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Are There Shortcuts To Becoming An Expert?

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Are There Shortcuts To Becoming An Expert?

It seems like everyone these days wants to become an expert in their field, and we’d all like to get there faster than the next person. But at the same time, there’s a school of thought that says it takes 10,000 hours to truly become an expert at something, and it can be really difficult to find shortcuts to becoming an expert.

That 10,000 hour rule may not be strictly true–it’s not as if a switch flips at 10,000 and you suddenly know more than you did at 9,999–but the truth is that becoming an expert in any endeavor takes a lot of hard work, and there aren’t really any shortcuts to an expert status. You don’t have to take my word for it; plenty of knowledgeable people have said the same thing.

Regardless of natural talent, becoming a true expert takes time.

“Achievement is talent plus preparation,” said Malcolm Gladwell, the economist who made the 10,000 hour rule a popular notion. “The closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.”

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The idea that expertise takes a long time to cultivate came from the work of K. Anders Ericsson, who wrote, “even for the most talented individuals, ten years of experience in a domain is necessary to become an expert,” though he also noted that 10 years isn’t a magic number, but a long time must be devoted to study and practice to get really good at something.

Psychologist Earl Hunt agrees. “Becoming an expert in almost anything requires literally years of work. People will do this only if they have some initial success, enjoy the work, and are supported by the social climate. Expertise is not solely a cognitive affair.”

Poet Maya Angelou has said, “all great achievements require time,” and becoming an expert surely would qualify.

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Keep trying, even if you fail.

Whether or not you believe expertise requires a lot of time, it certainly requires a lot of effort, as the businessman W. Clement Stone noted.

Try, try, try, and keep on trying is the rule that must be followed to become an expert in anything,” he said.

The Danish physicist Niels Bohr would add that all that trying is important because it allows you to make mistakes: “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.”

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Edward de Bono, known as an expert on creative thinking, put it another way, noting that experts know what not to focus on when making choices. “An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgments simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore,” he said.

Focus on something specific.

It’s a popular notion among experts on expertise that it’s likely that people will become true experts in only one field.

Ericcson noted this in research he did with Paul Fletovich and Michael Prietula, which said, “people hardly ever reach an elite level in more than a single domain of activity. There is little transfer from high-level proficiency in one domain to proficiency in other domains–even when the domains seem, intuitively, very similar.” So a person may become expert at one style of writing or playing one musical instrument or performing one sort of sport, but not have the same abilities in a related field.

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Or, as Alex Trebek put it, “we are all experts in our own little niches.” Or Nicholas M. Butler, a philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, noted, “An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less.”

Because, of course, even experts have to keep learning. The motivational speaker Denis Waitley put it this way: “Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View life as a continuous learning experience.”

As indeed it should be. Perhaps we should spend a little less time worrying about how long it takes and whether there are shortcuts to becoming an expert and instead consider our life’s work to be becoming an expert at living our lives, in whatever particular niche we choose.

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Skeptical about the 10,000 hour rule? Read about a refutation of the theory from the world of sports.

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Sarah White

Freelance Writer, Editor, Professional Crafter

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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