Self Discipline: Principles in Practice
Trainers, educators and parents constantly contend with push back from professionals, students, and children when “the trainer” asks for consistent, repetitive attempts at otherwise banal tasks. What is the best germane rejoinder to such grousing?
Worse yet, those of us who don the mantle of Prepper or Sheepdog probably wrestle with the same demons that would have us believe that we are competent in our fitness level and proficient in our gardening, animal husbandry, bushcraft, food preservation skills, etc. The stark reality is that we probably need to settle into the idea that we need to do more, and better.
In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell, in his best-selling book, Outliers: The Story of Success, brought to the rank and file, the 10,000 – Hour Rule. Wherein, the author nicely develops the position, using an array of salient anecdotes, establishing that to become an expert in anything, one must fulfill the necessary, but not sufficient, requirement of at least 10,000 hours spent in that endeavor.
The professor expounds the experiences of Bill Joy, who essentially wrote the software that drives the Internet, Mozart, chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer, professional hockey players, The Beatles, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and a host of other eminent people in the world. What was the secret sauce common to their success?
As Gladwell (2008) reminds us, that according to the research, “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role of innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play” (p. 38).
The P10 Paradigm
Mentors, training officers, mid-level managers, police captains, moms, and dads tritely remind the tadpoles under their purview of the Passionate Participation in Prior Proper Planning Prevents Pitifully Poor Performance Paradigm; and probably, quite frequently. So then, how much quantifiable training is necessary to become proficient?
The sage professor comes to the rescue:
The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours. (p. 40)
Levitin suggests (as cited in Gladwell, 2008, p. 40) “…the emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again…no one has found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery” (p. 40).
Martial Arts legend, Bruce Lee, earlier arrived at a similar number as he opined, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
The time required to perform 10,000 kicks does not even approximate 10,000 hours, but it is a feeble goodwill concession and worthwhile starting point. In other words, one could suggest that, 10,000 iterations perhaps smacks of mastery.
Who Is Exempt?
This begs the question, are soldiers, firefighters, preppers, or rescue workers immune or exempt from this rule? I suggest that those of us in the prepping or sheepdog communities that hover around highway-speed I.Q.’s would do well to be inclined to agree with the Yale Professor and say emphatically, indeed no.
What are those responsible for training peers and subordinates, to take from this? Foremost, preppers should be inspired to greatness; even expertise. Perfection is the goal; but excellence is acceptable.
One frequently hears the adage that a good leader should inspire. Agreed. Consider what inspire means in a medical context; it is the antithesis of expire, or to die. In other words, leaders have the rich opportunity to figuratively and literally breathe life into those they motivate.
Exploration and diversion with the application of the 10,000-Hour Rule to the most primal activities suggests that: it is impossible to be an expert at breathing until one reaches at least 14 months of age; sleeping, about 3.5 years; walking, about 4.5 years; and eating, about 9 years of age. Once one gets the reality-check it becomes rather daunting.
How then, should a leader answer those trainees, including our own children, who complain when required to repeat the tasks that they claim to have performed millions of times in the academy or on last weeks’ chores?
In David J. Lieberman’s (2000) bestselling book, Get Anyone To Do Anything, he urges the reader to “…provide more than just the desired destination; also give her a map for getting there” (p. 62). And he admonishes the more assiduous student to “…focus on what he will be saving himself from (i.e., the heartache,…etc.) rather than what he has to gain from listening to you” (p. 63).
Applying Gladwell’s Findings
Consequently, how can instructors, leaders, and parents take the lucid findings of Professor Gladwell and apply them to the prepping community or other situations/organizations?
First, humbly admit that, owing to the diverse charter that comprises the job description of a prepper; a true expert in any facet of our craft is probably rare indeed and should frankly be conceded. In his book, What Makes a Leader? Psychologist Daniel Goleman (2017) contends that “Self-awareness is the first component of emotional intelligence….it shows itself… in an ability to assess oneself realistically” (p. 19). Applying this standard, any claim by a person in the profession who claims to be an expert in anything, cadre included, should peg the bovine excrement meter in each of our cerebral cortexes.
Second, submit to them the 10,000-Hour Rule, wherein, they can be assuaged with the promise that they may cease donning protective clothing, dry firing, honing domestic skills, decreasing a run time, increasing pull-ups, or whatever blows their hair back; after the minimum of 10,000 iterations or hours is spent training in each of those skills, whichever comes first. Further, one should be encouraged to stay in their lane, as it were, before more advanced skills are practiced with any regularity. The flippant response would resemble, “Come back and report to me once you are an expert.” Such a response is not recommended.
In practice, a tribe might be inspired to become experts at a battery of essential skills or maneuvers, perhaps of their own choosing, to encourage buy in. Suppose an earnest learner drills on 10 days monthly and trains in ten of those months, she should practice each of the skills 1,000 times per year. Were she to perform it 10 times each training block, thus yielding 10,000 iterations in ten years, it would satisfy both Sensei Bruce Lee and Dr. Lieberman, and may begin to placate the minimum threshold purveyed by Dr. Gladwell (2008). Practically, the process renders a tribe or group with near expertise in the predetermined skills in about ten years, not accounting for attrition, relevance, or perishability of the skills. Of most significance is the issue of self-aggrandizement and promotion, whereby at the completion of the ten years training, the expert frequently knights himself, declares himself a savant, dons an officer’s habiliments and inherits a completely different, less pedestrian skillset requirement, sadly never to revisit the expert skills again. However, that is a discussion for another day.
The KISS Principle
To make the most difficult first step on this journey, use the keep it simple stupid (KISS) principle. Does each member of your family or group have a few feet of inexpensive cordage with which to practice knot tying? Do they tie each knot daily? Does each have a practice tourniquet? Do they practice in low light or weak-handed scenarios?
To avoid the professional from taking umbrage at the suggestion, a leader could remind the practitioner that doing so may very well save her children’s mother’s or her patient’s life and the attendant guilt per Lieberman (2000). which would obviate ineffable suffering on their own and their coworkers’ behalf.
Motivating students, professionals and more particularly, ourselves to train on essential skills is, and will continue to be an onerous aspect of leadership at all levels. It is incumbent on each leader to inculcate a desire in themselves and each team member to attain and preserve expertise in the maximum number of skills available. We should all be striving to be the quintessential Renaissance man. To do anything less is a vapid dereliction of duty to our families, communities, the people and professionals with whom we work and the constituents who we serve.
(To be concluded in Part 2.)