“Greatness” is a funny concept. In most definitions, the concept of Greatness becomes subjective and difficult to quantify and qualify.
Psychology is derived from philosophy. That grey area, if you will.
In writing about the topic, I often run into the “10,000 hour” rule as popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. This suggests that 10,000 hours of practice (specifically DELIBERATE practice) will get you there.
Sounds nice, but its not accurate. In fact, that number was simply the mean average in a study. It sounds cool, though, doesn’t it?
Music and chess often show up in these studies. In a study of Chess Grandmasters, the range of time required to reach that level ranged from 2-26 years. I’m impressed with the 2 year Grandmaster, but what about the 26 year Grandmaster?
If we are defining Greatness as the maximization of one’s individual potential, then it would be quite easy to dismiss the greatest outlier for attainment of “elite” status in chess, as 26 years of practice represents the farthest point away from the median, right? Or are we missing something?
Perhaps the majority of people are analyzing this in the wrong context. Rather than looking at this from the perspective of success relative to the median, perhaps the better question is: “what made them continue to try so hard in the first place?” What Gladwell failed to ask was why performers would engage in practice and what the motivating force was behind the practice in the first place.
The simplest answer to this question would be: “because they felt like it”. Or even better: “because they chose to”.
26 years of persistence. 26 years of perseverance.
And what about those who never made it to that level…but kept trying…
Does Greatness lie in autonomy? I mean, the cornerstone of most performance pursuits involves the athlete or performer actually having a choice in whether or not they are going to engage in the activity.
The concept of Greatness lies within this answer, and the foundation is autonomy, and other mental factors that contribute to self-determination, such as feeling competent and feeling a sense of belonging.
Greatness would be impossible without self-determination, and perhaps a coach facilitating self-determination. Other skills such as goal setting, relaxation/energization, visualization and self talk all are critical components to greatness and are used to varying degrees within each performers training plan, but without the foundational intrinsic motivation to participate in the first place…
Greatness will never be possible.