The Secret of Great Men: Deliberate Practice

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 7, 2010 · 58 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

What creates great men? What made Ted Williams the greatest hitter in the history of baseball? What made Shakespeare one of history’s greatest writers? How did Carnegie become one of history’s greatest businessmen?

The typical answer that most people give is that greatness is born. Nature blesses a few great men with some sort of innate gift that allows them to excel at what they do – Shakespeare entered the world with a peerless writing talent, and Williams was born to swing a bat. Under this view, you’re either born with talent and destined for greatness or born without talent and destined for a life of mediocrity.

There’s one small problem with this view of greatness: there isn’t much science to back it up.

In fact, studies show that greatness and excellence aren’t “a consequence of possessing innate gifts [and talents].” Rather greatness is the result of years and years of enormous amounts of hard, painful work. Ted Williams spent hours hitting baseballs, and Carnegie spent his entire adolescence learning how to network and developing his prodigious memory, skills that would turn him into a mind-bogglingly wealthy captain of industry.

Studies have demonstrated that young prodigies excel not because of some kind of mystical innate talent but on the merits of pure hustle. Mozart wrote his first masterpiece at 21. That’s pretty young. But people often forget to mention that he had spent the previous 18 years of his life studying music under the tutelage of his father. Mozart had been paying his dues since he was three years old, and it paid off big for him.

In short, great men aren’t born; great men are made, and they’re made through the process of deliberate practice.

What Is Deliberate Practice?

In the book Talent is Overrated, Fortune Magazine editor Geoff Colvin highlights recent studies that show that greatness can be developed by any man, in any field, through the process of deliberate practice. How does one practice deliberately? Colvin proposes five elements that allow a man to practice deliberately and thus achieve greatness.

1. Deliberate practice is an activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help. Most people practice by mindlessly repeating an activity over and over without any clear goal of what they want to accomplish. For example, let’s say a man wants to improve his golf game. If he’s like most men, he’ll just go to the driving range and hit a couple of buckets of balls without thinking much about specific ways he can improve his swing. Three hundred balls later, this man hasn’t improved at all. In fact, he may have gotten worse.

Deliberate practice, on the other hand, is designed with clear objectives and goals. When top performers practice, they break down their skill into sharply defined elements. After breaking down a skill into parts, a top performer will work intently on the element they need to improve most. During the entire practice, they focus solely on that one aspect.

Take the golfing example again. Instead of just going to the driving range to mindlessly hit golf balls, break down your golf swing into different elements – body alignment, club-face alignment, grip, back swing, down swing, etc. After breaking down your golf swing into specific parts, go to the range and spend an hour focusing on just one of those elements. Keep working on that one element until you’ve made improvement, then move on to the next one.

Carrying out practice sessions in this deliberate fashion is a skill that takes time to develop. That’s why having a teacher help you design your practice sessions can be invaluable. They have the knowledge and expertise to break your skill down into specific elements. Teachers can also see you in ways you can’t see yourself and can direct you to focus on the elements that you need to work on most.

Unfortunately, many men have the tendency to think they’ve outgrown the need for teachers or coaches. We think it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help. But asking for help will only make you stronger and better. There’s a reason the best golfers in the world continue to have coaches and the most successful businessmen seek the advice of mentors throughout their career. They understand the power of an outside eye and opinion in their personal growth. Don’t let your manly pride get in the way of your success. Stay humble and hungry.

2. The practice activity can be regularly repeated. The world’s top performers spend years of their lives practicing. Ted Williams, the greatest hitter in baseball history, would practice hitting balls until his hands bled. Basketball legend Pistol Pete Maravich would go into the gym on Saturday mornings and practice shooting from a specific spot on the court until the gym closed at night. To be the best, you have to put in the time. In fact, if you want to become an expert in your field, you’ll need to put in at least 10,000 hours or 10 years of practice first.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, Gladwell describes a psychology experiment done in the 1990s to see what created world class musicians. Psychologist Anders Ericsson went to Berlin’s Academy of Music and divided the school into three groups: the stars, the “good” performers, and those who were unlikely to ever play professionally and would probably become music teachers. They were all asked the same question: “Over the course of the years, ever since you picked up a violin, how many hours have you practiced?”

All the violinists had started playing at around age five, and they all played about two or three hours a week during their first few years. However, around the age of eight, an important difference began to emerge in the amount of hours they each practiced. By age 20, the stars in the group had all totaled 10,000 hours of practice over the course of their lives; the “good” students had totaled 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers just over 4,000 hours.

