How long does it take to become elite at your craft? And 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 has 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.
“10 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 year ten 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 ten 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.
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Hi, I’m James Clear and I created the best-selling Habits Workshop.
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