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Lessons on Success and Deliberate Practice From Mozart, Picasso, and Kobe Bryant

Lessons on Success and Deliberate Practice From Mozart, Picasso, and Kobe Bryant

How long does it take to become elite in your industry? What do the people who master their goals do differently than the rest of us?

That’s what John Hayes, a cognitive psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, wanted to know.

For decades, Hayes has been investigating the role of effort, practice, and knowledge in top performers. He has studied the most talented creators in history–people like Mozart and Picasso–to determine how long it took them to become world class at their craft. Furthermore, he investigated the choices and experiences that have led to their success.

Let’s talk about what Hayes has discovered about world class performers and, more importantly, let’s discuss how you can use these insights to achieve your goals and become your best.

Ten years of silence

Hayes started his research by examining successful composers. He analyzed thousands of musical pieces produced between the years of 1685 to 1900. The central question that drove his work was, “How long after one becomes interested in music is it that one becomes world class?”

Eventually, Hayes developed a list of 500 pieces that were played frequently by symphonies around the world and were considered to be the “masterworks” in the field. These 500 popular pieces were created by a total of 76 composers.

Next, Hayes mapped out the timeline of each composer’s career and calculated how long they had been working before they created their popular works. What he discovered was that virtually every single “masterwork” was written after the tenth year of the composer’s career. (Out of 500 pieces there were only three exceptions, which were written in years eight and nine.)

Not a single person produced incredible work without putting in a decade of practice first. Even a genius like Mozart had to work for at least 10 years before he produced something that became popular. Professor Hayes began to refer to this period, which was filled with hard work and little recognition, as the “ten years of silence.”

In followup studies, Hayes found similar patterns among famous painters and popular poets. These findings have been further confirmed by research from professors like K. Anders Ericsson, who produced research that revealed that you needed to put in 10,000 hours to become an expert in your field. (This idea was later popularized by Malcolm Gladwell.)

However, as Hayes, Ericsson, and other researchers started digging deeper, they discovered that time was merely one part of the equation. Success wasn’t simply a product of 10 years of practice or 10,000 hours of work. To understand exactly what was required to maximize your potential and master your craft, you had to look at how the best performers practiced.

The practice habits of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant provide a perfect example.

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How Kobe Bryant made it to the top

Kobe Bryant is one of the most successful basketball players of all time. The winner of five NBA championships and two Olympic gold medals, Bryant has amassed a net worth of more than $200 million during his playing career.

In 2012, Bryant was selected as a member of Team USA. During this time, one of the athletic trainers for Team USA, a man named Robert, was working with Kobe to prepare for the Olympics. In the story below, which was previously published on Reddit, Robert describes his first experience with Kobe and reveals one of the reasons the superstar has become so successful.

From Robert, trainer for Team USA:

I was invited to Las Vegas to help Team USA with their conditioning before they headed off to London. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade in the past, but this would be my first interaction with Kobe.

The night before the first scrimmage, I had just watched “Casablanca” for the first time and it was about 3:30 AM.

A few minutes later, I was in bed, slowly fading away, when I heard my cell ring. It was Kobe. I nervously picked up.

“Hey, uhh, Rob, I hope I’m not disturbing anything right?”

“Uhh, no. What’s up Kob?”

“Just wondering if you could help me out with some conditioning work, that’s all.”

I checked my clock. 4:15 AM.

“Yeah sure, I’ll see you in the facility in a bit.”

It took me about twenty minutes to get my gear and get out of the hotel. When I arrived and opened the room to the main practice floor, I saw Kobe. Alone. He was drenched in sweat as if he had just taken a swim. It wasn’t even 5:00 AM.

We did some conditioning work for the next hour and fifteen minutes. Then, we entered the weight room, where he would do a multitude of strength training exercises for the next 45 minutes. After that, we parted ways. He went back to the practice floor to shoot. I went back to the hotel and crashed. Wow.

I was expected to be at the floor again at about 11:00 AM.

I woke up feeling sleepy, drowsy, and pretty much every side effect of sleep deprivation. (Thanks, Kobe.) I had a bagel and headed to the practice facility.

This next part I remember very vividly. All of the Team USA players were there. LeBron was talking to Carmelo and Coach Krzyzewski was trying to explain something to Kevin Durant. On the right side of the practice facility Kobe was by himself shooting jumpers.

I went over to him, patted him on the back and said, “Good work this morning.”

“Huh?”

“Like, the conditioning. Good work.”

“Oh. Yeah, thanks Rob. I really appreciate it.”

“So when did you finish?”

“Finish what?”