Nobel Prize winning psychologist Herbert Simon and William Chase found similar results in their study of world-class chess players. They found that no one seemed to reach the top ranks of chess without at least 10 years of intensive study and practice. The “ten-year rule” cuts across disciplines, too. Top musicians, athletes, scientists, and authors don’t reach the top until after they’ve put in around ten years of work and practice.

There are no short cuts to success. If you want to be the best man you can be, you’ll have to commit yourself to years of repeated practice.

3. The practice activity provides feedback on a continual basis. Constant feedback is crucial for improvement. You have to see the results of your efforts to evaluate if the way you’re doing things is working or if you need to change things up to improve. Moreover, without feedback during practice you’re more likely to lose the motivation to keep at it. During your practice sessions, constantly stop and look for feedback. With some activities, getting feedback is easy. For example, if you’re practicing your jump shot for basketball, if the ball goes through the net every shot, you know you’re on the right track. If you brick it every shot, that’s feedback that you need to change things up.

You might have a more difficult time getting feedback for activities that require a subjective evaluation. Music, speaking, and job interviewing are examples of this type of activity. For activities like these it’s a good idea to get a third party’s opinion or a mentor’s input.

4. Deliberate practice is highly demanding mentally, whether it’s purely physical or mental. This factor separates deliberate practice from mindless practice. When you’re practicing deliberately, you’re focusing and concentrating so much on your performance that you’re mentally exhausted after your practice session. Deliberate practice is so demanding mentally that studies show that “four or five hours a day is the upper limit of deliberate practice, and this is frequently accomplished in sessions lasting no longer than an hour to ninety minutes.”

In fact, top performers who practice deliberately report that they require more sleep than their less talented colleagues. In the Berlin Academy of Music study mentioned above, psychologist Anders Ericsson looked at the three groups of performers — the stars, good performers, and music teacher group — and found that, on average, those in the top two groups slept 8.6 hours a day — nearly an hour longer than those in the music teacher group, who slept an average of 7.8 hours. The top groups slept more at night and took more naps during the day than the bottom group. According to Ericsson, the study suggests that top performers work more intensely than the rest of us but also need more time to mentally recover.

Thus, a good way to gauge if your practice is hitting the deliberate practice zone is to ask yourself how you feel after a practice session. If you feel absolutely bushed after just an hour, chances are you practiced deliberately.

5. Deliberate practice isn’t much fun. Most people don’t enjoy doing activities that they’re not good at. It’s no fun to fail over and over again and receive criticism on how you can improve. No one likes to be humbled like that. We’d rather do stuff at which we excel because succeeding is enjoyable, and it strokes our egos. Yet deliberate practice is specifically designed to focus on things you suck at and requires you to practice those skills over and over again until you’re mentally exhausted. What a buzz kill.

But according to Dr. Ericsson, in order to practice deliberately, practice sessions have to feel like drudgery. The ability and willingness to slog through this “dead work” is what separates great men from the mediocre. My high school football coach used to tell us: “If football was easy, then everybody would play.” The same goes with deliberate practice. If it were fun and easy, then everyone would do it and be great at whatever they tried. But deliberate practice isn’t fun, which is why we live in a world with only a few great men and hundreds of millions of men who simply wish they could be great.

Don’t get the wrong idea. These studies don’t say that just because you spend a lot of time deliberately practicing a skill, you’ll become a master at everything you do. If you’re 4’5″, no amount of practice will allow you to slam dunk like Michael Jordan. What these studies do suggest is that we’re not as limited by our natural talents as we often think we are.

AoM Man-Up Challenge

This week I challenge you to pick an area of your life that needs improvement and apply the principles of deliberate practice to it. I’d love to hear what you’re working on and how you’re progressing. Share what you’re working on in the comments below. I also recommend going out and getting Talent Is Overrated. It’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read this year and will inspire you to seek greatness.

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

1 gtr November 7, 2010 at 11:26 pm

I agree with the general idea of the article. However, the idea that Ted Williams was among the greatest hitters to ever play the game because he hit till his hands bled is nonsense. Plenty of hitters put everything they have into becoming better.

When you achieve the level of success that Ted Williams achieved, in a field that competitive, denying that natural talent isn’t part of the equation is a mistake. Ted Williams, I’m sure, worked has butt off to become a great hitter. And make no mistake, he also was immensely talented.

2 Mike Donghia November 7, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Thanks for sharing this Brett. I sure hope the first few weeks with the new baby are amazing. Take those moments in :)

I think in our political correctness our society has slowly drifted away from the idea that hard work can bring you almost anywhere. We equate success (and failure) to culture and upbringing – things outside our control.

