You must work hard to excel in your academics or career and rank among the best. But just working hard is not enough, you need to adopt a system that provides you feedback on how you perform per time and helps you continually improve.
Hard work is not enough
Report from a research by the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues1 in the 1990s told us that top performers in their fields became so because they practiced more consistently, and focused on their goal more than others. Malcolm Gladwell popularized this concept in his book Outliers2 where he presented to us the magic of 10,000 hours. Simply put, the top performers in any field from music to sports, the academia to the arts put in at least 10,000 hours of consistent, structured practice to become the best (or rank among the best of the best).
Let’s do a little math: if you work at the same task for five hours every week for 10 years you will total 10,000 hours of work (5 hours x 5 days x 4 weeks x 10 months x 10 years = 10,000 hours of work).
Why do you and I know people who work at the same job for many years or 10,000 hours but never become the best or leaders in their field? Something is definitely missing. The answer? Deliberate Practice.
Deliberate practice means
- Practicing consistently even when it becomes difficult
- Practicing with increasing difficulty
- Practicing with honest, frank feedback
- Practicing with the goal to improve, develop new skills, improve on existing ones
- Practicing and learning continually even when you think you know it all
This concerns you whether you are student or a professional. For example, my typing is not as fast or as accurate as I would like even though I have been practicing for years. I could actually get better if I worked with a practice-feedback programme like Mavis Beacon. In like manner, just reading your book from cover to cover as we say in Nigeria is not enough for you to excel or pass an exam. We know efikos always studying who perform less than classmates who spend less time studying. The difference is to have a system to test your understanding of the text from time to time and to advance to more difficult exercises.
Sources of honest feedback
I will tell you some simple ways to get honest feedback about your performance. These include:
- Your teacher or lecturer at school
- Your supervisor or manager at work
- A coach, mentor, or spiritual leader
- An application or app to track your progress and set you new challenges
Deliberate practice is smart hard work
The results of 10 years of work depends on whether you engage in mere hard work or smart hard work. Smart hard work does not mean less work, it means more work done intelligently with the ultimate goal to improve on your current skills.
If you want to excel in school or your career, you must be prepared to work hard, adopt a means of honest feedback, and focus on succeeding no matter how much it takes. Are there geniuses who do not need to practice deliberately like the rest of us? I will write about that in another post soon.
1 Deliberate practice and acquisition of expert performance: a general overview. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18778378
2 Outliers: The Story of Success – https://www.amazon.com/Outliers-Story-Success-Malcolm-Gladwell/dp/0316017930