Brain On Fire

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The secret ingredient to 10,000 hours

Leadership, Motivation, Productivity

I thought this post would be about practice, framed around the 10,000-hour rule. I was going to tell you that practicing a new routine — whether about something action-oriented or thought-based takes time. But as I was thinking about my own experience, preparing, refreshing my memory about the 10,000-hour concept, things went delightfully sideways, and the point became different.

The 10,000-hour rule — the idea that innate ability + significant practice is the equation for mastery — was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. He uses the stories of Bill Gates, the Beatles, and other greats in their fields to demonstrate this rule in action. The idea is pretty clear. You do something for a ton of time, you become exceptional at it. Boom.

If you Google 10,000 hours, you’ll find a whole bunch of refutation — articles claiming that 10,000 hours is bunk. Gladwell clarifying his point. More studies that prove it’s not true.

I’ve always liked the 10,000-hour concept. Regardless of its mathematical accuracy, I like the spirit of remembering that mastery is the reward for effort. That no human is truly exceptional at anything without putting in the time.

And very specifically, recently I’ve been applying the 10,000-hour concept to the idea of thought practice with my clients. If you’ve spent a lifetime thinking one way, and would like to think another, it might take a little time.

Sometimes it’s instant. But when it’s not, that’s perfectly understandable.

The “rule” is innate ability + practice. People often leave off the first part of that equation when citing it.

And that got me thinking about innate ability and how we experience it. Things that come naturally to us don’t feel like effort, even when they are.

I was practically born wanting to paint a room, arrange furniture, and decorate walls. I did it when I was too small to be actually good at it. And kept doing it. And kept doing it. And kept doing it. It feels like breathing to me, and every project or arrangement or specific detail put just so feels like an expression of who I am.

In all my ‘practice,’ I have made huge mistakes, measured incorrectly, had ideas that didn’t look good at all, gone through questionable taste phases, been deeply wrong about paint colors, and owned burgundy velvet drapes.

None of these things have phased me. I never considered them anything but part of the process, and have never, ever questioned my ability. There are lots and lots of people who are great at making things look pretty. I am one of them. I love being one of them. I love being inspired by other people who are better, or differently good at it than I am. I never feel scarcity. The whole world could be great at making their homes beautiful, and it would delight me.

Because I love it.

Probably sounds familiar, right? Your thing is something different, but the feeling is how most of us describe the things we’re good at.

The things we feel naturally drawn to are things we love in advance.

And loving something in advance, or approaching something with love, is always available.

And love and all its byproducts — openness, security, confidence, joy — create fertile ground for growth. We delight in the process of what we’re doing, delight in everything we learn along the way, delight in the doing.

Yes, the journey not the destination. Yes, the process over the product. All of that.

So when we’re trying to change something deliberately, what if we chose ahead of time to love the process?

I’ve talked before about the idea that change doesn’t come from force, only from compassion.

But this takes it one step further, all the way to experiencing joy as you are growing.

Think about the thing you’re best at. Did you get to be incredible at it by beating yourself into greatness? Or did you work hard and have an amazing time?

When I have to sit down and plan out next week because I’m trying to actually act like I have some semblance of discipline becomes I’m experimenting with planning to see if it unlocks something in my productivity, great things happen.

When I should stop being so angry about this, why can’t I change? becomes I’m so proud of myself for learning to think about things differently — what a flipping meta-skill this is, everything changes.

You get to love whatever you want. You don’t have to love anything, ever. But what you choose to love is entirely up to you. If you looked at speaking in front of groups, or your current job, or conversations with your mother as something about which you could be abundant, feel curiosity and love, what would change?

Because love will simulate the conditions of innate ability. Maybe not match them, but simulate them.

Then all you have to do is practice.


Like this? Want more? I offer a limited number of free coaching calls each week, and one of them could be yours. All you need is yourself and a desire to see what’s possible. What are you waiting for?