I’m glad to see something written that inspires people to take the control they do have (the everyday decisions about how to spend your time) and use it to better themselves.

Mike Donghia (The Art of Minimalism)

3 Peter Ryan November 8, 2010 at 12:11 am

I enjoyed reading this post, and I agree that mastery, or greatness requires, time and dedicated effort (more than 10,000 hours apparently).

I also think that true greatness does not have to be in the fields of sport, politics or the arts. A truely great man, a Gentleman, can be great from deliberate practice every day. In their behaviour, in their attitudes and in their heart. The way in which they interact with their fellow humans, the way in which they leave the world a better place.

Cheers,

Peter Ryan
Today’s Gentleman

4 Rob November 8, 2010 at 12:13 am

When I sail, this is always how I was thought to practice…of course, while some of my colleagues are sailing the Olympics, I’m going to be building sailboats, but meh. It actually reminds me of a documentary about Michael Jordan, the best basketball player, if not one of the best athletes, of all time. The end of the documentary was a comment by Jordan to the effect of “somewhere out there, there is someone who will be better than I was because he’s not skipping any steps on his way to the top.”
- R

5 Jeremiah November 8, 2010 at 12:42 am

I think I agree with all but point number 5. I’m a sophomore music performance major and it is absolutely imperative to find enjoyment in practicing. The act itself produces little satisfaction, but if you are focused on the goal and allow enthusiasm to take hold then it becomes overwhelmingly rewarding to work toward that goal. You can congratulate yourself every time you put in another few hours or accomplish something that you couldn’t do 3 weeks ago.

Every time you get better, your goal steps forward, too—a musician is never finished. This repels many people from trying, but the real secret is that this endless progress is one of the best things about playing an instrument.

6 jt3 November 8, 2010 at 1:23 am

These arguments, as well as the examples of Wozart’s and Ted Williams’ practice ethic, are explored in depth in David Shenk’s The Genius in All of Us. It’s fascinating and inspiring book that also contends that years of focused practice exceed any genetic “gift” we may have.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/21/books/review/Paul-t.html

7 Matt November 8, 2010 at 1:40 am

Great point- never thought of the difference between hitting 300 balls and HITTING 300 balls

The introduction reminded me of zeitgeist and ortgeist. Zeitgeist is the ‘spirit of the times’ and ortgeist the ‘spirit of the individual’. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive but they beg the question ‘are great men born or are great men born in a time that is great for them?’

Would Ted Williams have been a great man if he was born before baseball? Would Shakespeare be great if he were born tomorrow? Would Carnegie have been great if he were born in the middle ages?

Maybe Williams would have been the best Gladiator the Romans ever knew, maybe Shakespeare would revolutionize literature, and maybe Carnegie would have been the Sherrif of Nottingham.
OR
Maybe Williams was only built for baseball, Shakespeare only equipped to give form to a more shapeless literary environment, and Carnegie only able to thrive in the time of preregulated business he lived.

There is probably an interplay between the two concepts but its a fun/ interesting interplay.

8 Luke November 8, 2010 at 1:56 am

Talent will be shown when a hobby is started and again when a hobby is mastered. Hard work will trump talent if the talented person doesn’t put in the same amount of time as the person that just works at it. But, if both people put the same amount of work into anything, the one with talent will trump the one without.

One thing this article has done is given me a different perspective on the long, arduous slog of practicing. I have tried, off and on for the past thirteen years, to learn to play a guitar. But every time I pick it up, I get so insanely bored by practicing that I put it down within thirty minutes. I always thought that maybe that meant that the guitar simply wasn’t the instrument for me. I’ve never considered that this time is meant to be boring and that getting through it is what, in a manner of speaking separates the men from the boys. Maybe I should pick it up again.

9 BillB November 8, 2010 at 2:20 am

I have hit those buckets of balls and could not care less if I ever pickup another club. There are however skills that I believe are crucial and need this specific type of technique along with ways to get feedback and possibly a friend/coach/mentor.

Ok, Fat time investment, grinding boredom and mental exhaustion dont sound so hot but the successive feelings of Competance, Mastery, and Excellence sure do.

Bill B

10 Nikshep November 8, 2010 at 3:19 am

I think you make a great point here. When your really passionate about something and you have natural talent to back you up, not having the perseverance to get through the ‘dead-work’ phase can be an impediment in itself. That’s why 90% of the start-ups fail. I think it’s best exemplified in the movie Pursuit of happyness where at the end he says, this small moment of time , I call happiness.

PS: I ve read somewhere Jordan is proudest of the fact that he has the greatest number of missed shots in basketball history. He said the secret of my success is that since I’m not afraid of failing more, I end up achieving more than others.
Good post.

