Tim Hanke’s post last Tuesday inspired me to give my own take on developing one’s pursuits. I do see it in a different way, for me it’s not so much a matter of organizing time as being compelled to work on them in every spare moment.
As a youngster I have one particular recollection of my parents dragging me out into the sunshine when I actually wanted to stay at home and look at Bobby Fischer games. Later on I spent the time I was in school thinking about chess in my mind. Between the ages of 12 and 16 I went through an enormous number of game collections and implemented Alexander Kotov’s recommendations about analysing positions without moving the pieces and writing down everything that I saw. And during this time I went from being a beginner to Southport Chess Club and Merseyside Champion, with a rating of around 2200.
Did I have a particular talent for chess? Actually I think I’m far less talented than many players who have never made particular progress. I think it’s simply a question of working a lot on the right sort of things, not in the short term but as a matter of lifestyle. And this in turn is probably a function of certain personality traits.
Confirmation of this hypothesis has come more recently through my interest in tai chi. Despite having little ability for anything in which you have to move (!) I’ve made good progress (sifu tells me it’s been VERY good). I did my research, found the best teacher available and somehow make room to practice for at least 2 hours per day with a 150 minute private lesson every couple of weeks. I’ve been doing this for nearly 5 years now, and that in spite of being a self employed single father.
How do I create time on such a regular basis? Admittedly I don’t get out much or spend quality time watching soap operas but there’s more to it than that. Basically I just make tai chi central to my life rather than relegating it to the normal position of ‘hobby’. I have a set daily agenda of routines I HAVE TO do (with around a two hour total), plus an optional extra 30 minutes that I do late in the evenings if I’m not teaching chess. Then my goal is just to fit in at least the basic two hour minimum, even if it means taking the time out of sleep by getting up very early. Friends, relatives and others are going to have to understand as this is central to what makes me tick. In other words it takes a very high priority.
This is not what most people do. They try to improve at their chosen pursuit via DIY methods and giving it a lower priority than other things in their lives. They then don’t try for long enough, perhaps devoting anything from a few months to a year or two to the process of improvement.
Of course this is only going to have limited efficacy, with art forms such as chess and tai chi it takes years to make serious progress. So the job for someone who is serious about improvement is to give it as high a priority as they possibly can after which they’ll put more in. And then they need to make it more important still.
Are there costs to this level of commitment? Maybe, because it certainly doesn’t fit in with most people’s view of a ‘balanced life’. But people say that I seem quite happy, and I do seen to make good progress at things that interest me.