“Getting your shots up. What time did you leave the facility?”

“Oh, just now. I wanted 800 makes. So yeah, just now.”

For those of you keeping track at home, Kobe Bryant started his conditioning work around 4:30 a.m., continued to run and sprint until 6, lifted weights from 6 to 7, and finally proceeded to make 800 jump shots between 7 and 11 a.m.

Oh yeah, and then Team USA had practice.

It’s obvious that Kobe is getting his 10,000 hours in, but there is another part of his story that is even more important.

The importance of deliberate practice

Kobe isn’t merely showing up and practicing a lot. He is practicing with purpose.

Kobe had a very clear goal at practice: 800 made jump shots. He was deliberately focused on developing the skill of making baskets. The time he spent doing it was almost an afterthought. That sounds simple, but it’s very different from how most of us approach our work each day.

When most people talk about working hard, they use the amount of time they worked as an indicator of how hard they worked (i.e. “I worked 60 hours this week!”).

Putting in a lot of time might make you tired, but simply working a lot (even if it’s 10,000 hours over the course of your career) isn’t enough to make you a top performer. It’s not the same thing as practicing deliberately. Most people who think they are working hard are merely developing the skill of being in the gym, not the skill of making baskets.

To keep this basketball analogy going, consider this quote from Aubrey Daniels about deliberate practice:

Consider the activity of two basketball players practicing free throws for one hour. Player A shoots 200 practice shots, Player B shoots 50. The Player B retrieves his own shots, dribbles leisurely and takes several breaks to talk to friends. Player A has a colleague who retrieves the ball after each attempt. The colleague keeps a record of shots made. If the shot is missed the colleague records whether the miss was short, long, left or right and the shooter reviews the results after every 10 minutes of practice. To characterize their hour of practice as equal would hardly be accurate. Assuming this is typical of their practice routine and they are equally skilled at the start, which would you predict would be the better shooter after only 100 hours of practice?

Each player in the example above could brag about practicing for one hour, but only one of them is practicing deliberately.

Researchers have noted that top performers in every industry are committed to deliberate practice. The best artists, musicians, athletes, CEOs, and entrepreneurs don’t merely work a lot, they work a lot on developing specific skills. For example, Jerry Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” strategy is all about deliberately practicing the skill of writing jokes.

Applying deliberate practice to your life

Mozart has been called the “genius of geniuses” and even he toiled away for 10 years before producing popular work. I don’t know about you, but I find this inspiring.

I don’t have the natural talent of Kobe Bryant or the sheer brilliance of Mozart, but I’m willing to put in my “10 years of silence.” I’ve only been writing on this site for nine months, but I see this as the beginning of a 30-year project. And because I’m in this for good, I can win with commitment, grit, and unwavering consistency.

You can take the same approach to your work, to your goals, and to your legacy. By combining these two ideas–the consistency of “10 years of silence” and the focus of “deliberate practice”–you can blow past most people.

On a daily basis, this doesn’t have to look big or impressive. And that’s good, because it will often feel like you’re failing. What feels like struggle and frustration is often skill development and growth. What looks like little pay and no recognition is often the price you have to pay to discover your best work. In other words, what looks like failure is often the foundation of success.

Thankfully, just one hour of focus and deliberate practice each day can deliver incredible results over the long run. And that brings us to the most important questions of all:

Are you working toward your 10 years of silence today? Are you deliberately focused on developing your skills? Or are you simply “putting in your time” and hoping for the best?

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Featured photo credit: John Wall, Kobe Bryant/Alexandra Walt via flickr.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

How to Be More Self-Assured and Get More Done During the Week

How to Be More Self-Assured and Get More Done During the Week

Time is a great leveler isn’t it? We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Even if you’re self-assured, the day may never feel quite long enough.

Why is it that some people can be so much more productive and achieve so much more in a typical day, while others struggle to achieve anything apart from feeling time crunched and overwhelmed?

Everyone I know and work with wants to make the best use of their time. They want to learn how to be more self-assured, happier, and work less—all while growing in their career.

How effectively we use our time—and how we actually work in our business—can make a huge difference to the amount we accomplish in a day or week. It can also make us more focused and more confident.

Do you want to have more thinking and creative time? Do you want to spend more time working on your business rather than working at or in your business? In this article, we’ll show you how.

Get More Done by Gaining Confidence

What if you had a strategy for making the best use of your time that brings you more joy and allows you to focus on the biggest activities and opportunities in your business? You may find the following outline below to be helpful:

1. Create an Exciting Vision

If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know when you get there?