11 Bones66 November 8, 2010 at 5:24 am

Totally agree with this. I’d also say that deliberate practice is the mark of a man. While it’s true that even if you do practice until your hands bleed you may not end up being the best hitter the world has ever known, if you don’t put in the effort you will never know.
Not trying is like saying to yourself ‘why should I bother, there’s probably someone better so it’s not worth it’. Hardly a manly sentiment.
For me part of practicing the art of manliness is trying your heart out to achieve your goals and being prepared to fail but keep on getting up and trying again.
Here’s a link to a video I found through Zach Even Esh’s blog to Arnold talking about mental toughness and doing what it takes. If anyone knows what facing down the disbelief of others is all about it’s Arnold. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvOUVil7W5s&feature=player_embedded.
Zach is a great guy by the way and worth checking out for anyone looking for manly fitness inspiration.

12 Thomas W November 8, 2010 at 5:44 am

I have read this book, but I first read “Bounce” by Matthew Syed.

Much of the same idea, but Syed’s book is bolstered by the fact
that he represented UK at the Olympics several times, and currently
works as a sports journalist, giving him a unique insight.

Obviously much, much more of a sporting tinge, but a truely excellent
book that changed my outlook on sucess and life.

It would be great if you could get an interview with him, maybe a podcast?

13 Jonny Gibaud November 8, 2010 at 6:26 am

Great article.

I admire those that have chosen a vocation and put in the hours and dedication to deliberate practice for decades of their life to become masterful at it. I personally am looking to become masterful in entrepreneurship and, having read your article, realise that, as with baseball, if I want to really improve my skills I need to start deliberately practicing and not just running my businesses.

Thanks.

14 EFH November 8, 2010 at 6:59 am

Enjoyed the article, although the bit about “future music teachers” seems like an unnecessary jab.

15 Mark November 8, 2010 at 7:23 am

Great post! Getting the book. I have played guitar for 20+ yrs. and put a lot time of deliberate practice but was one of those destined for music teacher kids when I was in music school. I picked the guitar up again about two yrs ago and still had some good skills from previous years of practice that are now paying dividends. I’m not a rock star but it certainly making this part of my life very enjoyable having a skill that I can continue to hone and actually have a foundation to build on. Can’t wait for the book and will be applying the same principles to business.

16 Lynn David Newton November 8, 2010 at 9:30 am

While I agree with the points being made, to state so boldly that Mozart wrote his first masterpiece at age 21 is an extremely weak argument in support of it. First, it assumes that there is some standard by which to judge and label an artistic work a “masterpiece,” which there is not. Second, it fails to mention what that masterpiece was, by means of which readers can compare what he composed before it.

In reality, Mozart had been a celebrated superstar of music from the age of six, known throughout Europe. He composed music almost from the very beginning, in an almost unending white heat until the end of his life. There was no point at which he stepped over from the rank of practicing beginner to a master, particularly when you consider that Mozart on his worst day ever was still better than most composers contemporary to him on their best. And this reality was acknowledge by his contemporaries even in his youngest years.

However, it is true that Mozart worked very hard at his art his entire life, and that as the greatest musical prodigy the world ever produced, he composed works of astonishing technical proficiency, originality, and maturity with few interruptions from the very beginning.

17 David November 8, 2010 at 10:23 am

If I can’t imagine spending 10,000 hours basking in my successes, then why would I think 10,000 hour of drudgery would be worth that success?

I’m all for ambition and drive and hard work, but why must that necessitate drudgery? Too Puritan for my taste.

18 JG November 8, 2010 at 11:15 am

You forgot one important aspect of being great:

“being at the right place at the right time”

This is a good article, but it makes the impression that everyone can be great. I disagree, being great is just being at the right place; an accident, if you will. How many prodigies go undiscovered, how many artists and great thinkers die unnoticed? 99.99999% of us will be forgotten and less-than great when we are buried.

Carnegie practiced the art of business that nowadays is illegal and unethical; also he had inside sources of when and what shares and bonds to sell and buy. That’s why he was successful. Nothing more than deceit. Not practice.

19 Brian November 8, 2010 at 11:26 am

David,

Then you have no idea what true success is. You’ve probably never had any, and probably never will.

20 Brian November 8, 2010 at 11:29 am

David,

If that’s your opinion then you have no idea what true success is. I’m guessing you’ve never had any, and you probably never will.

21 Adventure-Some Matthew November 8, 2010 at 11:47 am

Interesting thoughts. I struggle with #5. As a naturally talented artist (though I argue that I’m better than the average person because I’ve been practicing since I was small), I have a hard time making myself sit down and work through problems. If I can’t figure out how to create the painting I want, I switch back to drawing (which I excel at, because I’ve practiced more.)

