The Richard Nicholls Podcast

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Episode 165: Practise Doesn't Make Perfect

It's a new year!
And for a hypnotherapist who specialises in helping people to make changes in their life people will often say to me things like "I bet you'll be busy at work in January then, all the New Years resolutions."
Yet, it's nothing like February, when all those that have tried to make some changes are a month in and can feel themselves giving up and need help.
Which raises questions doesn't it? Because if the changes you make are something you actually want, then why would we feel like giving up?

This is what we look at when someone comes to me for private therapy, but it takes a long time for something to become a habit, a minimum of probably 6 weeks. Some may need less and some may need longer. But what seems to have a huge influence is someone's original intention in the first place.
When someone wants to lose weight, for example, they often think that the changes they need to make are only temporary. They intend to start on a diet for a few months until they're where they want to be. We have 2 problems with that though, firstly all they'll do afterwards is go back to how they were eating before the diet. Which is what led them to gain weight in the first place. And secondly, because they knew it was only temporary anyway, the healthy choices never feel like a new habit, they don't stick. Even after 6 weeks or 3 months it's still hard work.
I'm often reminded of the study that a man called Gary McPherson did in the late 1990’s. Gary was a professor at the university of new south wales and had a passion for music, so he set out to investigate why some children when they were learning an instrument could progress quite quickly and others couldn't. So he did a 9 month study of 133 randomly selected 8 year old children, who were about to start learning an instrument at school.
The study even started before the child had even chosen their instrument. Gary wanted to find out what the magic ingredients were that sparked off musical aptitude. Was it related to their home life? their IQ points? Was it simply how often they practised?
He had hours of detailed interviews and videotapes of them pracctising to plow through but after 9 months he’d got a lot of data. But… there didn’t seem to be any correlation between the children that showed great musical aptitude with anything else. Their IQ could all be different, their maths skills, their sense of rhythm, their parents income, not even how often they practised. There was no correlation with anything at all. Apart from one thing.
Right before they’d even started their very first lesson they were all asked how long they thought they’d play their instrument for. Their answers were then broken down into 3 different time frames, they were classed as having either short term commitment, medium term commitment or long term commitment. And there was the correlation, because those that were in the long term commitment group outperformed the short term group in musical aptitude by 400% Even if they all put in an hour and a half per day of pracctise. So more pracctise doesn't necessarily mean a better outcome, it makes a big difference though, because the long term commitment kids who only did 20 minutes of practise only scored slightly higher than the short term commitment children who did 90 minutes. So pracctise doesn't make perfect unless you've got a long term commitment to doing something.
It's commonly said that there are 4 stages of competence.
1. Unconscious incompetence, you’re so out of touch with the problem that you don’t even know that you cant do it.
2. Conscious incompetence, now you know that you can’t do it.
3. Conscious competence, you now know how to do it, it just takes a lot of conscious effort.
4. Unconscious competence, you can do it and you don’t even need to think about it anymore, its become second nature to you.
This applies to everything that we're learning. Whether it's learning the guitar, learning to leave food on your plate, learning to see the positive outcomes of a situation, learning to deal with emotion in a better way, learning not to self harm.
What my clients are ultimately looking for is to learn something new and unlearn something old. Because if an unwanted behaviour is at stage 4 then it’s outside of conscious awareness. The signals in the brain have moved too quickly for the consciousness to have noticed and it's too late. They’ve already shoved in the extra chips that were on their plate, they’ve already taken the escalator instead of the steps or they’ve already taken a Stanley blade into there bathroom to slice away at their arm because pain in their body is the only distraction they have to deal with the pain in the mind.
So when someone with an unhealthy habit says that they don’t even know that they’re doing it, that's because it’s become a skill, a habit that has become unconscious competence. And to make a new behaviour just as unconscious takes the right combination of repetition and attitude. And that's going to be different for everyone, so be careful with these fad diets or sudden changes in lifestyle and find what will work for you not just now but forever.

Link to Emma Hillman - Eagle Coach