Skip to main content

Practice, practice, practice

By 3 May 2023February 25th, 2024Business thoughts

One day without practice…

The following quote is a famous one amongst musicians. Wynton Marsalis, the famous trumpet player and a regular guest at the Jazz in Marciac festival (not too far from here) repeats it often: « One day without practice and you will notice. Two days without practice and other musicians will notice. Three days without practice and everyone will notice ». You may have a natural gift for a discipline, but your talent will only bloom through countless hours of practice and dedicated hours of honing your skills. People might sometimes refer to some sort of God-given superpower, but ask them off-camera and that’s what all the pros will tell you: « Practice, practice, practice ». 

Are you an unknown genius?

Are you frustrated at talented people, wishing you had their genius? You might wonder: « why were they born with a gift and not me? » Remember this colleague of yours, who is also a violinist. He just happens to give a concert tonight for 200 hundred people. The show is beautiful, the audience is in awe. He gets all the fame and the honors. When you see this, you are frustrated, you go home and you go back to your 3 hours of television a day, to relieve your sorrow. Your friend goes back to his 3 hours of violin a day. You can guess what happens next. One becomes a specialist at musical emotions, muscles coordination and brain activity, and the other one becomes a specialist at shutting down their neurons in front of the flat screen TV. Imagine the gap after 10 years or 30 years. 3 hours of something is a very small step, but over time, small steps compound into kilometers. The truth is that you never see all the efforts and the practice that are necessary to lead to a visible result. You discard all the steps, the pain and the patience it took to get there. You only see the final performance, and you believe it is magic. You instinctively think that the concert happened with the same circumstances as yours (3 hours of TV a day). You might think: « Life is unfair, why not me ». Genius is sometimes not as much of genius as it seems. Maybe if you had the same number of hours of passionate practice, you would be the musical genius on that stage. What a nice duo it would be. Thomas Edison said: « Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration ». Eddie Cantor, the American actor, said « It takes 20 years to make an overnight success ». Why do you think that is? 

The 10,000 hours rule

It is said that 10,000 hours are necessary to build a real skill. Experts agree that even Mozart didn’t really produce a truly masterful original composition only after 10 years of composing. So, next time you see someone achieve a great performance, do not feel frustrated because you can’t do the same. Do your 10,000 hours first. Speak later. Ask Zinedine Zidane or Ronaldinho how much time they spent with a ball in their feet. Ask Ray Charles how much time he sat at his piano playing chords, rhythms, licks and melodies. Ask Albert Einstein how much time he spent exploring his imagination through thought experiments, while employed at the patent office in Bern. It takes practice to become an artist, a magician or a genius. If you’re still below 10,000 hours, you’re not yet in the competition. Keep going. Naturally, it’s better to start young. And you need to add love to your practice too. Of course, 10,000 hours might be an arbitrary number. If humanity counted in base twelve (can you count to 144 with your two thumbs?), the number would be different. But 10,000 hours are better than 10 hours. 

« If you wish to be a writer, write » (Epictetus)

What prevents you from becoming what you want to be? If hours of practice are the way (or half the way if you leave the other half to your natural gifts and inclinations), the only thing standing between you and the future-you are the hours of practice. How does a bricklayer become a bricklayer? By laying bricks. How did Mozart become a composer? By composing. How did Mark Twain become a writer? By writing. There is no other solution in this Earthly world. You would be amazed at how many renowned professionals started with an extreme handicap at their later domain of excellence. Abraham Lincoln couldn’t utter a word in public. He was terrified. And he is not the only one. For all of them, all it took was a profound desire to overcome their weaknesses and a lifetime of practice, that’s all. That’s not small of course, but that’s also within everyone’s reach. Epictetus said « If you wish to be a writer, write ». Sit at your desk, and start writing. You might be frustrated for the first three months, because you will find that nothing good comes out of it. Plan for a large wastebasket for all the paper you will tear up in despair. But maybe after four or five months, things will become easier. Your words and ideas will start to fall into place. After six months of exercise, what took you two hours might only take you half an hour. And after two years, you might even start to find your style. That’s the kind of persistence it takes. Slow progress at first, but then things accelerate. Progress is not linear. Anything else than linear is very hard to grasp for the human mind. But that’s the way things are. Non-linear.

« People decide their habits, and their habits decide their future » (F. M. Alexander)

Your habits define your identity. If you run 10 minutes every single day, come rain or come shine, 365 days a year, you are a runner. If you run a 42 km marathon during your summer holidays, you are still a tourist. Choose what you want to be, and make a habit out of it. Do you want to be a trumpet player? Play two hours a day. Do you want to be a writer? Write two hours a day. Do you want to be an athlete? Exercise two hours a day. Do you want to be a mathematician? Study, solve and teach mathematics two hours a day. Do it everyday, and make sure you don’t interrupt the chain. All the famous people you admire did it, without exception. With a much higher number of hours. It can’t be a part-time occupation. It must be a work of love, passion, consistency and dedication. That’s the price it takes, to gain mastery.

Practice, practice, practice

What is the lesson of experience? After the effort of overcoming his fears and practicing public speaking for countless hours, Abraham Lincoln had the following advice: « Whatever you are, be a good one ». That’s certainly a good advice to take, especially from someone who can show a proof of his results. So you definitely know what you have to do: « Practice, practice, practice! ».