You want to be more productive and spend more time getting the right stuff done. Well, you need to create a compelling and exciting vision of your future.

What does this future look like? How will you feel when you get there?

Creating a new vision, especially one that is a lot bigger than where you are right now, has a way of igniting your passion. It may be something that feels hard to achieve, but every step you take towards that bigger vision will certainly build your confidence.

Create a vision board to feel more self-assured.

    Commitment to this vision, and accomplishing continual daily progress depends on your ability to look at any situation you’re faced with or currently in, feel self-assured, and see something bigger ahead.

    Also, when you know where you’re headed, you will instinctively start to see all the new opportunities and connections that will get you there.

    Make a vision map to get you started on the path to better productivity. This doesn’t have to be fully actualized, but you should know at least what direction you are heading.

    2. Build a Strategic Plan

    Once you have your future vision mapped out, the next step is to build a strategic plan to get you there.

    Your future vision may be for 3 years or 5 years, or you may choose a longer time frame. Any timeframe over 3 years may feel like a long way away.

    You may wonder how you are ever going to feel confident and motivated on this bigger future years from now when you feel as though you have so much to accomplish today.

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    The first step is to decide on some specific goals for the next 12 months. Don’t list too many or you may begin to feel overwhelmed.

    The magic number for me and my clients is usually five annual goals.

    These are big goals that will create massive change in your business and life and bridge your current situation to your bigger future; accomplishing these goals one by one will help to increase your confidence on a daily basis.

    3. Get on Goal Planning

    Get yourself a piece of blank paper and a pen and divide the paper into 4 columns: A, B, C, and D.

    Ask yourself the question: What is great in my business and life right now? Write these things down in Column A. This might be a couple of things, five things, ten things, whatever feels right to you.

    Then ask yourself: What things are happening right now that I don’t want in my future? Write these things down in Column B.

    This is your opportunity to take a step back and look at the things that are simply not working. You may list people that are bringing you down or projects that you don’t want to work on any more. Maybe you’ll include a service offering that’s going nowhere. It could be the people you’re working with, or it could be your pricing.

    Now, let’s look at your personal strengths. Write down everything that you’re great at in Column C.

    These could be things that you’re doing right now and having success with. It could also be things you know you’re awesome at but you’re not spending enough time on.

    Column D is for your biggest opportunities. Is there a new service/product you could offer your ideal customers? Is there a new innovation you could bring to market? Just take some time out and really think and list these things in Column D.

    Once you’ve analyzed everything you’ve written down, take some time to really think about what goals you want to set for your business and life in the next 12 months.

    4. Set Outcomes to Build Confidence

    You now have your goals, and you’ll feel self-assured and raring to go. They are written down and you’re committed to achieving them. You feel self-assured and motivated.

    But how do you ensure that you stay on the correct course to achieve these goals?

    Managing and juggling day-to-day projects can get in the way. Dealing with problems can get in the way. Staying on top of orders, managing cash flow, and handling day-to-day stuff can move your ship off course.

    You want to be productive and achieve your goals, but you also need to ensure the day and week runs smoothly.

    One way to ensure this happens is to set 90 Day Outcome Goals; within those Outcome Goals, put some specific process goals that need to be undertaken.

    Let’s say you want to get 10 more speaking jobs in the next 90 days, and you know that you typically convert 50% of opportunities.

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    Therefore, your process goal needs to be to have 20 conversations in the next 90 Days to deliver the 10 new pieces of work. You will then work out who you can have those conversations with.

    It’s smart to overshoot, so you will more easily hit your target. This is a clear plan to work through because with every win, your confidence will grow.

    5. Completely Commit to Your Success

    If you are not truly committed to achieving your goals, then chances are that you won’t reach them.

    Motivation can only take you so far. It is the intentional commitment[1] and emotional investment in your future success that will move you forward.

    Think back to any time that you really committed to achieving something. There must have been a reason you actually achieved what you set out to achieve. What motivated you?

    Were you fully invested? Why did it matter? Did you have to be really courageous to achieve it?

    How did it feel when you achieved it? What difference did it make?

    When have you felt truly self-assured? When you are committed to something, then you are propelled into action. Your mindset is focused, and your body follows; you want to get it done.

    And, when you do get it done, your confidence goes through the roof. You feel a level of certainty in achieving the goal you set out to accomplish.

    6. Focus on Your Strengths

    To feel self-assured and build up the confidence needed to achieve our biggest goals, we need to focus on our strengths.

    What are you best at? What are your unique skills? You want to spend as much time as you can working in the areas that you’re great at.

