Have you ever wondered what makes some children grow up to be world-renown musicians or critically acclaimed novelists while others merely quit after a few years? Malcolm Gladwell would say it all comes down to practice—over 10,000 hours of practice to be exact. But, a study by Gary McPherson highlights that there is an important attitude that is also needed for success.
In 1997 Gary McPherson decided to study musicians—namely what exactly contributed to a successful musician. Was it practice? Genetics? Environment? He studied 157 randomly selected kids as they picked and learned a musical instrument. Some went on to be professional musicians and others quit playing after they left school. He was looking for patterns. Were there traits or characteristics that all of the successful musicians had?
Amazingly, it was not the obvious ones. It was not IQ, aural sensitivity, math skills, natural rhythm, or even parents that dictated success. There was only one question that provided a clue to indicate which students would be successful and which wouldn’t. He asked each participant before they even selected their instrument on question:
“How long do you think you will play the instrument you choose?”
The answer to this question predicted whether or not a student would be successful. If they thought they would play an instrument their whole life they did better, if they thought they would only play temporarily they did not play as well. Their success had nothing to do with skills—it was all about their attitude!
Logically, this makes sense. If you think you are going to do something for life, you work harder at and you are therefore better. However, we often do not apply this knowledge to our choices or our parenting. For example, how often do you hear a child or parent say ‘I couldn’t be a doctor, I am terrible at science.’ Or ‘I can’t do art, I am a bad drawer.’
We do not need any inherent skills to be able to be good at what we do, we only need an attitude that we are going to stick with it. Our minds and skills set will grow with us as we stick to our goals. How can we use McPherson’s study in our own life?
- Throw away unhelpful mindsets like “I wouldn’t be good at,” or “I could never.” Help kids learn that it is our attitude, not our skills that help us succeed.
- When picturing your projects start by adjusting your perception of how long you will stick with it instead of focusing on whether or not you have the right skills. Teach kids to do this as well.
- If you want to know how someone else will be at what they do, ask them how long they expect to do it—this will be a better predictor of their performance than anything else.
Knowing how our attitudes affect our performance is an essential aspect of furthering our understanding of ourselves and the possibility of success.