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Are There Shortcuts To Becoming An Expert?

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.

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 September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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