiety levels rise. I could feel my confidence faltering. I felt powerless. I could sense my grasp on reality tunnel-visioning to this additional insurance premium being the only thing to keep my family and me safe on the British roads!

So, what was a simple task on my ‘to do’ list – to pick up the hire car – suddenly became a source of increasing stress and anxiety. Add to this the fact that I know my husband hates paying out on anything unnecessarily, nor does he believe in insurance (he thinks it is a big con) I felt suddenly assailed by doubts, fears, insecurities, and an increasing lack of confidence in my own ability to make the right decision.

Albert Bandura (1988): Self Efficacy Conception of Anxiety, states:

“People who believe that can exercise control over potential threats do not conjure up apprehensive cognitions and, hence, are not perturbed by them. But those who believe they cannot manage potential threats experience high levels of anxiety arousal. They tend to dwell on their coping deficiencies and view many aspects of their environment as fraught with danger. Through such inefficacious thought they distress themselves and constrain and impair their level of functioning (Beck, Emery and Greenberg, 1985; Lazarus and Folkman, 1984; Meichenbaum, 1977; Sarason, 1975).”

So to go back to the car hire shop, there I was, a competent driver of many years experience, suddenly assailed by feelings of doubt and insecurity.

It is at a point like this when your Thrive training kicks in. You apply the cognitive brakes and re-examine what it is that is making you feel anxious. To which, the answer was myself – I was bringing this anxiety on myself by questioning my own (more than proven) abilities. I know I am a good driver. I know that I have been driving for 26 years with no more than one mild prang to my name (nor was it my fault!). I know that if I paid out that extra insurance then I would be throwing good money into the void. I also know that all my conjured up images and fears were of external dangers over which I had little or no control. So really there was no point worrying about them as I could do nothing to change them.

Without my knowledge of Thrive, my experience could have been a lot different. I may have paid out on that extra insurance, which would have increased the financial burden (stress levels up), and incited the irritation of my husband (stress levels up). I would have fretted about both the money and the annoyed husband for several hours/days afterwards (stress levels up). I would also have got into that car with the various frightening images of the car being involved in a number of potential incidents (stress levels up). Due to my increased anxiety levels, my judgement of the road may be impaired and Coue’s Law would kick in – ie: I may well have an accident. OK, I may be indulging in some catastrophic speculation here, but I want to illustrate a point highlighted in Bandura’s research paper that….

“Cognition plays a broader role in human emotion than simply labelling physiological states. Physiological arousal, itself, is often generated cognitively by arousing trains of thought (Beck, 1976; Schwartz, 1971). People frighten themselves by scary thoughts, they work themselves up into a state of anger by ruminating about social slights and mistreatments, they become sexually aroused by conjuring up erotic fantasies, and they become depressed by dwelling on gloomy cognitive scenarios.”

Thrive training – increasing your internal locus of control, giving you power over your thoughts and emotions, will significantly help you to reduce your anxiety and stress levels brought on by events which you may previously have thought were out of your control.

Simply recognising that worrying thoughts and images are simply a figment of your imagination, and not a part of your reality anytime now, or in the future, will go a long way to bringing down your stress gauge to manageable levels.

“It is not the sheer frequency of intrusive cognitions but rather the inefficacy to turn them off that is the major source of distress”. (Bandura, 1988). It is human nature to think the worse, to be pessimistic, to be wary of any dangers and threats in our environment. But to be hypervigilant about perceived threats, to ruminate and brood on them, even when they are proven to be imaginary, is detrimental in the long term to the human spirit.

So after about 10 seconds of such hypervigilant rumination, I stood tall, looked the hire guy in the eye and said No Thanks! I think I laughed it off by making some joke about my husband not believing in insurance. And do you know, I drove that car for 10 days without a single incident. More importantly, I drove on some very congested roads, in some fairly horrific weather conditions, with my most precious cargo (kids) in the back, and I was pretty much anxiety free.

Now, modern life has a habit of creating a raft of potentially anxiety inducing situations. The car hire is an example, but a typical daily life involving car journeys, dealing with children, workmen, colleagues, bosses, bureaucracy, financial worries (particularly in these trying times)… the list is endless. And without effective coping skills many people increasingly fall into feelings of powerlessness and inability to cope. Thrive gives you that power back.

Positive Thinking for a Positive Town

This week I had a very rousing evening watching the celebrations for Republic Day at the new town Square in Didim. What a fantastic site – one which, it has been claimed, cannot be rivalled anywhere else in Turkey. Not even Istanbul!