    Multiply your strengths. These areas are where you add the biggest value. They often bring you the biggest amount of joy, and you feel more and more confident when you are using your unique skills.

    If you think there is a specific capability you need to learn or be better at, spend more focused time in that area.

    Many of us want to do it all. We want to be good at everything. We want to offer a lot of services. But, in reality, there are some very specific things we are great at; nobody is good at everything!

    Spending more time adding value in the areas where you excel can create breakthrough results and boost confidence.

    7. Embrace the Present

    Sometimes we spend so much time thinking about the future or worrying about the past that we forget the present moment[2].

    Are you spending most of your day reacting to things, or have you taken the time to think about what your perfect day looks like?

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    We all have the opportunity to create rather than react, to decide what we do with our day. All of our future success can be created in the present moment if we just take a step back and take action.

    Sometimes, doing it now is more important than doing it perfectly. There are hidden opportunities in every moment. We need to make sure we don’t miss them if we want to feel self-assured.

    8. Calm the Whirlwind

    The day-to-day life in business and life can be hard, which leads us to feel less self-assured.

    Your mind may be full to bursting with all of the things you feel you have to do. The phrase “I don’t have time” has almost become an instant reaction by so many people when new opportunities are presented.

    There is a whirlwind happening inside our minds.

    Appointments, notifications, tasks, phone calls, errands, cash flow, staffing issues, networking, marketing all can clutter up our timeline. The sheer volume of things we feel we should do creates procrastination, stopping us from pursuing the projects and people that matter.

    Many of us feel we have to do everything within our business.

    Rather than simplifying things and doing less, we do more. We work longer, which creates a lack of energy and focus. Because of this, we lose clarity on our biggest opportunities. If you feel this way, take some well-deserved time off.

    Look at where you’re spending your time. How much of your time is being spent moving your ideas forward?

    In the next 90 days, if you could delegate or outsource more daily tasks and spend more time focusing on where you add the biggest value, what difference would it make?

    Calm the whirlwind by slowing down and doing less.

    Focus on areas that you add the biggest amount of value. By doing this, your energy levels will increase, your confidence will grow and you will have more success.

    9. Take More Time off

    This may seem counterintuitive, but taking more time off to recharge and refocus can pay huge dividends.

    If you are constantly fighting fires and caught up in the myriad of different activities that you have to do each day, then how can you move your business forward?

    You may be being pulled in difference directions without any focused time on your biggest projects. If that’s the case, then it’s almost impossible to gain any real momentum in moving your business forward and hitting your goals.

    The best way to get off that treadmill is to take more creative time out of the business.

    Could you realistically take one day off per month to work on your business? If you could, what would you do with this time?

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    Just imagine no distractions, only focused time on the strategic development and growth of your business.

    Every day off per month could have a different focus: New product innovation; Thinking about your biggest clients; Improving operations.

    Add to this a quarterly review to check in with your goals progress, and this could have a dramatic effect on where you spend your valuable time.

    10. Celebrate Wins

    Sometimes you just want to get through the day, right?

    You have so much to do. There are so many things on your task list that you just complete what you can and then start another day. But what would happen if, at the end of each day, you took some time out to look at what you’ve accomplished?

    Celebrating success keeps you motivated and helps you become more self-assured. It is not just another day. It’s a day that included things that should be celebrated.

    If you’re struggling to feel motivated, try celebrating a couple of wins each day.

    Celebrating success combined with the gratitude you have for achieving those wins will boost your confidence and inspire you for the next day.

    11. Give Yourself More Space

    When was the last time you gave yourself time to think?

    Within the hustle and bustle, it can be difficult to give yourself a little bit of space and time to just think[3].

    Imagine giving yourself just an hour a day to just let your mind wander or think about a specific thing.

    If you think about it, we can all free up an hour a day for something without really losing any efficiency or really impacting our business.

    In fact, that hour could be transformational for your business and life.

    A new idea for a product could form, or an idea for adding value to your existing clients could materialize. Perhaps you could do a check in to your ideal future and your goals. You could decide that you want to take your business in a new direction.

    Try this: Just sit alone for an hour with a notebook and let it be your creative thinking time. See what happens.

    Final Thoughts

    Ultimately, being self-assured happens when you have a clear direction.

    This, coupled with having clear goals and working in your unique skill-set, gives you the biggest opportunity to be more productive and get more of the right things done.

    The old mantra that “less is more” is right on the money. By giving yourself more time to work on your goals, you will inevitably increase your confidence; at this point, your ideal future can be anything you want it to be.

    More on How to Be Self-Assured

    Featured photo credit: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

    Reference

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