Lessons to Learn from Olympic Athletes

Every four years, we get to see the best of the best of the best compete. The Olympics is so interesting, because the athletes have few chances to win medals in their lifetime. In almost every other sport, you get a new season each year, but in the Olympics, it’s do or die. Lose and wait close to a half-decade for your next opportunity.

Every year I cry with those athletes who break down on the podium while holding their gold medals.

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Image from Google. From Left: Emese Szasz, Ryan Held and Sarah Sjostrom

And I also cry with them who were not able to make it this year.

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Image from Google. Jaqueline Endres

And then I wonder, what sort of training could have possibly made them so emotionally strong, what motivates them to train like crazy for years and shed their last drop of blood in a competition like this. I was determined to find out all about their ‘mind secrets’ and wanted to know if there is any tricks that we could learn and implement in our daily lives. Fortunately, I found ten.

Today I will share those lessons that we can learn from the world’s greatest athletes in the world’s greatest athletic showcase.

Love the work for the sake of the work

For every Michael Phelps, there are hundreds of Olympic athletes who don’t make sizable incomes. Olympic athletes train and compete for love of their sport. It’s why they’re so endearing.

We all want to make a full time living from what we love. But that might not always turn out to be the case. There’s none of the pretentiousness you see with professional athletes. The Olympics represent sport in its purest form. If  you want to be a writer, write for joy. Write to make a difference and get ideas you believe in to spread. Don’t write just so you can create a course or get a book deal. People can tell if you’re being sincere or not.

Work, Work, Work

Imagining practicing your craft for 4 long years every day and night. That’s what it’s like to train for the Olympics.

Sure, there’s world championships in between, but reaching the podium is the holy grail Olympic athletes are really shooting for. The medalists get there by incessant practice — shaving milliseconds off their start, jumping a half an inch higher, repeating routines until they’re woven into their muscle memory. Many of these athletes dedicate their entire existence to practice and do little else.

Each time I feel like complaining about my lack of ‘speedy success’ in my craft, I remind myself how much practice and time it takes. I guarantee you there is always room to practice more than you are right now. Make your effort match your aspirations.

Get Obsessed with your goals

We’ve all heard the stories how Olympic athletes literally eat, breathe and sleep their sport. Life is focused on one thing: becoming the world’s best at that sport. Obsession is part of achieving goals. As average performers begin to forget what their goals are because of a lack of exposure to them, the pros are imbedding their goals deep into their subconscious minds daily. Their minds are like guided missiles, always adjusting and correcting to maintain accuracy toward the target.

Have a sense of Emergency

Most of us operate like there is an endless amount of time in a day, week, month, year and life. Olympic athletes are extremely sensitive to time. They have a sense of urgency because they are operating at a level of awareness that constantly reminds them the present moment is all they really have. They’re on a mission to fulfill the dream of winning the medal, and they know the clock is ticking.

An Olympian gets one shot every four years, and can realistically compete for two or three Winter Games. Life is short, and if you’re going to make something happen, now is the time.

Take Care of Your Body

Olympic athletes keep strict diets to keep their body in peak condition for competition. You can’t eat fast food 3 times a week and win a gold medal. Sure, most of us are not athletes, but productivity and health are greatly tied to each other.

In our daily lives we’re consumed with both personal and professional stressors. Time off and life balance are key factors in performance cycles, as are massive influxes of effort. Getting more sleep, eating healthier, working out regularly, taking care of the mind are extremely crucial to produce quality work.

Believe in Yourself

Ask any Olympic athlete from any country competing in the games how they expect to place in their competition, and every one of them will tell you they expect to win the gold. That’s because faith has always been a hallmark of world-class performers – most notably the faith performers have in themselves.

It’s so difficult to see yourself in a place of success when you’re nowhere near reaching it. Mastering your mindset is just as important, if not more, as mastering the craft. Olympians have an extremely high-level of trust even when they are failing or going through a slump. This faith in self may stem from being raised in a positive environment, or from performers talking themselves into it. Muhammad Ali admits he told the world he was the greatest before he truly was as a way to bolster his faith in his own skills.

The difference is champions like Olympic athletes have faith in their goals and dreams while most people are often deathly afraid of believing in something that may or may not happen.

