The Undeniable Truth about Mastering any Skill

If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”- MICHELANGELO

Have you ever considered how long it takes to become an expert or master in any given field?

Say you want to become a writer, a key note speaker or a recognised authority in your field of choice- what is a realistic time frame to achieve success?

Nowadays it’s not uncommon to see claims offering to help you to “master” a skill in anywhere from 30 days, to 10 days, or even 20 hours!

Unfortunately, the reality is something a little less magical.

The 10,000 hours Rule

No doubt you’ve heard of the 10,000 hour rule. This was made famous by Malcolm Gladwell’s in his book “Outliers.”

According to Gladwell it takes 10,000 hours of practice to attain mastery of complex skills. He cites Bill Gates and the Beatles to support his claims.

He estimated Gates put in 10,000 hours of programming work before founding Microsoft and the Beatles fame came after 10,000 hours of practice gigs touring Hamburg in the early 1960s.

But what does 10,000 hours represent in relation to years and days?

According to one article 10,000 hours is roughly 417 days. This equates to 1.1408 years. So let’s realistically say you dedicate 3 hours every day to practice then this would mean it takes you nearly 3333 days or a little over 9 years to master a skill.

In reality does this formula hold true for everyone?

Daring to be Great

There’s no one who is great at his profession who hasn’t been doing it for at least 6 years — no designer, no programmer, no carpenter, no architect, no surgeon, no teacher, no musician, no artist .

A great example of this is the legendary rock star David Bowie.

Most mistakenly believe he was an overnight success. However, in reality he spent many years striving to find some level of success before his first hit in 1969 with “Space Oddity “ .

He repeatedly struggled to find a style that fit his ambitions.  An Open Culture article stated his ‘rise to fame was a long, frustrating, stop-and-start affair’.

Most recognised masters of their field have been doing it for over a decade, and are still seeking to improve their skills.

Yet, is mastery something we all strive for?

What Stops our Pursuit for Mastery?

According to Daniel Pink seeking mastery is deeply wired into most of us.  In his book ‘Drive’, he cites research that shows the opportunity to build mastery is one of the most motivating things for most people.

However, with that quest for mastery there will always be obstacles that get in our way.

The lack of belief in oneself is by far the greatest impediment to success.

The key to mastery lies in our assumptions about ourselves and the process. 

My journey towards mastering meditation is a good example. After 15 years of endeavour I’m still see myself as a novice. I’m always seeking ways to build new knowledge to help me master this skill and move through what I see as my limitations.

Meditation can be a deeply uncomfortable process. This can cause doubt in my ability to become an expert.

Ultimately, getting good at something means you have to go through various periods of not being good. At those times we will tend to feel dumb, clueless, and incompetent. Many people would simply rather not go through that pain and suffering.

The main element that allows us to make it through the discomforts of non-mastery is a core belief in our own capability.

So if you want to get really great at something, be realistic about what it will require – and have faith in your own ability.

So how can you and I do that?

Here are three key steps to get you moving towards mastery:

1) Be comfortable being uncomfortable:

We learn when we’re in uncomfortable. When you’re struggling, that’s when we’re getting smarter. The longer you spend there, the faster you learn.

It’s all about having a growth mindset and a mentality that says; ‘I’ve not mastered this skill yet.’

You want to be practicing where you are on the edge of your ability. You reach over and over again. You make mistakes, correct those mistakes and reach again. The failing is the learning.

2) Stop reading. Start doing:

No amount of reading about something is going to get the job done. At some point you need to put the books away and give it a go.

The closer your practice is to the real thing, the faster you learn.

Our minds evolved by learning to do things. It’s much more beneficial to spend about 70% of your time practicing the skills you seek to master rather than absorbing it.

If you want to memorise a speech, it’s better to spend 30 % of your time reading it, and the other 70% of your time reciting it.

3) Commit to the long term:

Want to be a great writer?

If you have the talent of Fitzgerald or Shakespeare you can become great within a fairly short period of time. However, for the majority of us, we are not born with these rare skills. We spend an excessive amount of time toiling trying to reach a modest level of competence.

It’s a constant learning process.

I’ve been writing blogs for a number of years and I’m still learning. When I look back to my first year or so my content sucked.

At best I’m still only competent. However, every blog allows me the opportunity to refine the process getting better with every attempt. It just takes time.

You have to do it, make mistakes, learn, really begin to understand it, and someday, if you stick with it, you’ll be great.

Take Away Message

Sadly, we weren’t born experts. The path to mastery takes struggle, hard work, sweat, and tears.

It takes anywhere from 6-10 years to get great at something, depending on how often and how much you do it.

The “10,000 hour rule” is a nice concept, however while the time spent practicing is important, it is far from the only factor. You need to align your effort with the way your brain was designed to learn.

Hours are vital but you can get to mastery faster — much faster — by practicing the right way.

Don’t get discouraged if you’re just starting out. Have fun, like we all did in the beginning.

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