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.

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:















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.