So, today, I’m forcing myself to go and paint, even though I actively don’t want to.

22 Brent November 8, 2010 at 11:52 am

This article hits a very personal note with me right now.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times here that I’m a lightweight rower in university. I’ve been rowing for six years. I’ve always been one of the guys who either barely makes the top boat, or is ‘one of’ the go to guys…in the B boat.

I’ve decided I want to change that for next year.

To change that for next year, I’ve got to make the change now. Our season finished two weeks ago. In that time, people took some time off. I haven’t. I’m also trying out for the provincial team in a few weeks – if even to just get my name out there.

To be succeed tomorrow you need to work your ass off today.

23 Steve-Personal Success Factors November 8, 2010 at 11:55 am

I like the 10,000 hours of practice rule because it makes success more achievable in the long run. I personally have taken the 10 year approach to my websites and my blogging. Through consistent practice and tweaking, a little bit each day, I am confident that success will await me increasingly each year. There are definitely days when I don’t feel like writing or researching a new blog post, but I’ve done it consistently each week for the last 3 years, and I’ve got 7 more years to go :)

24 Dan Collins November 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Thank you for writing this post – it summarizes well a number of articles and insights on the topic. I believe the takeaway is that practice when combined with any aptitude or talent takes that talent to places off the charts. Not that the two are mutually exclusive. If you had to choose then in my opinion practice of the type referenced will always beat talent alone. As for doggedness being drudgery – I’m not sure that anyone who practices to the degree mentioned does it out of anything other than desire – whether that is a desire for an end result or desire for the subject. Those that see it as drudgery over a prolonged period of time will inevitably cease and desist. I believe the bottom line is the difference between dilettantism and drive.

25 pete November 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm

GTR, I’d say you’re incorrect. I’d contend that talent may have played a part… but I believe it was far from the deciding factor. Ted Williams actually studied his hits. He did all he could to fine-tune his ability to place the ball with a hit. It is by shear practice with a defined goal and focus which created Ted Williams ability! In fact, since his accomplishment, there have been many other baseball players (both pitchers & hitters) who have studied using his techniques from both sides to find ways to improve their ability to thwart the other’s attempts. Honestly, it is a big part of why baseball is such a long game! When Ted was doing his homework, the pitchers where the only ones who spent inordinate hours calculating their abilities. When Ted began to calculate, he was one of the first to do it with such detailed focus.

Now, there are a whole new breed of ball players which all watch tapes, practice, hone & fine tune to the point that ball games are won & lost on razor thin lines of performance & errors. Now, I’m not saying that every major league team is capable of a World Series performance. But the teams in the world series are usually some of the most accurate, calculating & tenacious athletes on the field.

I believe most super-athletes would agree (I am not one)… If a talented person would practice like they have no talent, that person would be nearly unstoppable. Much like Lance Armstrong who is genetically superior to almost every cyclist on the planet! His ability to process oxygen is beyond almost all people! But he also puts the time on the cycle to hone his ability to race. Talent + Practice = Greater greatness!

26 Greg K., PA November 8, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Thanks for the meditation and the inspiration. It’s always extremely helpful to have someone challenge one to greatness. Thanks, as always, for explicitly challenging us to be better men.

27 Charles November 8, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Great post. One of my areas of study is the psychology of martial arts, so I especially appreciated the part about the “not fun” aspects of deliberate practice. Practicing a single strike over and over again, focusing on your foot alignment, posture, wrist alignment, timing, etc, is WORK.

This is one of the reasons why Alasdair MacIntyre connects these kinds of practices to growth in the virtues. Forcing yourself to practice deliberately is a kind of self-conquering, building your self control and (to borrow from Iris Murdoch) defeating the ego. The research of Roy Baumeister and colleagues has also shown repeated exertions of self-control to produce increases in self-regulatory strength, which can translate into success in a wide range of domains in life.

28 Nick November 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Golf is an awesome example for this article. It has to be the only sport you actually get worse at with unguided practice. I would add to this article by encouraging readers to really get to know anyone in their life who is successful. Really spend some time with them observing and learning. I have found that if you ask a successful person what contributed the most to their success you will often get a misguided answer. Successful people have often worked much harder, much longer, and with far greater focus than the average performer. An article on focus would be a good follow-up…just look at what happened to Tiger when he had to focus on more than one thing.