Have Patience

To be successful in any career you need to work hard and practice, but the most important trait anyone can have is patience. Building a career is a marathon, and most of us burn ourselves out (way) before we even succeed.

Multiply the length of time you think it will take you to succeed in your career times ten. It’s hard.

I haven’t yet mastered patience, but I keep trying, because I know there’s no other way. I have to remind myself to stay steady and avoid burning out — every.single.day.

Compete With Yourself Only

I like the fact that the Olympics includes so many individual sports. Individual athletes compete with themselves only. In sports like swimming and track and field, you aren’t trying to penetrate your opponents defense. You’re just doing the best you can, and the best wins. It’s pure.

You’re the solitary athlete. You train constantly to prepare for your next big shot. Each blog post or book you write is an attempt at reaching your “personal record,” for quality, craftsmanship, and excellence.

If you look in the other lanes during the race, it’ll slow you down. Keep your eyes forward and run to the finish line.

Invest and get a Coach

Some people scoff at hiring a coach or taking a paid course because they think it’s just as easy to find helpful information online for free. This comes from a scarcity mindset.

Are we so gifted that we can’t benefit from training or coaching?

Do we know something the world’s most successful people who use coaches don’t?

You can spend endless hours, months, maybe even years of your life trying to figure everything out on your own, or you could get help.

Olympic athletes work with the best trainers.

Internet marketing draws its share of seedy characters, but there are coaches and training programs with honest intentions to help you. I’ve paid for membership websites to help me improve my craft on a regular basis.

You’re smart. Do your due diligence, and invest in yourself.

When you watch the games this week, think of the dedication, time, and energy these athletes put into preparing for their events. Think of the mindset it takes to train four years for a race that lasts ten seconds.

I am sure that If we work even half as hard as an Olympic athlete, we’ll make it till the finish line.

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100% Commitment Is Easier Than 98%

I agree that the topic is pretty enticing. We always want to commit 100% to all our daily responsibilities. But at the same time, we fail and we fail very badly. And when we fail, it’s personal because we generally don’t put effort into things we care little about. This blog is intended to provide you some new thoughts about what you want to commit and how you want to pursue it in order to get success. Before I start, please note that I am not 100% perfect in this art either but I have been training myself for months and hence, I am certainly better than the average.

If you try to tackle everything wrong in your life at once, you’ll quickly burn out and quit. It’s happened to me many times before. Life is super busy. You don’t have time to focus on a thousand different areas of your life to change. That’s exhausting, and frankly, not helpful.

“small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.” – Charles Duhigg in his book ‘The Power of Habit’

I used to be terrible at working out regularly. But then I forced myself to go to the gym just for 2 days every week (for about 30 mins). Eventually I started to feel confident about it and ended up hiring a trainer. He helped me to boost my confidence even higher. Now, I lift weights regularly and I am more cautious about what I eat or drink. I feel less stressed and more control on my life. All because I started exercising twice per week.

Now, let me talk about the term ‘Absteiner’. An abstainer is someone who is generally all or nothing. Hence, when an abstainer falls off the wagon, they crash and burn. However, when they focus on just one thing at a time, and succeed at that, they feel more in-control of their lives and when an abstainer feels in-control, there is nothing that can stop them. They become fiercely committed to what they’re doing and experience a sense of limitless power. As an abstainer, this feeling only comes after you’ve kept your own commitments. Does that sound like you? If yes, you will be glad to read this post.

As You Succeed, Your Vision For Your Life Will Expand

A natural consequence of success is an increased vision for what you can do. This is where abstainers often fail. Because we’re are highly passionate about what we do, we often start at a sprint. But long-term commitments are marathons, and so abstainers often burn out.

*Note: This happens to me almost every time I set out on a new grand plan. I get so pumped up and excited that I try going a million miles an hour, only to find I’ve given up later that day.

But I have worked on it (and still working) and have made myself better. The goal of this blog is to discuss those tactics that have helped me to get better at the craft.

Feel It

Feeling good is so important for passionate people like us. As our own toughest critic, we often ride a roller coaster of emotions. However, as we succeed at our one thing, and our vision for our lives expand, we will naturally feel amazing.

