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What does it take to become an expert at anything?


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Let's round up the research so we can get to key actionable elements.

In 95% of cases natural talent does not determine who will be an expert at something. So what does it take to become the best?

 

10,000 Hours of Deliberate Practice

It's quantity and quality. You need tons of time spent training but it has to be the right kind of practice. Just showing up is not enough, you need to continually challenge yourself with the right kind of effort. "Deliberate Practice" is a specifically defined term. It involves goal setting, quick feedback, and countless drills to improve skills with an eye on mastery. It is not "just showing up" and, plain and simple, it's not fun. What are the key elements?

More on the essentials of Deliberate Practice here.

 

Have Grit

Perseverence. Persistence. Plain and simple, you can't get to 10,000 hours if you give up. Researchers have found grit is more predictive of success than IQ in a variety of challenging environments from Ivy League schools to military academies to the National Spelling Bee. And you must commit to the long term. Sounds cliche but it's vital. "With the same amount of practice, the long-term-commitment group outperformed the short-term-commitment group by 400 percent." More on being grittier here and here.

 

Find A Great Mentor

You want someone who will not go easy on you, who gives quick focused feedback and emphasizes fundamentals.The best coaches use the system of "Explanation, demonstration, imitation, correction, and repetition." More on how to pick the best mentor here.

 

Focus on the Negative

How often do you hear that recommended? It's true: An eye for the negative makes you more likely to learn from your mistakes. Novices focus on positive feedback ("good job!") because hearing they're doing well helps them stay committed. Experts focus on negative feedback ("You're doing that incorrectly") because they're interested in progress. The shift to focusing on negative feedback is one of the marks of an expert mindset.

 

Focus on Improvement

When challenged, focus on "getting better" -- not doing well or looking good. Get-better goals increase motivation, make tasks more interesting and replenish energy. When perfectionism is focused on internal goals it's great and enhances performance. When you're trying to impress others, it's a negative.

 

Fast Feedback

You need to know what is working and what isn't so you can course correct as soon as possible. Whether feedback comes from a boss, a stopwatch, or analytics software you can't get better without it. More here.

 

It's Worth it

I think it's important to keep in mind that training for expertise does not live in a vacuum. Deliberate Practice is stressful in the moment but brings greater joy later. Using our best skills is one of the most powerful ways to increase happiness. This has been shown time and time again.

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It's going to take me 10,000 hours to read all of ths great information.

Is expertise evenly distributed?

That is, will I become 10% of an expert after 1000 hours?

Or does expertise not increase linearly?

I'd be shocked if it did. Also, it's important to keep in mind that Deliberate Practice is not a system cooked up by anyone, it's the result of looking at what experts have done in the past and teasing out correlations. That said, each person's path will be a little different, each person may start at a different level of ability, some may have better help or push themselves harder or spend more hours or... So I doubt it's linear except in the more macro of analyses.

That said, there does often seem to be some magic around the eight week mark:

http://www.bakadesuyo.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-achieve-basic-compet

8 weeks = 56 days at 9 hours a day = 500 hours.

Although in your examples it only took a half hour a day: "A recent study at Massachusetts General Hospital showed that practicing meditation for twenty-seven minutes a day created lasting brain changes in (you guessed it) eight weeks."

Again, these things are going to range widely due to so many factors involved.

One thing i am sure of: If you're watching the clock, you'll never get to 10,000. ;)

10,000 is a state of mind, not an actual number.

Ahhhh! What if you change your mind about what you want to be an expert at . . .?

Reset that clock, unfortunately.

Or fortunately! You get to have beginner's mind again...

Ah! Very Zen. I suppose even if you reset the clock, you would have learned a heck of a lot more than you had without embarking on the mission in the first place.

Yes, and that perspective might allow you to connect dots that have never been connected before.

Maybe we should do this the other way around--think of what we already do and then proclaim expert status. Hmm. Can we start at "cruising PandaWhale"?

Heck yes! Cruise all you want -- we'll make more!

Eric you are truly an inspiration to me 

What's the definition of "expert"?

I've got more than 10K hours surfing but I'm still not likely to surf Jaws.

How many hours to be competent??

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