1. Is it true that we need to practise for 10,000 hours to master a skill like music or gymnastics?

No. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University came up with the 10,000 hours idea, but he intended it to be just a shorthand for lots of practice. It was an arbitrary figure and it doesn’t take into account genetic factors and the quality of the practice. 

2. True or false? ‘To be truly happy we need to make happiness our goal and strive to achieve it.’

False. Happiness is too vague to be a goal. It’s better to adopt habits that improve our lives day-to-day. Try looking for the positive in bad events, savouring everyday experiences (even the taste of your coffee), investing in your relationships and exercise. Most of all develop a mission to use your talents, experience or personal qualities to help others. 

3. True or false? ‘To be a world-class achiever it’s essential to start developing our skills as early as possible.’

False. Okay, Tiger Woods started golf aged four and was beating adults when he was eight, but that’s unusual. Take Roger Federer. He tried eight sports as a kid and only settled on tennis in his teens. That’s the most common track for world-class achievers. 

4. Taking a break helps us learn. How long should the break be? A) Overnight B) A few seconds C) Either works

C) Either works. The evidence for consolidating learning overnight has been around for many years, but the latest evidence shows that even 10 seconds may be enough – at least for some simple skills. That study came with a surprise: The break doesn't just help us remember what we've learned. The researchers asked participants to type a sequence of numbers and found that their performance improved after the 10 second break – suggesting that they continued to learn even though they had stopped typing. 

5. What’s the name given to going over and over the event that’s making us anxious or stressed?

Rumination (think cows). Nothing prolongs anxiety or stress like rumination.

6. Let’s say a colleague says something that upsets you and you are now back at your desk. What’s a way of calming yourself?

You could include ‘third person thinking’. It’s been around since at least Julius Caesar’s time and now researchers have concluded that it helps to clear the emotional fog. It might seem a bit weird, but if your name is Sophie, you say (to yourself) ‘Sophie felt hurt when James said ....’. It only works if you then genuinely reflect on what happened and why. Reframing, such as thinking about the conversation in more positive ways, works too. 

7. Would just thinking about coffee and not drinking it affect your performance?

Possibly. A recent study in Consciousness and Cognition suggests that thinking about coffee is enough to kick-start our brains, increase our heart rate and help us perform better. Tea? The same result, but nowhere near as dramatic. It’s an early study and not perfect, but an international research journal thought it was worth publishing. 


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