When you feel amazing, you show up to life differently, don’t you? You are more present and attentive to others needs. You’re less focused on your own problems. You’re less worried about the results and worried more about being genuine. Commit to this one thing and life will feel great.

Attach yourself emotionally to the goal. Feel it inside and constantly visualize the moment of success and there is a high chance that you will be able to conquer your goal.

Gain Insane Motivation And Momentum

As stated previously, when you succeed at your goals, they generally expand. When your goals expand, a gap is created between where you are and where you want to be. This gap ignites in us a psychological process called self-regulation, which is our motivational resources management system that helps us attain our goals.

Specifically, self-regulation works in three ways.

  • Self-monitoring determines how well we are currently performing
  • Self-evaluation determines how well we are performing against our goals
  • Self-reaction determines how we think and feel against our goals. When we feel dissatisfied with our performance, self-reaction pushes us to reallocate our motivational resources

To trigger this self-regulation process, goals need to be highly specific, based on external indicators, deadline-driven, and challenging.

As you succeed in your one thing, and as your vision for your life expands, this process will commence. Thus, as your goals grow, you will naturally alter your behaviors to match your new goals. Your motivation and momentum toward huge things will surge and skyrocket.

At the end..

One of my all time favorite quotes is as follows:

“Many of us have convinced ourselves that we are able to break our own personal rules “just this once.” In our minds, we can justify these small choices. None of those things, when they first happen, feels like a life-changing decision. The marginal costs are almost always low. But each of those decisions can roll up into a much bigger picture, turning you into the kind of person you never wanted to be.” — Clayton Christensen

People are really good at self-sabotage. We consistently behave in ways that contradict our goals and ideals. This is incongruence. Hence, Clayton Christensen says 100 percent commitment is easier than 98 percent commitment. When you fully commit to something, the decision has been made. Consequently, regarding that thing, all future decisions have been made. As you stick with your 100 percent commitment, you’re life will be far easier. You won’t have to agonize over needless decisions. You’ve already decided. You’re not going to eat the cookie or that sugar drink. It’s not even a debate.

 

The Miracle of Self-Descipline

Studying Successful men and women is one of my fondly cherished hobbies. I have studied over 100 of successful people through biographies,autobiographies,blogs,diaries and many more just to find out what it takes to be successful.  I have always been very intrigued with the thought that why there are so few people on this planet who become successful in what they do while we all have the same 24 hours of time every day?

Scientifically, it has already been proven that talent is overrated. There are probably millions of unknown people on this earth who are way more talented than some of our famous ones but unfortunately, we never get to know them. Hardwork definitely plays a key role. In fact, in one of my previous posts “10,000 Hours of Practice“, I have already pointed out there is no substitute for hardwork if you want to be successful in life. But even then, that is not all it takes. There is one more characteristic of successful people that popped up repeatedly in my study of Successful people. Therefore, today I am going to talk about that missing element that will make you successful in whatever you do and the name of that element is “Self-Descipline”.

What is ‘Self-Descipline’?

Self-Descipline is a habit, a practice, a philosophy and a way of living. Contrary to common belief, self-discipline does not mean being harsh toward yourself, or living a limited, restrictive lifestyle. Self discipline means self control, which is a sign of inner strength and control of yourself, your actions, and your reactions.All successful men and women are highly disciplined in the important work that they do. All great success in life is preceded by long, sustained periods of focused effort on a single goal, the most important goal, with the determination to stay with it until it is complete.  Throughout history, we find that every man or woman who achieved anything lasting and worthwhile, had engaged in long, often unappreciated hours, weeks, months and even years of concentrated, disciplined work, in a particular direction.  Fortunately the quality of self discipline is something that you can learn by continuous practice, over and over, until you master it.  Once you have mastered the ability to delay gratification, the ability to discipline yourself to keep your attention focused on the most important task in front of you, there is virtually no goal that you cannot accomplish and no task that you cannot complete.

How do we build it?

Now that we know what it is, the next obvious question is how can we build it?

