In the book Outliers, it is posited that it takes about ten thousand hours of practicing something to achieve mastery.
Say you want to become a great guitarist, as I once did. You need to practice for ten thousand hours to get there.
So you need to become addicted to practicing, they say. You have to want to practice above all else.
The key there is the word “practice”. Simply doing something is not practicing.
For example, I pick up my guitar sometimes and play around on it while I’m watching TV or waiting for my favorite video game to load. This doesn’t qualify as practicing. I’m simply playing what is already comfortable for me to play.
Practicing means finding something that challenges you and repeating it until you improve. Until it isn’t challenging anymore. When that happens, you have to find the next challenge.
That’s where a lot of people get lost, I think. Practicing and improving becomes harder the better you get. The more you excel, the fewer options you have for practicing.
That’s definitely where I got lost on my way towards becoming a master guitarist. I reached a point where I was good enough to play most things and, more importantly, to write the kind of music I wanted to write. There was little incentive to improve beyond that point.
I’ve now thrown myself into writing. It’s more fun than guitar because it’s new and I feel like I’m producing a product that many people might actually get a chance to enjoy, which was rarely the case in my music career.
Yet it’s even harder to practice. I can write, sure. I often do. But I’m not really practicing. I’m putting words together the way that I already know how. To improve, I would need to challenge myself. To spend more time thinking and less time writing. More time crafting sentences rather than rushing to put as many of them as possible on the page before my muse escapes me.
The truth is, I have far less time now to practice than I ever have. I have a career, a gym membership, a girlfriend, a social life, and grad school responsibilities. Getting to that ten thousand hour mark may be possible but at this rate, it’s sure going to take me a while.
What’s important to remember is that it doesn’t really matter how long it takes to reach the ten thousand hour mark. So even if it does take me a long time, it’s worth it if I make it. And really, as long as the journey is enjoyable, it’s worth it even if I don’t.