A new secret to success: stop trying so hard
It might seem counterintuitive, but we're designed to operate effortlessly
Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell has posited that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice — and some talent — to master the practice of any discipline. He says this is because the human mind is primed to function on autopilot, and minimum mental effort is required after this “level” of mastery is achieved. The long hours put in can be thought of as a threshold or barrier to be pushed past before a person is in the zone.
This level of functioning is largely attributed to theta brain waves, when enough conscious hours of practice filtrate into the subconscious. The result is a subconscious dream-field or a breakthrough into conscious reality from a storehouse of effort and practice, with the best possible work we are capable of doing being channelled through an instrument or the movement of a body.
Theta wave emissions have been observed, one of which is linked to the hippocampus. The activity of these waves has been recorded in humans during memory formation, navigation and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Scientists have also demonstrated a link between the output of these waves and sleep and sensorimotor activity — receiving sensory information from our bodies and the environment. Theta waves have also been recorded during times of excitement.
Jane (not her real name) is passionate about discovering algorithms in stock market trends. She realises that she has tapped into (or has developed a knack for) predicting the rise and fall of stock prices, and knows when to pull out of a bad investment or when an oscillating stock has an overarching positive trend that might not be immediately obvious to everyone. She has fun creating specialised algorithms that will predict the future of stocks and her success is a result of this skill. There is nothing mystical about her prowess. She has dedicated countless hours to studying business and the stock market, enjoys maths, reads newspapers, watches the news and picks apart sociopolitical events. She knows that the environment informs current and future trends, but the only difference between her and every other stockbroker is that she is fully conscious of her consolidation process and does not force results. Her job pressurises her enough already to be alert and accurate with clients’ funds. Her secret is prioritising meditation and other relaxation techniques. She releases mental baggage that would otherwise physically manifest as a tired body (saving her oversecretion of cortisol in her adrenal glands) and eventually burnout, as well as tunnel vision.
However counterintuitive it seems to be that relaxing might be good for improved performance at work, scientist Jacob L Liberman documented in his book Luminous Life: How the Science of Light Unlocks the Art of Living a surprising contradiction to human conditioning. “Here is what was not expected: I found that whenever people were exerting effort, their pupils [shrank] and the light in their eyes became dull. It was as if trying hard induced tunnel vision and murkiness,” he writes. “When their efforts stopped, suddenly their pupils expanded and filled with light. It was dramatic, and it happened instantaneously because the pupil also responds to any sensory, emotional or mental change occurring in the autonomous nervous system.
“Having had difficulties with reading my entire life and continually being told to try harder, this discovery helped me see that we are designed to function with little or no effort. I was beginning to realise that our potential as human beings hinged on the subtle balance between striving and thriving.”
This realisation came after decades of trying to force a result (in his case restoring full-sightedness), and then realising that the application of the discovery encompassed more than just fixing his eye problems.
According to Psych Central, “REM sleep stimulates the brain regions used in learning. This may be important for normal brain development during infancy, which would explain why infants spend much more time in REM sleep than adults.
“Like deep sleep, REM sleep is associated with increased production of proteins. One study found that REM sleep affects learning of certain mental skills.”
Theta wave states are proof that human brains are consolidating a vast amount of information with the least amount of conscious effort. Artists who enter the flow or musicians who can improvise riffs have achieved a conscious level of theta wave output. That is also why lightweight boxing champion boxer Vasyl Lomachenko has been described as “a glitch in the matrix” for his level of mastery in the discipline — he convincingly beats all opponents in the ring, yet looks like he is playing.
Ultimately, mastery in any field can be achieved through a combination of discipline (or 10,000 hours) and an understanding of the benefits of relaxation. Binaural beats are frequencies that can trigger gamma and theta wave activity. Supplementing meditation with theta wave binaural beats (available free on YouTube) is one surefire way to release the tension blocking the mastery of your discipline.