Lets imagine for a second that there was a switch in your brain that would allow you to efficiently smash through your daily to-do list, eat only foods that are good for you, and never skip a workout again. Ever wonder How would our life be different then?  Well, I have a certain vision of my future-self in my mind and every morning when I wake up, I always try to put my best effort to move one more step forward towards my goal. Life is always hard and I am still not there yet, but I am NEVER STOP researching and trying new ways to get there and one day I know, I will.

There are plenty of ways you can teach yourself on becoming self-disciplined. Below are the one that are my top priorities right now. Research shows that these are the most influential areas of your mind that can lead you to success.

  • Meditation – The Zen Way

    Practicing mindfulness meditation for a few minutes each day can actually boost willpower by building up gray matter in areas of the brain that regulate emotions and govern decision making.” 

  • Exercise- Magic for your body

    This is already a well-discussed topic. Not only does it increase our fitness and mental performance, improve our mood and sleep quality, reduce our body fat percentage, anxiety levels and likelihood of becoming sick. It’s also been shown to improve our willpower.

  • Harness the power of Accountability

    Admittedly, accountability isn’t the sexiest word in the English language. But the concept it represents is extremely powerful.The idea behind it is that when we’re left to our own devices, it’s easy to come up with excuses not to do something.

    I’m tired, I don’t feel like it, it’s too much work, it’s too hard.”

    The solution is simple: build structures in your life that will hold you to a higher standard and that will prevent you from coming up. If you do not like to go to gym, hire a trainer, if you do not feel motivated to work, have a co-worker or partner to whom you report every day, if you do not have anyone, use website like stickK. Whatever specific system you use, the most important thing is that it takes away your ability to procrastinate and make excuses, and that it makes you stick to your plan and highest values.

  • Set SMART goals

    When someone asks me how they could have more discipline and willpower, my first question to them is always, “do you have clear goals for yourself?” 90+% of the time, the answer is no. Oops.Why is it so important to have defined goals?Because they give you a clear direction in life and help you connect your daily actions to a greater purpose. I have worked really hard to define my goals. Trust me, it is not easy. But once you have that, its easier to take control on rest of your life.

    When you create your goals, make sure they are SMART: Specific, Measurable Attainable, Relevant and Timely

For instance, don’t set a goal of “I want to lose weight” or “I want to make more money”. Instead, it should look more like “I want to lose 10 lbs of body fat by March 1s”  or “I want to increase my monthly income by $5000 by June 10”. Once you do that, taking action and staying disciplined every day will be infinitely easier. You’ll be “pulled” towards the achievement of your goals, and you’ll feel a great sense of  purpose and fulfilment.

  • Remove Temptations and Distractions

    We all are subject to temptation—it’s just in our nature. And in today’s world we’re surrounded by more temptations than ever.Google gives us access to all the information in the world within a few seconds. YouTube is filled with funny, entertaining, and interesting videos. Our Facebook newsfeed gets updated every few seconds. Our smart phones are full of apps and other cool things. Knowing this, it’s imperative to figure out a system to bulletproof ourselves against all these distractions.

Some of the ideas along this line would be putting our phones away when you are working, use apps like Freedom to block internet for a certain period of time, block hours in your daily routine when you do not want to be disturbed by others, keep only those foods in the fridge that is good for your health etc.

  • Eliminate Unnecessary Decisions

    Our brain is our the most important resource and we need it protect it.As Baumeiseter found, every single decision we make during the day dips into our willpower reserves. Therefore, we need to cut down the number of decision we make to a minimum, and focus on the ones that truly matters. President Obama once said, “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing because I have too many other decisions to make.

This is why all the famous people like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and many othe prefer to wear the the same outfit, eat the same breakfast and lunch every single day.

  • Create Power Habits, Rituals, Routines

    Creating rituals is a great way to remove needless decision-making from your day. Once something has been turned into a habit, you don’t even have to think about it. You do it without using any of your willpower. Each step of the ritual is carefully choreographed for optimal results, yet it requires no willpower on my part because it’s engrained in my ritual. You can read my other post on this related topic here.

  • Hack your Mind- 5 Minute Rule

    One of our mind’s greatest flaws is that it often struggles to get things started. But once we’re in flow, it’s easy to keep going.

    If you’re struggling to get started on some work you have to do, or to start your daily meditation/workout, make the following deal with yourself: you’ll do it for just 5 minutes.

