Learn to love the plateau

by | Aug 26, 2010 | Personal Branding

It takes a lot of work to become an expert. 10,000 hours to be exact. That’s a lot of time deliberately practicing in order to get better.

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the concept of the 10,000 Hour Rule in his book Outliers. The rule was developed by Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, who specializes in the field of expertise. Ericsson determined expertise is formed through deliberate practice. He writes in the Harvard Business Review article, The Making of an Expert,

To people who have never reached a national or international level of competition, it may appear that excellence is simply the result of practicing daily for years or even decades. However, living in a cave does not make you a geologist. Not all practice makes perfect. You need a particular kind of practice—deliberate practice—to develop expertise. When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.

The challenge of expertise is time. It takes time and commitment to get better, and to reach a point where you can be considered a world-class expert. Do you have that level of commitment to be an expert in your field?

Experts live in a series of plateaus

If you are interested in the idea of the 10,000 Hour Rule, check out Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard. In this brilliant little book, Leonard advises to “learn to love the plateaus.” As you grow to become an expert, most of your life is spent in a series of plateaus.

If you golf regularly, you’ll know what I am talking about. Every time you visit the golf pro for a lesson, one thing gets fixed but everything else breaks! This is the process of deliberately practicing to improve areas of weakness. It may take a few hours or even a few years to fill a gap, but until you solve those issues you won’t be able to improve your game.

That period of development is a plateau. We spend most of our life filling gaps, and every now and then we have breakthroughs that allow us to pop up to the next level.

Learn to love the plateaus

Are you fully committed to what you do? Do you take the necessary steps to constantly develop new skills and fix your weaknesses by deliberately practicing? If not, find another path, because the one you’re on won’t lead to expertise. You will only become an expert when you are fully committed to what you do.

Becoming an expert is an expression of living your core purpose. How else can you commit the time and effort to the process? Becoming an expert is a hard and difficult road, but that process is also extremely fulfilling. It’s is a process of change and evolution.

Rather than focusing on the results achieved from 10,000 hours of practice, focus on the practice itself. There is so much to enjoy and experience as you journey on the road to becoming an expert.

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Jeremy Miller

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