10,000 Hours and Counting!

Sshhhh! Don’t tell my husband, but I’ve developed a bit of a crush. A couple of weeks ago we went to my favourite Turkish store, D&R Books, where I laid my hands on the last Malcolm Gladwell book that I had not yet read – David and Goliath.
I am truly in awe of the way this man’s mind work, and how he is able to work his way round so many varied and misleading wrong turns to get to the final truthful nugget of an issue. He takes our world and looks at it from every obscure angle – angles that most people do not even know exist.
But most importantly, he does not spout fluffy, spiritual, magical nonsense which has no evidence at all to back it up. Rather he goes to the psychologists and unearths what many policy makers and money men would prefer to cover up – the real truth of what is going on.
One of my favourite ‘stories’ is from his book Outliers, where he talks about the 10,000 hour rule, based on a piece of research done psychologist K.Anders Ericsson at Berlin’s Academy of Music.
They divided the school’s violinists into three groups. The first group were the crème de la crème, with the potential to be world class performers. The second group were considered ‘good’, and the last group included those who would probably end up as music teachers. Information was then taken about the age they started playing, and the hours per week they practised.
Everyone from all three groups started playing around the same age – five years old – and initially practised for about the same amount of time – 2-3 hours per week. However, at about eight years old things began to change.
The students who would end up the best in class began to practise more than everyone else – six hours by age nine, eight hours a week by age 12, 16 hours a week by age 14, increasing until by age 20, when they were doggedly practising for well over 30 hours a week. In fact, by the age of 20, the elite performers had each totalled 10,000 hours of practice. The ‘good’ students totalled 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers totalled just over 4000 hours.
What this piece of research demonstrates is the amount of effort and dedication that is required to succeed. To be the best of the best, musicians, performers, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers – anyone and everyone – need to comply to the 10,000 hour (see Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for more information).
Inventor Thomas Edison made several hundred attempts at designing the light bulb until he got it just right. When asked by a newspaper reporter: ‘How does it feel to have failed 700 times?’ the great inventor replied: ‘I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work’. What a fantastic example of someone processing something positively!
It was also Thomas Edison who coined the phrase: “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
This all underpins my own view that in our instant gratification, results oriented society, we want and expect things to happen as close to immediately as possible. We want to know something, we Google it. We start to get anxious if someone doesn’t answer our text messages/emails/Facebook comments within minutes. We are assailed by instant make over shows which transform our homes, gardens and ourselves in 60 minutes. We’re constantly being sold dramatic weight loss programmes which promise that you’ll lose 7lbs in 7 days. We want 15 minute meals. We have 24 hour rolling news channels.
We rarely tolerate the discomfort of not knowing. Or denying ourselves.
When we feel down or fed up, we want something that is immediately going to make us feel better. “Emotionally distraught people indulge their impulses because they hope that indulgence will bring pleasure that may repair their mood and dispel distress.” Tice, Bratslavsky & Baumeister, 2001.
For many of us this involves food (of usually the wrong kind!), cigarettes, a glass or three of wine. Because the result of instant gratification means that you momentarily feel better, you reinforce your belief that a particular substance has those ‘healing, magical qualities’. So next time you feel crap, you reach for those same healing, magical substances. And so begins the vicious cycle.
I can’t help thinking that someone like Malcolm Gladwell would approve of the Thrive programme – the fact that it is evidence based, the fact that it teaches people how to dig deep and develop reserves of self efficacy and resilience.
After all, we all just want to be happy. But being happy takes effort – at least 10,000 hours worth of effort, but more likely a lifetime’s worth!.
The good news is – the more we learn how to create our own happiness by putting in all this effort, the more it becomes second nature, so ultimately less effort is required. Being happy eventually becomes implicit in everything we do.

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