    Answer one email. Run 1 time around your block. Meditate for 5 minutes.

    From personal experience and discussing it with others, I’ve found that 80 to 90% of the time, once we’re in motion, we end up continuing well past the 5-minute mark we had decided on.

  • Go for 100% Commitment

    Jack Canfield, author of the book Chicken Soup for the Soul famously said “99% is a bitch, 100% is a breeze.

    If you really want to do something, commit to it 100%.

    If you’re just sorta-committed, there’ll always be a little voice in your head saying “aahh, maybe today I’ll take the day off“. You’ll waste a lot of willpower fighting off that little voice.

    But the moment have you that 100% commitment, the game becomes easy. You don’t have to think about it… you just do it!

 

 

Success vs Failure

“Success” and “Failure” are two of my most favorite terms of all times. I have been dealing with these two since very early age and I am sure it is true for most of you as well. But have you wondered what exactly these two terms mean and how they define our lives – our happiness, health and wealth?

In short, whatever you do in life, there is a final result for it. Success and Failure! When you do something, you have an intention of achieving, completing or changing a thing. The Real-Life form of those expectations are called Success. And when things opposite or unexpected happens, that’s a fail and it becomes what we call — A Failure!

The sweetest victory is the one that’s most difficult. The one that requires you to reach down deep inside, to fight with everything you’ve got, to be willing to leave everything out there on the battlefield—without knowing, until that do-or-die moment, if your heroic effort will be enough. Society doesn’t reward defeat, and you won’t find many failures documented in history books.

Diving deep into ‘Failure’

Dreams strengthens you and Fear weakens you. When you have strength to do things, you’ll be more hard and smart working. But when you’re afraid, that means you’ll be afraid to move closer to success too. The more hard working you are, the more chances of success getting hit to you and the more afraid you are, the more chances of you failing again and again. So, you’ll live just like an ordinary person if both dreams and fear hit you on the same time. You won’t be having any success nor failure. You seriously don’t want a life like that, right? Well, I don’t!

When we take a closer look at the great thinkers throughout history, a willingness to take on failure isn’t a new or extraordinary thought at all. From the likes of Augustine, Darwin and Freud to the business mavericks and sports legends of today, failure is as powerful a tool as any in reaching great success. But sadly, today’s conservative corporate cultures, don’t want to go there.

“Instead they choose to play it safe, to fly below the radar, repeating the same safe choices over and over again. They operate under the belief that if they make no waves, they attract no attention; no one will yell at them for failing because they generally never attempt anything great at which they could possibly fail (or succeed).” – Ralph Heath

Things to avoid

Many times when I see a roadblock ahead of me or it feels like a failure, I tend to avoid doing certain things

  • Laziness
  • Distractions
  • Thinking that I will do things later
  • Stay depressed for long
  • Criticize myself
  • And finally giving up !!

There is always a ‘tomorrow’ and we don’t know what is in there for us. But instead of being hopeful, we end up imagining the worst possible situations. One of my  most favorite quotes that has been proven true many times in my life is below

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.”  – Steve Jobs

The Truth

The truth is that you usually have to fail to succeed. No one emerges at the top. Even those born lucky eventually get a turn on the wheel of misfortune. Anyone with a resume of accomplishments also has a resume of failures, humiliations and setbacks. Jobs was fired by the company he co-founded. Yet it was during this period of exile that he picked up a little computer graphics company later called Pixar Animation Studios, the sale of which made him a billionaire. I can go on.

This is to say, to fail is human. To resurrect oneself is an act of courage.

To Conclude

  • Focus on what you can do best at this moment. When we start to look too far into the future then any task or project can seem close to impossible. And so we shut down because we become overwhelmed and start surfing the internet aimlessly instead.
  • Be an optimist for today and believe that everything will work out just fine.
  • Be persistent and never give up. You never know how close you are to reach your goal.Our mind probably has a reasonable time-frame for success. This might not correspond to a realistic time-frame though.
  • Remember, most troubles never happen. Most things you fear will happen never happen. They are just monsters in our own mind. And if they happen then they will most often not be as painful or bad as you expected. Worrying is most often just a waste of time.

