“Short cuts make for long delays.”
“How long should you try?
Life hacking is a dirty lie that’s being told worldwide.
A life hack used to refer to productivity tricks that computer programmers use to cut through information overload. The phrase has grown to include any sort of trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method to increase productivity and efficiency in all walks of life. Over the past few years, the phrase has continued to expand with many people now claiming that mastery, ultimate achievement, and longterm fulfillment can be hacked.
Your soul needs more. Stuffing your brain with how-to lists and executing get-rich-quick schemes will not fulfill you. There are no real shortcuts to greatness and anyone who tells you otherwise is a snake oil salesman in disguise. Sure, you can read a four-step guide on swinging a golf club better but those tips won’t turn you into Tiger Woods overnight. You have to take action in the real world by swinging a driver millions of times for 10-20 years. True mastery requires directed effort towards a single goal for a long period of time. 10,000 hours to be exact. The 10,000-hour rule states that mastery requires a minimum of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. There’s no way to get around the fact that you will have to pay your dues for years to fulfill your grand purpose in life.
The Life Hack Lie
Shortcuts are addicting. I am a recovering life hack addict. In the past 18 months, I finished my Ph.D., launched this blog, created 2 online products, worked full-time as an Application Scientist, started an eBook, gave 230 seminars, and traveled the world 3 times over. I love the idea of being a jack-of-all-trades, shaking my life up and trying new things constantly, mass executing different ventures, and becoming an expert overnight. These things are appealing because they seem to infuse your life with freedom, mobility, and constant change. On the other hand, grinding out mastery in one or two areas hurts. Dedication, sticktoitiveness, failing repeatedly, and leaning into the dip are painful. Greatness doesn’t come easy. It requires commitment. And that’s a good thing. The whole point of mastery is to rise above mediocre knowledge and mediocre achievement. If that were easy to do, everyone would do it. I’m learning, slowly, that becoming truly great in a field requires massive action in a single direction for years.
Don’t confuse flexibility with flakiness. To achieve mastery, you have to rely on the same proven principles that have carried people to greatness for centuries. Certain principles are constant, like having integrity, maintaining a disciplined work ethic, building strong relationships, and staying focused on adding value over making money. On the other hand, most processes change with the times, like using manufacturing assembly lines, recording on 8-track tapes, and printing the news on paper. The key to mastery is staying committed to principles while staying unattached to processes. In other words, be flexible but not flaky. Flexibility will help you increase happiness, generate influence, and improve self-confidence while achieving your goal. Flakiness will not.
Flexibility is a principle. In order to fulfill your purpose in life, you will have to flexibly use whatever processes serve you best. At the same time, you will also have to stay dedicated to tried and true principles; otherwise, you’re just a flake. The problem with life hacking is that it encourages flakiness, promising to help you achieve mastery in 6 months or less through novelty processes. The dirty secret is that the people promoting this life hack lifestyle are diligently working their asses off behind the scenes to develop leadership skills and achieve mastery in the fields of writing, speaking, marketing, business and entrepreneurship.
Increase The Quality Of Your Hours
I’m not going to lie to you. The hard truth is that there are only two ways to achieve mastery, by spending more hours in deliberate practice or by increasing the quality of those hours. Increasing the quality of your hours is the key to breaking the 10,000-hour rule. For example, as I discussed in my last post, you can double, triple, and quadruple the value of each hour you spend in deliberate practice by practicing with others. This is the power of association, or synergy. There are 6 practices that will help you break the 10,000-hour rule. The list of these practices is continued below.
Make everything you do bring you closer to mastery. I want to achieve mastery in 3 areas: science, writing, and public speaking. I’m coming to terms with the fact that this is going to take me another 5-10 years of deliberate practice. For example, over the last 18 months, since I started speaking in front of people full-time, I’ve given about 230 different 2-4 hour presentations. If we average the length of those presentations to 3 hours and multiple those hours by 230, that only gives me 690 hours of deliberate practice. Even at my current pace, which is about 38 hours of deliberate practice per month, I need another 245 months, or 20 years (!!!) of public speaking to achieve mastery.
What if you want to master more than one area of your life? After doing the math, I found myself asking, “How can I reach the 10,000-hour mark in the realm of science and writing if it’s going to take me 20 years to reach that same mark in public speaking?” The answer is convergence. The only way for me to become a truly great scientist, writer, and public speaker, this side of 50 years old, is to converge my interests. Convergence is simply the process of increasing the quality of your hours by overlapping your pursuits. For example, if I’m speaking to a group of people about a science-related subject for 2 hours, those hours count toward both my pursuit of mastery in science and my pursuit of mastery in speaking. Likewise, if I spend 15 hours writing, practicing, and revising scripts for a blog video, those hours count toward my pursuit of becoming a great writer and a great speaker. The key is being more flexible in the processes you use to achieve mastery.
Squeeze your hours dry. Start seeing everything you do as an opportunity to increase your hours of deliberate practice. If you want to be the world’s best graphic design artist, use your skills whenever you can, not just when you’re designing graphics for your own paying clients. Find ways to deliberately practice your design skills during your day job, or when you’re spending time with your family and friends. I sieze every chance I get to speak publicly. Whether it’s a wedding speech, a scientific lecture, or a pep talk to a high school wrestling team, I take the opportunity seriously. Most importantly, I spend time in deliberate practice preparing for it. Shave hours off of the 10,000-hour rule by flexibly converging as many parts of your life as possible toward achieving your goal.
Mozart was a copycat. Like all other composers, the earliest works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart contained pieces of works from other composers. But this didn’t make Mozart a plagiarist, it made him a genius. In Mozart: A Life, author Maynard Solomón writes how Mozart’s most valuable gift was absorbing and adapting valuable features of others’ music. When he was a child, Mozart met Johan Sebastian Bach and heard his music performed live. In Paris, Mannheim, and Vienna, Mozart met with other compositional influences, including the Mannheim orchestra. Mozart became one of the greatest composers of all time through metamorphisis. He took the works of others and turned it into his own.
Don’t just stand on the shoulders of giants, make their shoulders your own. A sure way to never achieve mastery is to constantly reinvent the wheel. Insisting on starting from scratch instead of springboarding off the ideas of others is a recipe for mediocrity. Consider how most fiction and nonfiction writing courses teach beginners how to write. Creative writing instructors will often have their students take a poem or paragraph from an established author and reconstruct the author’s message using their own words. Likewise, a classical nonfiction writing exercise is to read a bestselling book and summarize the author’s message in a single page. This process is not restricted to writing. Novice painters get their starts by copying the paintings of famous artists. Then, these novices progress by adapting and adding to these famous paintings. Finally, once they’ve matured, the artists will develop their own original works. However, these works forever maintain the influence of the famous artists that inspired them.
Borrow other people’s hours. Creativity is simply the practice of connecting things you already know in new ways. The key is that you can’t connect things you don’t know exist. This is where reading, knowledge, and building references comes in. Understand: it is impossible to achieve mastery by starting at the bottom. There’s just not enough time in one life. If you want to build the world’s best computer, don’t spend 10,000-hours deliberately taking apart and rebuilding the Macintosh 128K from 1984. Mastery is married to the cutting edge. Increase the quality of your hours by increasing your knowledge base. Learn everything you can about your chosen pursuit and then transform the work of others into your own. Once you’ve connected things in a new way, it’s yours. Give credit to your influences and provide proper references, but don’t be scared to rework the works and ideas of others. In my next post, I will discuss the final 3 ways you can shave hours off of the 10,000-hour rule.