Sunday, November 20, 2011

To Be An Expert, It Takes 10,000 of Practice

I read the book, The Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell a while ago.  Among the many things I took away from this book, the one thing that has stuck in my head since reading the book is the concept that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become great at anything.  I'm not sure if sleeping counts, but I have definitely logged ten thousand hours doing that in my life time and I'm really good at it.  I've also read more than ten thousand hours.  I grew up across the street from a library and it was my second home.  Rain or shine, winter clothing or dripping wet bathing suits, I was at the library every single day it was open.  I still go weekly and check out a large stack of books for myself as well as read alouds for the kids.

So what does this have to do with anything?  I am raising a child who believes that he should be able to be great at anything he picks up.  He is naturally gifted and finds many things to be very easy for him.  So when he encounters things that are challenging, he thinks he isn't good at them.  That he will never be good at them.  He is just starting to make the connection between hard work and success after many heart-to-heart conversations about this topic.

Today Dave was in the driveway practicing dribbling a basketball.  I decided to take him down to my inlaws' house to use their basketball court so he could practice shooting.  After missing the basket a handful of times, Dave started to say that he was bad at basketball.  A few more missed shots and he started thinking that he would never be good at basketball.  I asked him, "How many hours of practice does it take to be really good at something?"  He replied, "Ten thousand hours. "  (He's heard this lecture before, so he knew the answer.)  To which I asked him, "How many hours have you practiced basketball?"  "About 3 hours."  "So that leaves you with how many more hours of practice before you can truly say that you are never going to be good at basketball if you still can't make a basket?"  "9,997 hours."  "Right, so get practicing."

Which brings me to my point.  A lot of times when I have these heart-to-hearts with my kids, it turns a mirror on my own life.  There are a lot of things that I would love to be good at but I have always been too busy, lazy, whatever, to put the time into really becoming good at it.  I put on the radio while doing the dishes tonight and there was a song that came on with some very good guitar playing.  The girls were dancing around the kitchen and I off-handedly commented that I wished I could play the guitar like that.  Of course Lizzy picked up on that and asked me why I couldn't play like that.  "Because I haven't practiced enough.  I haven't even picked up my guitar in over a year.  If I want to play like that, I need to put in my ten thousand hours."  In her sweet little voice she replied, "Well, why don't you practice then?"

Tonight I picked up my guitar.  I had to print off a chord chart because I couldn't even remember more than the basic chords.  I've never been very faithful to practicing anything.  As a child I took piano, flute, and oboe lessons.  As an adult I taught myself to play guitar and took fiddle lessons.  I never became very good at any of them because I was not willing to put in my hours to become great.

I have decided that if I ever want to teach my own kids the importance of perseverance and not giving up when it's hard, that I need to pick an instrument and start practicing until I'm good at it.  I need to put in my ten thousand hours even when I don't want to.  Because teaching my kids that they can become great at something if they work hard is important, even if the "thing" doesn't come naturally to them.  I don't know what they will choose as their own "ten thousand thing," but I do know that by the time they find it, I will be able to hold my own example over their heads to encourage them to persevere.  I put in about 200 hours playing my guitar back in my college days, so I figure after practicing tonight I only have 9,799 more hours to go until I'm going to be one mean guitar player.

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