This is of course easy to say. But if you think back and remind yourself of how little of what you feared throughout your life that has actually happened you can start to release more and more worry from your thoughts. I know it because I have done it.

This makes it a lot easier to start doing more of what we really want in life. And to move through our day to day life with a lighter, happier and more optimistic attitude.

Good luck for tomorrow.

The importance of having a routine in life

A recent article on the Harvard Business Review inspired me to write this article about the importance of a daily routine to success. In fact, research has shown that, throughout history, the most successful people in their fields, what some might call the geniuses of that field, almost all had daily routines. And interestingly, a number of similarities between these routines show up.

I, myself tend to stick to a routine when it comes to my work and I can proudly say that it has increased my efficiency quite a bit over the last few years. Now it has become my habit to plan the next day every night before I go to bed, to invest time on my personal projects everyday even if it is just for an hour, to think about my future goals and measure my weekly progress at the end of each week. Working 45-50hrs every week seem to be less painful when things are automated in my mind and I do not have to waste any time thinking about what I have to do next. It has started to come naturally.

Routine provides a sense of structure and familiarity. Structure is a way of organizing your life so that it makes sense to you.  You wake up with a sense of ownership, order, and organization of your life. One of the more convenient reasons why structure is important is because it negates the need to regularly schedule your days ahead of time.  You already know what you are doing each and every day.  Once you are finished with a task, you already know what is next on your schedule.  This structure provides direction in your life, enabling you to act instead of standing still because of a lack of direction or decision paralysis (not doing anything because you don’t know what to do).

Builds good habits:
We are creatures of habits.  And Benjamin once said that “your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.”  Actively and consciously building a daily routine for yourself instills plenty of good habits.  When we consciously decide what we want to do with every day of our lives, we generally want to do what makes us happy or what gives us the most utility.  As such, we build tons of good habits along the way by actively participating in our daily lives. Read my another article on how to build good habits here.

Increases efficiency:
A routine is something that you do over and over again, eventually making it a habit.  Once it is a habit, you do not need to think about it to act.  The act of automation increases efficiency in your life, by enabling you to do things without consciously thinking about it.  You will automatically get things done, without having to remind yourself to get things done.  In this manner, you do not let anything slip and you save time by not having to decide what to do with your day.

Negates the need for willpower and motivation:
A routine negates the act of having to will or motivate yourself to do something.  Willpower is finite and motivation is not constant.  That is why relying on routine to accomplish tasks is a lot easier than relying on willpower and motivation.  Yes, when establishing a routine, you do have to will and motivate yourself to get stick the the routine.  But once the routine is set, it is on autopilot and the need for constant willpower and motivation is no longer necessary.

Builds momentum:
Routinely doing something every day, even if it is just a little bit, builds big momentum in the long run.  There is a quote that goes “little by little, a little becomes a lot.”  And I find that to be true for almost everything in life.

It helps you become good at things:
Developing a routine will help you become faster and more adept at what you do each and every day.  If you are constantly writing each and every day, you will become a better writer.  If you are constantly programming, you will become a better programmer.  If you are constantly practicing martial arts, you will become a better martial artist.

Saves work on the back end:
Routinely doing something will help save tons of hassles and work later on when it piles up.  For instance, if you spend 10 minutes per day cleaning your house, you will save the headache of spending a whole day a couple of months down the line just dedicated to cleaning.

Supportive partner:
Having a supportive partner is less a routine and more an important lifestyle choice. This partner can be a romantic partner or simply a very close friend. But a good and supportive partner can lessen the load on you, help remove stress. They can be an invaluable support, both emotionally and practically. Conversely, a non-supportive partner can hinder your every move, whether by hampering your ability to focus on the important work or accentuating the importance of your busywork, causing you to question your priorities. So, be careful in your partners.

Routines are invaluable in your daily life, as they provide structure and focus to your activities. Always remember, though, that routines should serve you, you shouldn’t be a slave to them. Their purpose is to allow you to accomplish your goals and live a happy, healthy life. Accordingly, learning how to build positive routines in your life today is important for your future life as well.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

10,000 Hours of Practice

“At first dreams seem impossible, then improbable, and eventually inevitable.”Christopher Reeve

Last night I read about the “10,000 Hour Rule” in the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. That one particular chapter moved me quite a bit probably because I have always had this same thought in my mind since childhood.

