The way to become a master at anything

I recently read “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a book not just about exceptional and successful people but mainly about what qualities they share, what are the mutual elements of their journey that made them successful. The author looks at cases of entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Joe Flom but also skilled pilots, hockey players, and Chinese farmers to find out in what ways they are alike.

It was a compelling read and I would highly recommend examining all the author’s theories. But one of the concepts really stood out to me and I’d like to share it with you. For me, the most ground-breaking insights from the “Outliers” was The 10 000 hour Rule.

It states that it takes about 10 000 hours of practice to become a master in any field.

The main example that Malcolm Gladwell gives is the case of Berlin’s elite Academy of Music’ violinists. researchers divided the musicians into 3 groups based on what was their likelihood of becoming professional violin players. They wanted to know what was the difference between groups (let’s call them A, B, and C) so the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and his team asked all the violinists the same question: since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?

Similarly, they all started playing at about 5 years old, and at the beginning, all of the musicians practiced roughly the same amount of time. But from the age of eight, the violinist from group A started to practice, six, eight, and – by the age of twenty – about thirty hours a week. And by the age of twenty the elite musicians performed for a total amount of about 10 000 hours when the future music teachers just over 4 000.

Furthermore, the physiologists couldn’t find any “naturals” among the students, any musicians that were “just talented”. They discovered that when a person is passed a certain level (in this case getting into the Academy of Music) the only thing that separates the good, great, and the excellent is how hard they work. Achievement is talent plus preparation but interestingly the more the phycologists examine the life of world-class experts in any field they find that preparation starts to play a much bigger role than talent.

But why 10 000 hours?

“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice
sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time.”

Daniel Levitin in Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

This rule even applies to the case of the great Mozart. When he started to compose his work was not outstanding. It took him 10 years which is roughly the amount of time needed to put 10 000 hours to practice, for Mozart to write his first piece considered as a true masterpiece.

This concept is ground-breaking to me. Even though this is a somewhat obvious and basic rule it busts the myth that you have to be talented and have some sort of superpower to become a professional. Pretty much everyone reading this can pick any skill they can think of and become a master – not just good at – but a true master in this particular field. If from now on you spend 10 000 hours (don’t get me wrong – that’s a lot of time) you can become a great musician, a gourmet chef, or an Ironman Triathlete.

But most of us don’t have high expectations like this. Most people would be just fine with being simply good at a particular skill. And this is why I think it’s a game-changer – this rule encourages you to dream big. If it takes just spending 10 000 hours to become an expert in the field, think how little it takes for you to just become good at it. No matter your competence, your genes, intelligence, or looks. The only thing that really matters is practice.

It opens so many doors, creates so many possibilities that were previously considered impossible. If you don’t need to turn into a master at one skill, split the 10 000 hours between other activities. Take a cooking class, learn how to draw, or practice yoga every day for 20 minutes. The world really is your oyster!

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