“Intelligence consists not only in knowledge, but also in the skill to apply knowledge into practice.”


In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell makes an excellent essay about why people stand out. The author elaborates on a set of circumstances that need to be in place for people to outperform; many that we cannot control. For example, if Steve Jobs would’ve been born in 1952 instead of 1955, he would have not been in the precise moment when the personal computer industry was born. There are circumstances that are determinant for success that we don’t control. However, these are not enough. Gladwell points out one component of this model that is, besides fascinating, liberating: 10,000 hours of practice. According to Gladwell’s work, those who were born in the right place and at the right time need to practice at least 10,000 hours before meeting success. In high school, Bill Gates programmed 10,000 hours before developing his famous DOS; Mozart practiced 10,000 hours before getting to know fame as a musician; and it was the same with the Beatles. It looks like 10,000 hours is the breaking mark and a constant for those who have obtain mastery at something.

In a past entry, we talked about the importance of defining this year’s goals from a higher purpose, aligned with who I want to become. We also pointed out that once we have connected with our higher purpose, what follows is to practice, practice and practice. Practice is the only path to evolving and developing we have known in humanity for, in fact, accessing higher levels. All traditions base their developmental path in practice: chopping wood and carrying water, according to Buddhists; practicing the simple life, in the line of the Mormons; observing the commandments, according to Catholics. For some, it’s to run everyday, for others it is to meditate or do yoga. When any activity is consciously repeated, it systematically becomes a practice. These practices are the only path to becoming who we want to be. “Wax on, wax off”, said Mr. Miyagi to Daniel in Karate Kid.

So then, the question is: if a person –as shown by Gladwell— acquires mastery after 10,000 hours of practice, what do I choose to practice? Because if what I choose to practice is aligned with the person in whom I want to become, my practice will be meaningful.

Each year has approximately 8,760 hours. If we substract eight hours of sleep and eight hours of work a day, we have eight hours remaining . If from there we substract three hours for food, one for personal hygiene and three for transportation and socializing, we end up having one hour a day for practicing. If we would practice one hour a day, five times a week, we would have practiced 260 hours a year. This means we need to practice 38 years of our lives to accumulate 10,000 hours!

This numbers can seem alarming and not very motivating —one hour daily from Monday to Friday, during 38 years to achieve mastering does not seem very exciting. Hence, we end up drawing upon easy and fast solutions: The cliche “Seven steps” to being the best lover in the world, or the best salesman. Nonsense!

This year I turned 48, which means I already would have aquired 10,000 hours, had I practiced one hour daily. If I had chosen to play piano, for example, I would be a respectful pianist today, had taken advantage of that daily hour. And that is only one hour a day from the 12 or 18 that we are awake.

Now, take a look at your work, where you spend eight hours (best case scenario) a day. Doing the math it’s required less than 5 years to acquire mastery in what you do. 10,000 hours working consciously is enough, to be able to climb up the ladder. Look at your professional environment, look at someone you admire for their performance: there are only 10,000 hours of practice between you and him or she.

Let’s reflect on what we can dedicate, in the best case, one hour a day. What activity do we spend an hour daily that we could use in a better way? What we could consciously dedicate one hour a day that could take us to mastery? I know that today I have one hour available, and I know I have chosen to transform masterfully in whom I want to become. I know, also, that there is something higher that moves me. Consciously taking advantage of one hour a day to practice on what connects me with who I want to become is, without a doubt, the best investment  I can make for my developmental capital.