In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Gladwell studied the lives of extremely successful people to find out how they achieved success. This article will review a few examples from Gladwell’s research, and conclude with some thoughts for moving forward.

Violins in Berlin

In the early 1990s, a team of psychologists in Berlin, Germany studied violin students. Specifically, they studied their practice habits in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. All of the subjects were asked this question: “Over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?”

All of the violinists had begun playing at roughly five years of age with similar practice times. However, at age eight, practice times began to diverge. By age twenty, the elite performers averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able performers had only 4,000 hours of practice.

The elite had more than double the practice hours of the less capable performers.

Natural Talent: Not Important

One fascinating point of the study: No “naturally gifted” performers emerged. If natural talent had played a role, we would expect some of the “naturals” to float to the top of the elite level with fewer practice hours than everyone else. But the data showed otherwise. The psychologists found a direct statistical relationship between hours of practice and achievement. No shortcuts. No naturals.

Sneaking Out to Write Code

You already know how Microsoft was founded. Bill Gates and Paul Allen dropped out of college to form the company in 1975. It’s that simple: Drop out of college, start a company, and become a billionaire, right? Wrong.

Further study reveals that Gates and Allen had thousands of hours of programming practice prior to founding Microsoft. First, the two co-founders met at Lakeside, an elite private school in the Seattle area. The school raised three thousand dollars to purchase a computer terminal for the school’s computer club in 1968.

A computer terminal at a university was rare in 1968. Gates had access to a terminal in eighth grade. Gates and Allen quickly became addicted to programming.

The Gates family lived near the University of Washington. As a teenager, Gates fed his programming addiction by sneaking out of his parents’ home after bedtime to use the University’s computer. Gates and Allen acquired their 10,000 hours through this and other clever teenage schemes. When the time came to launch Microsoft in 1975, the two were ready.

Practice Makes Improvement

In 1960, while they were still an unknown high school rock band, the Beatles went to Hamburg, Germany to play in the local clubs.

The group was underpaid. The acoustics were terrible. The audiences were unappreciative. So what did the Beatles get out of the Hamburg experience? Hours of playing time. Non-stop hours of playing time that forced them to get better.

As the Beatles grew in skill, audiences demanded more performances – more playing time. By 1962 they were playing eight hours per night, seven nights per week. By 1964, the year they burst on the international scene, the Beatles had played over 1,200 concerts together. By way of comparison, most bands today don’t play 1,200 times in their entire career.

Success comes through sacrifice. While others play, successful people work. They know the time when others are playing is their opportunity to separate themselves from average. Success cannot be achieved without a relentless work ethic. If you are working while others play, you are gaining more ground on success than you realize.

Falling in Love With Practice

The elite don’t just work harder than everybody else. At some point the elites fall in love with practice to the point where they want to do little else.

The elite software developer is the programmer who spends all day pounding code at work, and after leaving work she writes open source software on her own time.

The elite football player is the guy who spends all day on the practice field with his teammates, and after practice he goes home to watch game films.

The elite physician listens to medical podcasts in the car during a long commute.

The elites are in love with what they do, and at some point it no longer feels like work.

What’s Next?

Now that we’ve reviewed the trends uncovered by Gladwell’s research, what can we do about it? All of us want to be great at something. Now that we know how other achievers have gotten there, what can we do to join their ranks?

One approach: We could choose a field and practice for 10,000 hours. If we are currently working in our target profession, forty hours per week over five years would give us ten thousand hours.

Or… We can look at the question in reverse. Where have we already logged 10,000 hours of practice? What is it that we do really well? What tasks do we perform so well that people ask: How did you do that? Sometimes when we fall in love with practice we don’t even recognize it!

If you’re running a company, what does your company do better than anybody else? What is it that the individual members of your company do better than anybody? How do you create an environment that gives everyone on your team the opportunity to practice?

Conclusion

Business is tough, especially now. Yet even in the midst of a challenging economy, there are individuals and companies that prosper beyond all expectations. Practice plays a major role in success.