Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Putting in the Hours

To be a master at something, you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice. That’s a concept that attempts to identify the cause of success.
I’m not sure who came up with it – I think it was Malcolm Gladwell.

Let me do the math for you.
If you spend two hours a day writing, you will reach 10,000 hours in 5000 days. That is somewhere between 13 and 14 years.

That’s a long time.

Still, it is reachable, right? Consider the words of the age-old saying, “Practice makes perfect.” Now consider the words of Vince Lombardi, a renowned football coach, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

So now we combine these two things. It will take you roughly 13 and a half years of perfect practice to get good at something.

Why exactly 10,000 hours? Why perfect practice?

10,000 hours is not necessarily a specific number, but rather a number so high that average people will never reach it. Most people give up before they even get close. Thus, only those who persevere get success.

What I think Lombardi means by perfect practice is that it doesn’t help you to practice doing something wrong. That won’t make you better at it. It probably applies more to football than writing, but I’ll try to apply it anyway. Let’s say your pacing is bad. By practising bad pacing, you’re not going to get any better. The only way to get better is to see where your bad pacing is and where your good pacing is and putting in more of the good pacing.

That said, I don’t think it works as shut and close as it sounds. Writing bad prose lets you see how to improve. Everything you write helps you grow. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it can be explained by psychology beyond my understanding. Either way, perfect practice might not be the correct word. Rather we should say deliberate practice.

As you can read on Justine Musk’s blog here (you should read it, well worth it), deliberate practice is practising hard. You have to work on the edge of your ability. Push yourself to do the best you possibly can. You will fail, but to quote Justine (who might have been quoting someone else, I don’t know), “the important thing is that you’re failing forward.”

Humans learn from mistakes. Someone once said that the key to success is to make mistakes faster than your competition so that you get more opportunities to learn.

You have to practice and practice, making mistakes and learning from them as you go. The more this happens, the closer you are to success.
For more on deliberate practice, the Dip and other awesome things, read Justine’s post here.

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