Every time I start a yoga routine, I go burst forth with enthusiasm. I perform asanas where I try to touch my toes without bending my knees. A couple of weeks in, I notice that I can only barely touch my shin. This is when I get discouraged and give up – the art requires more patience than I am capable of exercising. And whenever I stop, my muscles contract to their original length.
Stretching does not feel comfortable. Whenever we stretch, we extend our muscle fibers to a point where they elongate past their normal length. This causes pain and discomfort. On relaxing after the stretch they contract, but to a length that is just a little longer. Stretching too much and too fast causes muscles to snap. But stretching the right amount repeatedly over a long period of time makes us more flexible.
We often hear about the 10,000 hours required as a rule of the thumb to become work-class at a particular skill. Several professionals – from airline pilots, to musicians and chess masters have been studied to follow this rule. The caveat here is that the author of this concept, Anders Ericsson, actually meant 10,000 hours of deliberate practice when he quoted this figure. Deliberate practice refers to purposeful and systematic practice that is aimed at continuous improvement by pushing part one’s comfort zone.
Every skill we pursue, including writing, listening, building a network or structuring our thoughts work like those muscles. They require us to show up steadily, pushing past the comfort zone and stretch the zone of improvement. Whenever we do not stretch, our muscles gradually constrict to their original length and our capabilities regress.
This implies that we ought to embrace a certain feeling of discomfort while developing our craft. The more we welcome this discomfort, the faster we improve. The more comfortable we become with our existing capabilities, the more likely our muscles are to contract to a point of stagnation.