29 JGP November 8, 2010 at 1:39 pm

There is a fundamental flaw with using an exact amount of hours to determine the level which must be achieved to become a master: talent and practice habits are not independent. Those who chose to practice for a greater amount of time are different from those that don’t because there is a higher payoff to practicing for the relatively high-skilled. For instance, the teachers of the young violinists in the cited study may have treated the students of the different levels very differently at 8 years old. The students who showed more promise would receive more praise and thus believe that they are capable of reaching a higher ceiling.

The point is that observing a highly talented individual achieve master status in 10,000 hours does not mean that a moderately talented individual would achieve that status with a similar amount of practice, if they achieved that level at all. Individuals make choices about where to allocate their time, and only those with the highest potential would rationally dedicate themselves to a singular goal.

30 Robert November 8, 2010 at 2:34 pm

I’ll be completely forthright: I’ve always had a bad habit of procrastinating and I can’t rightly say that I have any one particular talent or ability that I’ve obtained Mastery over.

That said, however, I’ve done some pretty cool things that were the result of rolling up my sleeves and “digging in” (as I like to say). Most importantly perhaps, when I think back, those moments in life when I was focused and diggin’ away are some of the fondest chapters in my life and apart from helping me to excel and gain a new skill, I had the intrinsic reward of just being really focused and “into” something.

I know our university days provide us with any number of memories of all different types. But what I miss the most was when I was really absorbed in writing a particular paper and delving into all that research to churn out a really cohesive and intelligent piece of writing. Later, as I was preparing myself for the teaching profession, I sought out all sorts of opportunities for professional development, volunteer work, etc and again, I was so “switched on” and deliberate and that gave me a good feeling. I also remember my time in the military, when I was in Basic Training and Infantry Qualification: throughout those months, I lived and breathed soldiering (and believe me, it was not without it’s moments of drudgery, misery, hunger, cold, fatigue, sleep deprivation, etc but it was one of the best times of my life). I used to mess around in a boxing gym in my early 20′s, and it was amazing how after weeks and months of what seemed like robotic yet deliberate and sincere training, I would suddenly realize “hey, I’m actually getting better at this!”

I guess the point is that no matter what it is, when we deliberately and consciously attend to things, we can’t help get better at them. I’m in a place right now in my journey where I’ll be getting married soon and starting a family. We’re really hoping to buy a house. Now I’m faced with that challenge of really learning how to budget wisely and make sound financial decisions so I can be a good provider for my future family. I’ve never been much of a number cruncher to be honest and so military training, riding motorcycles, and traveling seem easy in the comparison. I’ll just have to trust that if I “dig in” with regard to my commitment to improving my financial awareness, I’ll have to get better at it.

Wish me luck and best regards Men,

Robert

31 Mike C November 8, 2010 at 2:38 pm

There is another book that supports the claims of deliberate practice called “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. It makes a scientific run at why deliberate practice is so effective. I read it at the suggestion of another colleague and has case studies on music and athletes and how the brain forms connections which make for a superior performer in any event.

32 Rob November 8, 2010 at 4:36 pm

I know I’m probably reiterating a point that’s been made a dozen or so times already, but I came to a similar conclusion regarding language study several years ago. In high school I studied Spanish, and after a year knew nothing. In college I studied ancient Greek for a year, and although I could read aloud Homer, I couldn’t understand anything more than a handful of words. I went into the Peace Corps and studied Kyrgyz and after the training period I still struggled to anything more than ask for a cup of tea. Then I moved to Japan and spent two years taking Japanese lessons but couldn’t even grasp the basics. I then moved to South Korea where one of my co-workers was a Korean woman who spoke amazing English. I was always amazed at how she’d mastered the language and one day paid her a compliment expressing that amazement and followed that up by saying I wish I had that same talent for languages. Her reply made me truly understand the point made in this article for the first time. She said, “It’s not talent. I’ve spent the past ten years studying English three hours a day, everyday. It’s just hard work” Maybe a month or two later I moved back to Japan and I’ve been trying to apply that to my studies. I still can’t advance as quickly as I’d like, but I am making progress and I can finally see that the reason I never managed to get anywhere with those other languages was that I never put in the true time or effort into learning.

Sure I burn-out sometimes, and end up going a month (sometimes two) without doing any real, hard studying, but so far I’ve always managed to pick myself back up and get back to studying. Battling through that drudgery is hard, hard work sometimes, but without sacrifice there can be no progress.

33 Carla November 8, 2010 at 4:57 pm

That does it. I officially love this website to death. As a teenage girl looking for guidance and genuine encouragement, NOTHING (seriously, not a single thing or person) has helped more than AoM. Best. Father. Figure. Ever.

