If you observe the best in any field – science, music, academia, sports – it’s easy for an outsider to assume that talent was the number one factor.
However it’s rarely the case.
As Malcolm Gladwell observed in his book Outliers, it takes ten thousand hours of practice to attain mastery in your chosen field. Gladwell studied the lives of extremely successful people in different industries to find out exactly how they reached the top.
In the early 1990’s, a group of German violin student where extensively studied. Specifically the scientists looked at their childhood, and wanted to find what was unique about their habits.
All of the subjects were asked, ‘Over the course of your career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?”
The starting age amongst the group didn’t really differ; all of them begun at roughly five years old. However at age eight, the practice times began to differ. By age twenty, the elite players had accrued more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less capable players had only accrued 4,000 hours.
The elite violinists had more than double the practice hours of the less capable performers.
Talent is overrated
There was one fascinating point of the study: and that is there were no “naturally talented” performers that emerged. If talent had played a role in the performers, then we would expect some of the “natural talents” to float to the top of the elite level with less practice hours.
But that’s not what the data showed. The scientists showed a direct relationship between hours or practice and achievement.
No natural talent.
No easy way.
Better than yesterday
In 1960, a group of young musicians travelled Europe to play in local pubs. The group was under paid. Their acoustics were awful. The audiences barely noticed them.
This group continued to tour and practice, and focused their efforts on playing more shows and making gradual improvements. They tallied up hours of practice time, perfected their live performances, and constantly looked for ways to improve.
By 1964, the year they burst onto the scene, they had played over 1,200 concerts together. The name of this group? The Beatles.
Fall in love with the hustle
The best in the world don’t get there by accident. They fall in love with the hustle, and relentlessly pursue improvement every single day.
The elite writer spends hours of every day writing, even when words are slow.
The elite sports coach has devoted years to studying tactics and working with people to give him the edge.
The elite basketball player is the one staying back after the game, long after the crowds have gone, to perfect his 3-point throw.
Today, it’s all too common for people to seek instant gratification. They’re trying to skip the 10,000 hours it requires to become elite. They want to fast forward to reaching mastery, without putting in the hours, and then move on to the next shiny object.
As trainers and athletes, it’s important to remember this. True mastery comes from being an expert in the basics. Aim for continuous small improvement and to be better than yesterday in everything you perform.