How 10,000 Hours Of Deliberate Practice Can Still Fail

Published May 11, 2018 in Mindset - 0 Comments

“I’m going to help you stay motivated to practice, so you can succeed.”

“But I’m already motivated. And practicing. But it’s not getting me the result I want.”

“Ummm… hmmm…”

In the book Peak, the authors reveal the results of their research on athletes, musicians, and a couple guys who developed the ability to memorize really, really long strings of digits.

The authors’ goal was to discover what makes people great. What makes people masters of a certain ability. And the best way for everyone else to get there. Like playing the violin like a master. Or performing a prostatectomy without any cancer reoccurrence.

The author’s research was Malcom Gladwell’s inspiration for the now famous “10,000” rule.

Peak, however, reveals how the rule has been misinterpreted. First of all, the 10,000-hour number comes from the average amount of practice time expert violinists performed by age 20. Some had done more – some less. And this was simply by a certain age. It didn’t automatically bestow them expert status.

Plus, the research revealed simple practice was not enough. It had to be what the authors call deliberate practice. This involves consistently pushing yourself beyond the edge of your abilities, so your brain and body adapt, while getting useful feedback. For example, studying the chess matches of grandmasters and attempting to predict their moves, and studying why they did what they did, while under the watchful eye of a qualified teacher, is deliberate practice. Playing tournament chess, is not. Pushing yourself to play the banjo faster is deliberate practice. Playing a tune (diddy?) you’re already comfortable with in a concert, is not.

Not so simple and sexy as 10,000 hours, is it?

The book goes into more detail…

… but it’s still missing something.

One of the most prominent case studies, is a college-aged man who practices memorizing digits. The author read him a single digit per second, until finished. Then, the man repeated the whole string. The average person might be able to handle eight digits, which falls within our short-term memory. Through practice, however, the man was able to memorize and repeat back 82 digits flawlessly.

Peak briefly mentions how the researchers chose an athlete, assuming he’d have a natural propensity to push through a challenge. Later in the book, the authors dabble into motivation again, mentioning its importance for practice. They briefly cover setting aside time in your schedule, accountability within a group, and the drive to look good in front of others.

It’s a shallow treatment compared to their thorough studies of deliberate practice.

And that’s what I think is missing.

We now have a very clear picture of what someone must do to succeed, if they’re already psychologically, emotionally, and – dare I say – spiritually aligned with what they want to achieve. Researchers found key differences between good, expert, and world-class musicians. They got a very clear picture of… let’s call it… “the second half of the story.” These men and women have already proven they can identify and overcome their weaknesses. But what about the first half of the story? What if someone wants to learn a new skill, but has impediments that are not solved by working on the skill itself?

For example, perhaps someone wants to become an expert investor. They’d like to use deliberate practice to improve their craft, but are unknowingly dealing with a psychological self-destruct mechanism, put in place by an alcoholic mom who spent every penny of the family’s money.

Or someone who’s trying to attract the opposite sex, but whose parents felt only contempt for each other, and never spoke. This person could spend 10,000 hours in a bar with the guidance of a successful friend, but still never overcome the programming that’s doing the damage.

In both cases, it’s like someone spending 10,000 hours trying to clean up a spill, without plugging the broken pipe that’s causing the mess in the first place.

Something else is required, where the prospective expert needs to reach back, to realign what is internally out of whack, while progressing with the deliberate practice. And this work is more vital in the more important areas of life. The parts that, if not mastered, cause the most pain.

What do you care about more? Loving relationships with other people, or memorizing digits? Which has more potential for emotional and psychological hang-ups?

If therapeutic work combined with deliberate practice, we could have a complete system for helping someone become a master. And they don’t even have to start as average. Their life could be in psychological and emotional shambles. If something could help them become ready to benefit from deliberate practice, it wouldn’t just be life-changing, but life-saving.