Can Play Make Us Play Better?
August 9, 2012
“Play hard; work hard.” We’ve all heard it many times. Do we take it to heart? Should we?
In his study of talented young musicians in Berlin, K Anders Ericsson asked what separated the outstanding soloists from those who were merely good. The difference was not – as is often misquoted – that the best players practised more. Instead, they practised intensely and then allowed themselves more time to relax and recoup.
The lesser players spread their work throughout the day, never escaping a sense of stress and anxiety. The elite players, in contrast, consolidated their work into two well-defined periods, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Either side of these peaks of concentration, the best players enjoyed life: they slept more during the daytime and spent more time having fun away from music. Their lives were simultaneously more relaxed and more productive. What some people call idleness is often the best investment.
The idea that being good at something demands harried, exhausted martyrdom is a relatively new idea. “Only in recent history,” as Nassim Nicholas Taleb puts it, “has ‘working hard’ signalled pride rather than shame for lack of talent, finesse and, mostly, sprezzatura.” If we really want to be good at something, we should stop wasting time exhausting ourselves.
See the whole argument here.