34 Nathaniel November 8, 2010 at 6:09 pm

My dad has always told me that “practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.”

35 Strong Man November 8, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Good points. Thank you for summarizing the article.

It takes strong self-discipline to do this.

I’ve found that the volume of hours is not as important as the quality of the time. As my time becomes more valuable, I become more efficient and put more real effort into my practice–and keep working till I see improvement.

36 aaron November 8, 2010 at 11:02 pm

An interesting outlook on learning and improving to overcome an obstacle, opponent, problem, etc was presented by Col. John Boyd, a USAF fighter pilot and is referred to as an OODA loop or Boyd cycle. It’s the cycle of breaking things down into individual components and rebuilding to constantly stay ahead of the curve. Interesting take on practice and improvement.

37 Jeffrey November 9, 2010 at 4:39 am

Zakk Wylde, the heavy metal guitarist, said that he always hated practicing scales over and over, but he knew it was necessary to play the way that he really wanted to for pleasure. He committed to practicing for something like three hours a day, which he still does (or longer). So what he did to get around how boring scales practice is is get up early before school and knock out an hour or two of scales. After school he would come home and do his scales for another hour or two before homework, almost as if it WAS homework. look at where it got him.

38 Ryan Tyler November 9, 2010 at 4:32 pm

I think I’ve seen it show up in a lot of areas. I remember reading that Hunter S. Thompson actually typed Fitzgerald’s books to deliberately improve his writing. And Thoreau’s line “I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately.”

Is the most dramatic application is the stand-up comedy?

Anthony Jeselnik comes to mind. Pretty offensive material, but he seems to be convincing more and more people that it’s funny.
Ryan

39 Fred Bement November 9, 2010 at 5:40 pm

I’ve read the same, and I think it’s true. 10,000 hours is 20 hours a week for 10 years; it’s a lot of time and a lot of commitment.

However, if you ask professional athletes why they picked a specific sport, they’ll tell you because it was easy to do. And, it’s been demonstrated that you can pick the kid who will be the best of the best at around the age of 8.

So, it does take commitment to repetitive, myolin producing deep practice. But many times physical attributes, a supportive home & parental environment, and a rabid desire to excel are the foundation required for the 10,000 hours to make a difference.

40 Daniel Eldred November 11, 2010 at 12:48 am

I am a Tuba Player, I’ve only been playing for about 3 years but play better than my colleagues of 8 years! This last month I’ve been practicing about 8 hours a day plus College and Work! I’m gearing up for an audition for The Cadets! The manliest thing I know is Drum and Bugle Corp. Working 18 hours a day in the heat of the summer touring all around America. I’ve been looking forward to this moment since I was 13 and the audition is finally here in 8 days! After all these years of practicing its my time to shine!

41 Chris November 11, 2010 at 8:37 am

I thought this was great, and I laughed when I heard Dave Ramsey read it on the radio.

42 Frank November 11, 2010 at 11:46 am

Daniel, drum corps is the very definition of deliberate practice. One camp with Gino will reinvent your understanding of how rehearsing with purpose will help you acheive your overall goals.

43 Zach Ellerbrook November 12, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Woah, I need to practice my bass trombone more.

44 XealotX November 13, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I’m sorry but while potentially very inspiring and motivating this article is ultimately founded on weak reasoning and in some places unfortunately amount to simple BS. If you’re going to criticize or outright dismiss something then at the very least you must give your own personal account or definition of what that thing is. Judging from the article, however, I can tell that the author has little real insight into or objective understanding of what constitutes talent, but rather seems to rely on vague and muddled sentiments.

At the most abstract level the very essence of constitutes talent is in fact yielding a greater return for similar effort in relation to other individuals or the general population. The human body is a bio-mechanical instrument with tolerances than vary widely among individuals, tolerances which logically involve the functioning of the brain. I can’t argue with a message promoting the merits of hard work and perseverance but let’s not BS ourselves in the process; race horses are bred not simply trained. Furthermore, there are also some forms of performance that cannot be willed and in fact prove elusive to dreary wrote …but then it may take talent to understand this.

45 Rodrigo Sousa November 13, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Starting tomorrow, I´ll deliberately study engineering. Thanks for the great post.

46 Michael T November 17, 2010 at 8:11 am

Someone once told me that practice isn’t the act of constantly doing something right, it’s by doing something so many times that the raw number of errors you make are increased to a point that you study them and learn from them.

We never learn by doing something correctly, we only learn by our mistakes.

