Wednesday, July 27, 2016

10,000 Hours Is Not Enough

Yesterday I joined up with another retired walker who played basketball at what was in his day, a Division 1 program. When we reached what turned out to be our mutual turn around point neither of us turned around. There was a moment when we looked at each other, waiting for someone to chicken out, but we continue down the trail. A quarter of a mile later, we discovered that both of us were going for a personal best. I walked 7.25 miles, a mile further than my previous best. My friend finished with 9.4 miles, improving his record by 0.2 miles.

Today, I am taking an unplanned day off. My legs and lower back are still sore.

In Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, the author famously applies the discoveries found in a German psychological study of professional violinists to other fields of human endeavor. His conclusion, 10,000 hours of practice are required to achieve excellence. This is true no matter what your talent level or IQ score. This makes sense. The symphonies that Mozart wrote when he was eight years old weren’t as good as his later works.

There is more to the success equation than 10,000 hours, although that seems to be a necessary but not sufficient component. Angela Duckworth, author of Grit, a study of factors beyond talent and IQ that lead to success, observes that she runs every day, but her time hasn’t improved in years. She discussed this with an elite runner who asked her the following questions.

1) When you run do you have a goal? For example: Today I will run hills or run for time.
Answer: No, No, and No.

2) What do you do while you are running? For example: Focus on stride or breathing.
She distracts herself by listening to NPR.

3) How do you get feedback on your performance? For example: Do you measure speed or heart rate? Do you have a coach?
Answer: No, No, and No.

4) Are you going back every time you run, asking what can I refine here? What can I do to get better?
Answer: No and No.

Angela’s answers were even worse than mine which are pretty bad. I do set goals for and keep track of daily and weekly distance totals. Rarely, I try to increase my speed over a given distance, but that is about it. One of the discoveries in her studies is that success requires 10,000 hours of DELIBERATE PRACTICE which requires what she terms, grit.

Vince Lombardi put it this way, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

I think her findings apply to just about any facet of life. Goals are important. Although I reached my retirement goal at 62 instead of 55, I did reach my goal. Today, like Angela Duckworth, I don’t really have a clearly defined goal beyond trying to stay in good financial shape. I track my net worth, hoping to see it continue to grow even though I am retired. I consider it a personal affront when I need to dip into savings to pay property taxes or a big insurance bill. After three years, I have managed to stay below a 2% draw. Since 4% is considered safe, I guess I am doing OK. My fickle friend, the stock market, has helped me increase my net worth in retirement, but I know from experience, she might just choose to blow on another man’s dice.

Like Angela, I want to step up my game. Although I have read dozens of personal finance books, on most days I feel like I have read the same book 100 times. After spending over 20 years diligently working toward one of two major financial goals, it seems not having a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) has left a hole in my life. If I want to improve this blog for my readers, I need to improve myself. Professional golfers have at least one coach. Some of them have more than one coach to work on different parts of their game. Athletes like Michael Jordan and Peyton Manning, who have forgotten more about their sports than most professional athletes will ever learn spent hours reviewing their performance and the performance of their adversaries on video tape.

Unlike professional athletes, our responsibilities to the sport of personal finance don’t end with retirement or even with our death. Although we can no longer do anything about it, we continue to be responsible for our spouse, our children, our grand children, and the charities or causes we believe to be important even though our bodies are in the grave.

There are still goals out there I haven’t even imagined. I can still step up my game.

What can you do to improve your performance?
What can you do today?
Just do it!

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