One of the most inspirational books I’ve read is The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. It’s basic theme is that almost anybody can build any particular skill to a world-class level. All you have to do is put in 10,000 hours of effective practice.
“Effective practice” consists of carefully and persistently pushing the boundaries of your skill, paying great attention to monitoring and improving all the details.
The physiological basis for this is that practicing causes the brain neurons involved in the activity to fire in a specific sequence. Every time a circuit fires it is coated with another layer of an insulating substance called myelin. The more layers of myelin the circuits collect, the faster they will fire.
With enough myelin, activities that can initially be done only slowly and painstakingly eventually become second-nature skills that can be done quickly, accurately and automatically.
This remarkable phenomenon apparently explains virtually all human achievement in every area requiring high levels of skill, including music, sports, writing, programming, selling, painting, orating, burglarizing, bootlegging, lying and banditry (the last few of which are characteristics of world-class politicians).
Even Mozart, Bill Gates and the Bronte sisters had to put in their 10,000 hours before they became world-class success stories in their fields.
The only thing standing between you and me and world-class greatness is 10,000 hours. What most of us lack is the single-minded passion that will drive us to put in those hours, and the diligence to use our practice time effectively.
I have played the violin for forty years but I am far from being a world-class musician. Mozart put in 10,000 hours of musical practice before he was ten. Haven’t I managed to do it in forty years of sporadic practice? Can my record really be so pathetic?
Eight months ago I decided to record the number of hours and minutes I spend practicing, to get a sense of how many hours I have accumulated in my lifetime. My current count, after eight months, stands at 282 hours. If I maintain this pace I will reach 423 hours after 12 months.
If I had done that much practicing every year for forty years I would have accumulated almost 17,000 hours by now. You might have already seen me on TV, making women swoon on PBS Christmas specials!
Unfortunately I dithered away most of the available hours in my preceding 39 years, wasting a huge percentage of my free time on unfulfilling activities such as TV-watching and dishwashing. My average for each of those years was probably less than one-fifth the number of hours I practiced this year.
There were four or five years during and after college when I did not pick up the violin a single time.
My grand total for the past forty years is probably less than 4,000 hours, and only a fraction of those hours were spent practicing effectively.
But now that I know the secret to greatness, I am on my way! By the time I am 75 years old I intend to knock your socks off with my jaw-dropping virtuosity. The swooning women gathered around me will probably be a little on the elderly side, but at that age I’ll be happy with whatever I can get – particularly if they are fabulously wealthy! (Note to my splendid, wonderful wife: I am kidding.)
Now that I have added 30 more minutes to my total lifetime writing experience, I must dash off to add a few minutes to my fiddling experience. You should do the same. Go, now! Scat!