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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 November 20, 2020

How to Type Faster: 12 Typing Tips and Techniques

How to Type Faster: 12 Typing Tips and Techniques

Do you know that being able to type faster makes you more productive? In fact, it’ll save you 21 days every year just by typing faster!

Many people look up to master typists and wish that they could handle a keyboard like they do. The truth is that none of them started that way, and they had to learn.

How can you learn how to type faster?

In this article, you’ll learn 12 useful fasting typing tips and techniques.

1. Improve Your Workspace

Many people believe that fast and correct typing will start when you can master the keyboard. However, the truth is that you will need to begin with getting a workspace that is clean, properly ventilated, and comfortable. Also, for optimal typing, you will need to get a table and not work with your laptop or computer on your lap.

If you will be working for an extended period, make sure that you’re comfortable.

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2. Fix Your Posture

If you want to type well, the correct posture will be seated, straight backed, and with your feet planted a little apart, flat on the ground. You wrists should also be positioned in such a way that your fingers can cover the keyboard. Tilt your head a bit as you can look at the screen properly as well.

Adjust your office chair so you’ll be able to easily play with the seat and get a proper posture[1].

Learn how to type faster with correct posture.

    3. Hold Your Posture

    It is also very important that you keep this position as you type. Ensure that your posture is good, and this way, you will be able to avoid getting aches on your wrists. These aches have a way of slowing you down and keeping you out of rhythm.

    Keep your back and shoulders from hunching, and while relaxation should be your key goal as you work on, also be sure to stay upright.

    4. Familiarize Yourself with the Keyboard

    The keyboard is your tool here, so you will need to get to know it. Fortunately for you, most keyboards that you see will make use of the same layout; the QWERTY layout. It is called that because of the letters that make the top left corner. You’ll also find that a lot of keyboards have keys around these main ones that do several things.

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    Here’s a nice video to help you familiarize yourself with the keyboard:

    Work on memorizing the positions of the letter keys, as well as some of the most used punctuation marks. You will need to understand where they are without looking at the keyboard. This is the only way you can learn to type fast.

    5. Close Your Eyes and Say the Keys out Loud as You Press Them

    Another great way to get to know the positions of these letters is to look away from them and directly at the screen. Then, pronounce the keys as you press them and see if you’re correct. This step will go a long way in helping you to memorize the keys, and it can easily help you learn how to type faster.

    6. Start Slowly With Touch-Typing

    Improving your speed as you type is a matter of developing your muscle memory over time. However, the quickest way to master typing will be learning touch typing[2]. If this is your first time with touch typing, then you might spend a lot of time on this step. However, once you can type key combinations without looking at the keyboard layout, your speed will increase.

    7. Don’t Look at Your Hands

    The whole essence of this step is to keep you from looking at your keyboard as you type so that your fingers are made to learn how the keys work.

    Again, you might find that your speed reduces when you begin, but just stick to it. Touch typing will help you to reach higher speeds and master it.

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    8. Practice, Practice, Practice

    Mastering the touch typing technique will prove to be a bit finicky, but once your posture is up and you get your fingers where they should be, you can only improve by practicing.

    Spare some time on a daily basis to practice and master both accuracy and speed. With continuous practice, you will also notice that you make fewer errors with time.

    9. Check out Some Online Typing Games

    There are also some websites that can help you with your practicing. They score you and record your words per minute, so you can try improving your record and competing with others as well. Here are some of the best sites:

    10. Dictation Practice

    If you don’t know what you can write, another alternative to getting good practice is to listen to something and try to type as you hear the words. There is no limit to the kind of things you can write, and you can even make the practice process more fun.

    Get an e-book, an online lecture, or listen to a TV show or talk show.

    11. Monitor Your Progress

    Ensure that you keep track of the progress you make as you go on. However, it is important that you don’t get obsessed with how many words you are able to type in a minute. Rather, ensure that you stay comfortable while you’re practicing. With time, your words per minute will increase, and you’ll be able to clock up some high numbers.

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    12. Get Some Formal Training

    There are many specially designed courses and typing lessons that will boost your abilities. If you’re willing to improve your skill, get any of these and see how well they work for you:

    The Bottom Line

    Typing is a skill that takes time to develop, but with practice and dedication, you can learn how to get faster at typing and improve your productivity on a day-to-day basis.

    One day, you may even improve your typing so much that you reach 40 wpm!

    More Tips on How to Type Faster

    Featured photo credit: Cytonn Photography via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Well: Working WELL anywhere
    [2] Techopedia: Touch Typing

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