It got me thinking to how far this city has come since I first landed here back in 2002. My first trip was a cold, wet, grey April morning after a 13 hour bus ride from Istanbul. We offloaded our bags onto the balcony of the little 2-bed apartment my (now) husband had just bought for a price that went into the ‘millions’ but was then only translated into a few quid. And seeing as the nearest cafe just happened to be Alo24, conveniently located just a few doors away, we sat there with steaming glasses of tea to await the arrival of his brother and the apartment key.

The outlook from that same seat in Alo24 is as different today as if we had been transported to another town altogether. Ataturk Boulevard, which now snakes its way from the Temple to the beach, lush after years of planting and landscaping, bustling with activity, new businesses, national and international brand names, was at that time nothing but a long strip of pretty much dirt track which did nothing but encourage the boy (and not so ‘boy’) racers to perform death defying dares.

Since then the town exploded at an unbelievable rate. I recently found some very interesting statistics below which chart the increase in population since 1960:

YEAR

POPULATION

1960

1,770

1985

5,063

1990

11,378

2000

25,699

2009

41,246

2012

47,872

Source: www.yerelnet.org.tr

With any massive growth spurt there are bound to be problems – and Didim has certainly encountered its fair share. It has been the scene of many a dodgy deal, corrupt goings-on, mayors on ‘gardening-leave’, shootings, international court cases, tax officials descending en masse, raids on government offices, whimsical building regulations, and basically bad bad community decisions (golf course anyone?).

But Didim has also been a destination for thousands of returning European Turks looking to get back to their roots. It has become the permanent home to thousands of UK ex-pats looking for a better quality of life. It has become a mecca for thousands of retired Turks looking to live out at least half their life on the sandy beaches, away from their city centre apartments.

And as the town has increased, so have the businesses and institutions that serve these people – banks, schools, supermarkets, insurance offices, government offices, restaurants, petrol stations, social security offices, doctor’s surgeries, and of course, dentists – all employing often young, professional people who are marrying, settling, and having their own families. When I first arrived in Didim, there was just one ‘pre-school’ (affectionately known as the ‘mushroom’ school). Today there are six that I can count off the top of my head. And they are all busy!

Neighbourhoods are growing and developing their own identities, roads are being laid and the public areas surrounding them landscaped into green areas with ample trees being planted, old, grotty buildings are being demolished and replaced with modern, swanky, glass fronted ones. The marina is settling well into its role in the town, and offering an upmarket alternative to the usual holiday haunts. Whatever your opinion of whether the changes are ‘good’ or not, there can be no doubt that fantastic progress is being made, and will indeed continue to be made.

What a busy, buzzy, 12-month cosmopolitan city Didim is becoming. It is also the place where my husband and I have decided once and for all to stay and raise our own four kids.

But then we are pretty positive people, and throughout all our years here we have chosen to think in a continuously positive and forward looking manner throughout many low, and difficult periods.

There is a great piece of research that I quote constantly to my Thrive trainees – it is called ‘The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions (Frederikson, Mancuso, Branigan, Tugade; 2000). And I quote directly from the paper:

“Many negative emotions narrow individuals’ though-action repertoires by calling forth specific action tendencies (eg: attack, flee), whereas many positive emotions broaden individuals’ thought-action repertoires, prompting them to pursue a wider range of thoughts and actions.”

“Individuals who express or report higher levels of positive emotion show more constructive and flexible coping, more abstract and long-term thinking, and greater emotional distance following stressful negative events.”

Throughout the years I have been in Didim there has been a lot of negative thinking, talking the place down, looking at it through dirty, grey tinted glasses. While I know that many people have had bad experiences, I also know that those who have dealt with their bad experiences with a positive, ‘can-do’ attitude, have prevailed with their sanity intact (if not always their pockets).

As the research shows, a negative view on life narrows your perception. So ultimately you end up only looking for those things around you that ‘reinforce’ your negative view – whether it is the over-abundance of street dogs, litter, or unfinished roads, for example. A positive outlook enables you to look at, and beyond, all these problems with greater perspective, and see many potential ways forward.

But more importantly, this positive, broadened outlook on the world helps you to build resilience – ‘a variety of enduring personal resources’. So whereas negative emotions are designed to help in moments of immediate danger (the fight-flight response), positive emotions are there to counterbalance the effect of short-term negative emotions once that immediate danger has dissipated, and long term survival skills are required.