47 Gregg Hake November 21, 2010 at 10:22 am

Great post and thanks for issuing the personal challenge. My own goal is to become better at keeping all of the plates spinning in my world when I get busy on a project or when there is a fire in a remote corner of my field of responsibility. Your post inspired one from me on the same topic: http://tinyurl.com/2cpnpdp. Thanks again!

48 DeAngelo December 31, 2012 at 11:49 pm

I don’t usually leave comments, but I had to on this one. Genetics and not pratice makes the bulk of talent.
Look at the differences between what the Romans accomplished and became the center of the world; the Asians, Greeks, the Spanish, the majestic cathedrals of europe, the Egyptian structures…then look at the huts of Africa.
Pratice helps immensely but don’t discount genetics by quoting egaliterians.

49 Idris H. February 21, 2013 at 7:11 pm

I’ve been dancing for seven months now. After a while a clear talent for the art began to show ,people say I’m good but I started fairly late in my mid teens. They also say I’m the better of my peers, How would I go about getting better my ideal self is far beyond and I know I have the potential to go far with this but should I keep at it and if I do what would you recommend I do? Thank You.

50 BJ November 6, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I certainly believe that we are each given talents and gifts, many even pre-ordained in nature. Becoming great at something in this life requires the proverbial 10,000 hours of practice regardless of whether one possess the natural talent or gift or not; agreed. Most anyone without the natural talent or gift to do something can become great at most anything through hard work. That’s amazing, actually. However, the difference between being great through hard work alone and being great through hard work and having a natural talent or gift for something is different. It’s self-evident. The fruits of both are a testament to their origins and point to the fact that each of us are individuals, each blessed with abilities unique to ourselves. There’s nothing wrong or unfair about that. Rather, we should explore, embrace, magnify, and be thankful for what we do have in this life. There will be plenty of time later on for everything else.

51 Chad November 6, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Great post, as always.

I have played guitar for 17 years and I have been working out for less than a year. Mark Tremonti once said that to become a better guitarist he had to work on all the areas that he sucked at. That really is no fun, I try it often. Since I’ve started working out, I’ve seen the same thing, you’re not going to bench 300lbs if you never work on your stabilizer muscles. I have a weak bench and a weak pull-up. Guess what exercises are in every time I change a routine? That’s right bench and pull-ups. That’s because you will never get stronger if you don’t work the weak areas. I will never be the guitarist I want to be if I give up on sweep-picking.

Iron sharpens iron, it’s time to man up. Can you imagine what kind of a man you will be once you have strengthened every weakness you have? A formidable man indeed.

52 Babis November 6, 2013 at 1:57 pm

If the ten year practise is the standard for becoming an expert , what about these 6 year olds you see on youtube playing drums or guitar like experts ? I believe the answer is talent. That’s where it comes into play . Talent is the ability to learn something quicker than somebody else in the same amount of practise. For example, I can’t understand math really easily but when it comes to psychology i think I get it quite fast, maybe faster than the average. So , find what you understand easily and practise that

53 Axel November 6, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Hi,

Thanks for the article!
Love the idea of deliberate practice, only the idea that it “must” be painful seems to be limiting.

Don’t work hard, just work A LOT and the best you can.

54 Ashton November 6, 2013 at 3:08 pm

A lot of the deliberate practice literature is being debunked (in particular the 10,000 hour rule). The general mistake is confusing deliberate practice being *sufficient* for excellence with being *necessary* for excellence.

Here is a link to one article on the subject: http://healthland.time.com/2013/05/20/10000-hours-may-not-make-a-master-after-all/

Also, the ability to deliberately practice depends on personality, which further depends on biological factors. There is a lot of psychometric research to justify that claim.

55 Max November 7, 2013 at 3:17 am

Hm, I know dudes who have proficiency in a musical instrument superior to mine in orders of magnitude(by studying in music schools and colleges) yet have absolutely zero(or close to it) creative spark.

So, I don’t know what your beloved, “all knowing” science tells you, but yeah-there is such a thing as talent. It’s been around…well, since humanity’s been around.

56 Christian April 13, 2014 at 8:26 am

I agree with the minority on this blog. Genetics/talent makes a difference. I’m a guitar player of many years and I’ve started practicising deliberately 10 Month ago. Although I see great improvements, I guess it would not pay off to take off another 9 years from work because there is no way to hold down a professsional job and practise deliberately for three hours a day.

57 Christian April 13, 2014 at 8:39 am

I do certainly not agree with De Angelos racist statement. You might also figure out on which continent the Egyptians build their structures and why some cultures had more money than others. Warmongering and dictatorship seem pretty outdated.

58 Oskar April 15, 2014 at 4:34 pm

awesome read guys! This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “pay now play later or play now pay later!”

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