I’ve become really interested in the power of small, persistent efforts. (Check out my last post.) I think one of the major benefits of persistent, small efforts is the “multiplier effect.” Deliberate practice leads to slight more mastery, which leads to more success, which can lead to more practice. As Geoff Colvin explains in Talent is Overrated the “multiplier effect” is a term coined by researchers at Cornell who gives the example of someone who gains a slight advantage in baseball:
This satisfaction may lead such an individual to practice more, search more aggressively for others willing to play after school and on weekends, try out for teams (not just school teams but also summer league teams), get professional coaching, watch and discus televised games, and so forth. Such an an individual is likely to become matched with increasingly enriched environments for baseball skill . . . Factors cascade over time because they multiply the effects of earlier, seemingly weak, factors.
Of course, you have to be careful here, because it can sound like you have to be doing a bunch of activities to to be considered as progressing. The point that I take from this quote is that small, consistent steps, lead naturally to other steps, which lead to opening up new territory. “Factors cascade.” Cascade like water. Like the Taoists say water is weak yet strong, moving around rocks yet overtime creating Grand Canyons. (I’m not a Taoist, but I play one on TV!)
I’m still far from fluency in Japanese but I am a heck of a lot farther than I thought I would be. From kanji study to sentence flashcards, I’ve gotten to the point where I can listen to a podcast and decide whether I’m interested in the topic or not. I can enjoy Japanese self-help books even if I don’t understand every sentence. Factors are cascading and allow me to have more fun in Japanese.
Small amounts of practice also keeps the road map open. Part of learning any domain (that’s the Talent is Overrated in me talking), involves mapping out your field or your practice. I may have crazy, emergency room like days at school, but if I spend even just five minutes a day writing, I can remember where I am and where I am going.
A rolling samurai gathers no moss. And let me tell, once the moss gathers it can feel like a doozy to pick off. I think that’s what I’ve let happened to playing guitar. I was practicing during my sabbatical and my summer vacation, but once school started again, I focused on school, writing, and Japanese. Now it feels insurmountable to start again. I should follow my own advice.
Little moments of daily practice help set the bookmark in your mind and help you persist. I’m going to leave it at that because the metaphor store called and said I’ve overdrawn my account. Gather no moss. Let the waters cascade. Keep the map open! Take a few minutes each day.