Here’s What it Takes To Get Good At Things

Whether it’s your job, or just a hobby, we all know how amazing being good at something feels. It makes you proud, it gives you confidence, and that confidence often spills over in other areas of your life quite naturally. The benefits of greater self-confidence need not be discussed. What I want to share with you today is 3 scientifically proven factors that drastically improve your chances of being successful at what you do.

I was inspired to write on this topic by a story from Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell. 

 

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Malcolm Gladwell, Canadian Journalist and Bestselling Author

 

At one point in his book, he talks about how an American Psychologist (Roger Barnsley) first drew attention to the peculiar way in which hockey players are drafted in the Canadian Minor Hockey League.

In Canada the eligibility cutoff for age-class hockey is January 1. Someone born in February therefore has an extra 10 months of growth over a December baby.

While insignificant to an adult, to a 9-year old hockey player, that could mean an additional sweater size.

The relatively older players are bigger, stronger, more coordinated, and thus get more pats on the back. Accurate or not, these kids merit the “gifted” label. They play in more games in better leagues while receiving superior coaching. It’s what sociologists commonly refer to as accumulated advantage (or the matthew effect); the initial gap in perceived ability gets widened even further over time.

Now, this doesn’t mean these early-bloomers always become superstars. Early-bloomer or not, superstars have actual talent that eventually rises to the surface. What it does mean is that their head-start allows them to perform better in those early years when the benefits of being older actually make a big difference on the field.

The point of this story is that small advantages in the beginning lead to big differences in the end. So if you’re interested in becoming really good at something, you’re going to have to make sure the game is.. well.. “rigged in your favor” as much as possible.

 

1. Having the upper-hand

 

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You’ve probably heard of Usain Bolt. The fastest man on earth. 

Now, what you and I should realize is that it’s no coincidence that the fastest man on earth also looks like he was born to run. By now I expect most of you are familiar with the swimmer’s body illusion.

 

 

Now don’t get me wrong, Usain Bolt is a phenomenal athlete. But, what he also has is the upper-hand when it comes to sprinting.

 

Not everybody has great genetics like that of course. The idea is finding your own niche. An activity that will highlight your own natural gifts.

 

 Which sport are you made for? Check out this test I found. (It’s ironic I was talking about hockey before and it turns out I should give it a shot who knew )

 

2. Talent

 

 

It’s true that you don’t need to be particularly talented to have fun or feel competent and confident. But what’s also true is that you’re going to have a much easier time getting those things if you have a natural affinity to whatever it is you’re trying to do.  

This goes back to (1), the more advantages you have stacked up in your favor, the easier the ride to competence is going to be. And the more competent you will be. 

You do the math.

At equal starts, having more natural ability than the other guy means you learn faster, you’re less frustrated along the way, and you actually end up becoming more competent.

All because you did something he didn’t bother to do: You took the time to figure out whether or not you actually fit the job description.  

 

 

3. Deliberate Practice

 

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I’ll get to the “deliberate” part in just a moment. First let’s talk about the role of practice itself in acquiring competence.

In his book, Malcolm Gladwell also talks about the 10,000-hour rule (the idea that you need to have practiced for 10,000 hours before you get good).

Now, I’ll say this right now, in reality it’s not that simple.

In reality, practice only makes half-perfect. Because as we talked about earlier, there are so many other factors that come in play when it comes to making “perfect”. 

To get good, and I mean really good, practicing is simply not enough. Hear it from the man himself: 

 

There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 rule that I talk about in Outliers. It doesn’t apply to sports. And practice isn’t a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest. Unfortunately, sometimes complex ideas get oversimplified in translation.

-A recent “Ask Me Anything” he did on Reddit to clarify his thesis 

 

The reason he says it doesn’t apply to sports is because, again, there are other factors that come into play when it comes to who ends up just “good” and who becomes “amazing”. Especially in sports. 

 

You ever heard of Teddy Riner?

 

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8x Judo World Champion for France. Only judoka to have achieved this level of success.

Now, I grew up practicing judo. And I know that I could freeze time, practice 10hrs/day for the equivalent of 20 years, resume time, make the olympics, somehow work my way up to his level, and still get my ass handed to me, quick & clean.

You know why?

Well, more than one reason. The most compelling being: This guy is 6ft7 (2.04m) for 289 pounds (131kg).

In comparison I’d probably look like the ref next to him to be honest. And it’s not that I’m particularly small, it’s that he’s particularly huge. And to fight him you’d need to be particularly huge too. Just like the poor guy laying on the floor there next to him. 🙂 For ME, there’s just no competing here. 

Now luckily in judo and other combat sports, you have weight classes. So it’s possible that I could do well in my own category. But what we’re talking about here is life, and possibly things outside of sports too. In life there’s no such thing as weight classes. 

If you sign up for something, you’re in it with the rest of em. And if you happen to be the “light-weight” in the room, there’s no rules to keep the big guy from bullying you. And he will brutalize you. (To the tune of 8 World Championships for example) And that’s regardless of how hard you hone your craft. Talk about frustration. 

So what I’m suggesting is that you favor activities where you’re the big guy.

Either by virtue of some genetic pre-disposition, natural affinity, or both. (Like Bolt and Riner, they have both + the best training in the world to boot. Very hard to compete with that.)

Only then can you put 10,000-hours of blood sweat and tears into it and expect greatness. That’s what the 10,000-hour rule is about. It’s provided you tick the boxes called “advantage” and “talent”.

Because outside of that, practice alone isn’t going to make you world-class.

Now let’s talk about what it means to engage in deliberate practice.

 

Deliberate practice is practice by design. 

 

As opposed to “regular” practice (what most people call practice), there’s a plan. A method to your madness.

Deliberate practice implies following a program, or in the least a precise set of directives (from your coach, or whoever else may be helping you) that will actually help you improve your weak points. 

 

The order of the day is…

 

If there’s no “order of the day” when you practice, then you’re not engaging in deliberate practice. It’s just that simple. And you might as well be sitting at home.

The idea behind deliberate practice is working on those skills you haven’t yet mastered. 

That’s how you become competent. In any regard.

That in turn is going to fuel your confidence in life, and provide you with a sense of self-worth and overall well-being. 

As we saw: Getting there though, has a lot to do with making choices that are right for you. 

So what’s right for you? 🙂

Make it happen. 

-Alex


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2 comments on “Here’s What it Takes To Get Good At Things

  1. Thanks Alex, great piece – especially that you printed the 10,000 hour explanation, certainly gives a more rational, balanced view than that presented by some “Ra Ra Ra ” success gurus – as someone, much smarter that me, once said “Ninety percent perspiration 10 percent genius” or similar words to that effect – keep up the good work, love your blog.

    1. Hello again Patsy 🙂
      Yeah for sure, I’ve seen it too many times. Sometimes it’s a matter of substance, and sometimes it’s a matter of communication. In any case, due diligence always rules.
      I will heed these wise words.. thanks for your support!

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