10,001 Reasons to Keep on Trying

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

–          Bruce Lee

Can you think of anything you’ve actually done ten thousand times? Maybe it would be easier to identify something you feel like you’ve done ten thousand times (or more). Most likely, it’s easy for any one of us to think of an activity or skill we “practice” on a regular, consistent basis. Here’s the caveat though: how many of those things are we doing deliberately?  There’s a vast difference between merely jamming to “Rolling in the Deep” over one hundred times and painstakingly analyzing every second of the same piece even five times: one provides enjoyment, the other yields a greater understanding of what makes the song enjoyable. The same can be said for almost any activity; there is a fine distinction between consumption and engagement.

For example, have you ever been introduced to a person, only to forget their name less than a minute later? Often, the reason that we “forget” such things is not because we’re bad at remembering names, it’s that we weren’t truly paying attention in the first place! This is a concept that can be linked directly to mindfulness. The more awareness we cultivate, the greater mental resources we’ll have available to dedicate to passionate, pointed focus at any given time. Maybe that’s why we tend to describe some endeavors as “labors of love”; yes, they are intense and time consuming, but ultimately they are rewarding. When it comes to steadily improving in activities that we are invested in – be it as an individual, team, or business – our needs and priorities will shift endlessly, and sometimes this happens without us even realizing it. What typically determines whether or not there is a “Disney ending” to our quests is how much we are actively focused on the activity, monitoring the process, and measuring our results yearly, monthly, and maybe even weekly if necessary.

Maybe you’ve heard of Malcolm Gladwell, the celebrated author of “Outliers?” In Outliers, Gladwell discusses the common threads between expert groups and individuals. He traces the success of experts to something he terms the “10,000 Hour-Rule,” i.e. a belief that amassing the skills required to perform at an extraordinary level generally requires a similar amount of time for most people, roughly 10,000 hours or about 10 years (at 2.8 hours a day). This finding hinges on a multiple authored and exhaustive study of over 900 pages of peer reviewed research on the development of expertise. The information was synthesized into a handbook (The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance).

If there’s anything to be taken from this finding, it’s the idea that it is entirely possible to reach a superlative level of performance in the arts, academics, sport, and/ or workplace if practice is approached in a deliberate and consistent manner. 10,000 hours of practice won’t guarantee that you’ll be among the most skilled in the world but 10,000 hours of deliberate practice just might. And that may be another reason to just keep on trying.


To see a few interesting examples of deliberate practice in action, get an idea of what practice is “deliberate enough”, and read a funny story about wine check out: http://www.uvm.edu/~pdodds/files/papers/others/everything/ericsson2007a.pdf









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