Competence and Habits

“How are habits connected to competence?”

When it comes to mastery and “success,” it’s a bit of a cliche to cite the 10,000 hour rule. explaining that there is a direct statistical relationship between hours of practice and achievement. No shortcuts.

It turns out that the one thing each great, successful personality had in common was an unrelenting pursuit of their craft/goal. Each “success” would put in a minimum of 10,000 hours refining and honing their craft.

Now, care to guess what we develop when we put 10,000 hours of practice and effort into any one craft/skill? Correct! We develop the corresponding habit/s!

So, when you think about habit development, think first about how to refine the skill — practice the skill repeatedly. The repeated practice with consistency, over time, will yield a new level of expertise

The other commonality between habit and skill is this: Both reside in the “older” parts of the brain. So, as one practices and practices and practices some more, it seems that the brain begins to shift the slow, cumbersome and conscious behaviors/skills to a faster and more reflexive part of the brain where conscious thinking is limited. The cerebellum and the limbic regions of the brain (the older brain) reportedly store unconscious, reflexive behaviors, skills and habits!

This is why mastery is truly a product of habituation. For instance, the greatest musicians have thousands of hours of practice and often become totally relaxed and seemingly “unconscious” (in the zone or flow) when they improvise, and yet the first-time performer is slow, timid and obviously very conscious of their performance. This is why a new teenage driver’s car insurance is sky high and it’s nerve-wracking to drive with them, yet when you drive you can be eating, talking on the phone and listening to music.

Summing-up: Competence is about acquiring a new habit. The goal is to move slow, conscious behaviors (performed in training) into the faster, reflexive parts of the brain so that in any emergency their behaviors become “second nature” and habit-like.

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