As mentioned in my last blog post, deliberate practice involves activities designed to specifically improve performance. This focused intention of improvement takes lots of effort and can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Ericcson (1993) questioned the source of the experts motivation, and it seems the cost benefit ratio of 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert seems to weight heavily on the cost side. So what is the motivation to sacrifice so much for a limited payout?
Harmonious and Obsessive Passion
In an interesting study done by Vallerand et al. (2007), the authors describe two types of passion, harmonious and obsessive passion. Basically the practictioner who is in harmony with his passion engages in activity for the enjoyment and mastery of skill. Harmonious passion involves doing activity for activity's sake, intrinsic motivation, and creating a feeling of general well being.
Obsessive passion, on the other hand, is extrinsically motivated, focused on engaging in activities for rewards, recognition, and creating a sense of identity by personal achievements. Vallerand reports those that score heavily on obsessive passion report lower levels of subjective well being, and often avoid performances because of a fear of failure and loss of identity.
Harmonious and obsessive passion both lead to deliberate practice, yet the intention for each passion is different. The harmonious practitioners intention is two fold: increased subjective well being and mastery goals. The mastery goals leads to deliberate practice, which in turn leads to improved performance. On the other hand, the obsessive practitioner focuses heavily on goals that will directly improve performance. Besides performance approach goals, the obsessive practictioner may have performance avoidance goals. Performance avoidance can be attributed to fear of failure or damaging a carefully constructed identity. Performance avoidance leads to a decrease in performance.
Can we be both Harmonious and Obsessive?
While Vallerand (2007) labels two distinct paths, I would argue that most practitioners have periods of harmonious and obsessive passion. It has been my experience with martial arts, specifically Judo, that obsessive passion is the path of youth. The young zealous competitor develops an identity through various accomplishments and success in tournaments. Success leads to more success and in an effort to reach the highest attainable level of success, obsessive passion develops. Yet because of the negative affect of obsessive passion and the emotional and physical investment involved in a sport like Judo, more often than not the individual becomes burnt out or finds a more harmonious balance.
Obsession can lead to harmony. Maybe after the burnout the practictioner shifts their goals from the extrinsic to intrinsic. Knowing that they may not be an Olympic champion, they instead focus on teaching or gaining a greater knowledge of the techniques. So in youth we have the energy to invest the extra energy and effort. As we age we don't have the same emotional and physical energy to battle, so we step into the flow and develop a more sustainable practice.