“If you’re any good at all, you know you can be better.”
“Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it.”
Henry David Thoreau
Mastery can be achieved in 10,000 hours or less.
Greatness is the assumption. Over the last two months, I’ve written several posts on finding your purpose in life. The goal of these posts has been to show you how to align your mindset and every part of your life towards achieving something great. Everything I’ve shared has been passed on under this general assumption – you have a desire to be great. In other words, I’m assuming you want to achieve mastery over some area of your life. If you have no such desire, then naming your purpose in life and mapping out a grand campaign for achieving your goal is unnecessary. However, if you want to achieve mastery, whether it be in the realm of business and entrepreneurship or in the realm of self-help and personal development, you have to choose and maintain a direction for your life.
Mastery is your mountain peak. Anything that’s worth achieving requires focus and effort over a long period of time. You have to spend many hours, days, and even years generating momentum towards a single goal. This is why it is so important to pick a mountain peak, or a purpose of living, that offers you an enjoyable journey along the way. Your climb will take time, so make sure the ascent itself helps you increase happiness, generate influence, and improve self-confidence.
Focus on principles, not processes. Contrary to popular belief, there are no real shortcuts to greatness. Every year, countless books fill up the shelves at bookstores promising to help you achieve mastery overnight. I’ve read over 300 nonfiction books in the past two years, all within the fields of business, science, and personal development. My reading has taught me two things; first, there are hundreds of ways to repackage the same exact principle, and two, once a new process for doing something is published, it’s no longer cutting-edge. For centuries, the principles for mastering any subject have remained the same. Greatness can only be achieved by consistently applying these principles to your chosen pursuit.
Action is the source of mastery. Reading nonfiction is critical for building references, seeing new opportunities, and expanding your overall perspective. However, reading, by itself, will not help you achieve mastery. You have to apply the principles you learn. You have to take action. Specifically, you have to take purposeful action, in a single direction, for a long period of time. This means you have to be willing to fail firsthand rather than succeed only in your imagination.
10,000 Hours To Greatness
The 10,000-hour rule is the idea that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill. For example, it would take you 10 years of practicing 3 hours a day to master a particular subject. Similarly, it would take you about 5 years of full-time employment to become an expert in a given field. Studies of human performance in fields as different as chess, music, sports, surgery and mathematics have shown that this rule holds true. Another number that appears throughout these studies is the number 5. From musicians to elite athletes, top performers only spend about 5 hours daily in intensely focused practice. Due to biological constraints on concentration and mental performance, any time spent practicing beyond this number is not worth the investment.
Two recently published books, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, discuss this rule in detail. In the latter book, Colvin discusses experiments with virtuoso violinists, chess masters, and pro golfers that show a direct link between expert performance and focused practice. Both conclude that mastering any domain comes down to one thing and one thing only – the number of hours you spend in deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is achieved by performing an activity perfectly (exactly as you would when it counts), repeating the activity obsessively, receiving constant and immediate feedback, and consistently pushing past your current comfort levels. The problem for many people is that once they become good at something, they lose their motivation to become great at it. This is due to the plateau effect. This effect causes people to make rapid gains early in their pursuit of mastery and then level off once they have become proficient, or moderately successful.
Rules Are Meant To Be Broken
The 10,000-hour rule can be broken. There’s no way to get around the fact that you will have to consistently apply yourself to achieve greatness in any area of your life. However, there are a handful of things you can do to shave off hours from the 10,000-hour rule. The following is a list of 6 practices that will help you break this rule. If done correctly, these practices will also help you overcome the plateau effect and stay motivated to achieve the highest level of mastery possible in your chosen pursuit.
In the book Mastery, Robert Greene tells how Albert Einstein graduated from Zurich Polytechnic in 1900 without any job prospects. He had graduated near the bottom of the class, giving him little to no chance of obtaining a teaching position. In 1902, after working in a patent office for two years, Einstein formed “The Olympia Academy” with two friends, who met to discuss books about science and philosophy. Three years later, Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis papers vaulted him to international fame.
You are the average of the 5 people you hang out with the most. Boost your average by creating small tribes and mastermind groups that will enhance your perspective, while keeping you focused on your goals and inspired to achieve them. In Tribes, author Seth Godin defines a tribe as a group of people connected to one another and connected to an idea. A small group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate. For a long time I was convinced that the only way to achieve mastery was to work long and hard all on my own. I thought this was the quickest and best way to perfect a skill and get ahead. Only when I started working with small teams of scientists in the field of flow cytometry and cellular imaging did I learn the value of creating tribes. I’ve now formed 3 different mastermind groups, one relating to my scientific pursuits, one relating to my goals as a writer and blogger, and one relating to goals in business and entrepreneurship.
Think of the individuals in your tribes as people to share hours with. For example, every hour your spend taking purposeful action with 2 other focused people equals 3 total hours towards the 10,000 hour rule. The key is to form a tribe with people who push you outside of your comfort zone and who have strengths different from your own. If you’re the smartest person in your group, it’s time to get some new members. In my next post, I will continue this list and show you how to shave hours off of the 10,000-hour rule without the life hack lie.