Couch Potato to Outlier: Practice is Key

Did your parents ever make you take piano or tuba lessons when you were a kid?  I bet they did and I bet you hated doing it because you didn’t think you had much of a future as a professional tuba player or it just wasn’t your passion.  There were, probably, things that you were passionate about and I bet you spent much of your free time doing those things simply because it made you happy to do it.  Motivation is a powerful force in our lives!

I tell my boys all the time that we get good at the things we do the most, the things we practice on a regular basis whether or not we are even aware of practicing.  Really?  How can you practice something and not be aware that you are practicing?  Easy.  Look at how you spend your time.  How much do you know about the contestants or judges on American Idol, or what happened on every episode of Lost last season? How much can you tell me about vampires?  Are you awesome at Assassin’s Creed on the Xbox or Words With Friends on your iPhone?  Guess what?  You’ve been practicing!  You get good at the things you do the most and most of us spend the bulk of our free time doing the things we enjoy…  Get the point?

In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell explores the reasons behind the phenomenal success of some people.  People who are not just good at what they do, but beyond good–off the charts good–outliers!  He discovered that these truly outstanding people had put in around 10,000 hours of practice by the time they became an “overnight success.” When the Beatles burst onto the American music scene, they had already put in over 10,000 hours of practicing and performing in night clubs in England.  When Michael Jordan turned pro, he had spend every available minute of his youth with a basketball in his hand!  Bill Gates had put in well over 10,000 hours programming computers by the time he started Microsoft.  While you may not aspire to be a “rock star” at whatever it is you want to do, the undeniable truth is this: you become good (or great) at something the more you do it!

So you want to start something, right?  You’re ready to be brave and face the fear of starting something new, right?  You’re ready to break the inertia of sitting still on your new endeavor, right?  Well, the way to begin is simply to begin practicing!  Do the thing and do it regularly so you develop the muscles needed to do it well.  Do it until it becomes a habit.

“But there are only so many hours in the day and I’m so very busy already”, you say.  I know.  I’m busy, too!  You may have to give up something or change your daily routine in order to start practicing something new.  It is also very important that you spend the time practicing in a way that doesn’t steal time from your family or employer! Here are some suggestions for finding the time to practice:

  • Get up 1-2 hours earlier every morning (my personal favorite!).
  • Stay up 1-2 hours later at night
  • Use your lunch break
  • Schedule an appointment with yourself
  • Turn off the TV for a few hours (you won’t miss anything important!)
  • Put down the game controller
  • Turn off your iPhone, iPad, computer, etc. for a few hours
  • Give up the time used doing something else (i.e. stop doing something!)

You’ve heard the phrase “practice makes perfect.”  Well, that’s wrong!  However, practice does make habits and that can make you better at what you are trying to achieve.

You may have guessed already that Day 4 of the “15 Habits of Great Writers” workshop is titled “Practice”.

Now, GO!  Go practice something!

10 Responses to Couch Potato to Outlier: Practice is Key

  1. beno June 8, 2012 at 6:02 PM #

    Great advice Bruce. Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. Steve K June 8, 2012 at 6:59 PM #

    I am a little disappointed. From the title I was thinking that “outlier” was a clever new name for a couch potato…

    • Bruce Van Horn June 8, 2012 at 8:15 PM #

      Ah, Steve, I can see how this would confuse and disappoint you! I’m sorry. I can honestly say, after all the many years and tireless hours of practice, you are, beyond question, the Master, the Outlier of Couch Potatoes! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment (from your couch, I’m sure!).

  3. Anonymous June 9, 2012 at 2:21 PM #

    Steve, as long as you are watching a PX90 infomercial on your couch it’s all good! (just kidding Bruce. Great writing and great advice!) SLW

  4. Anonymous December 2, 2012 at 1:02 AM #

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  5. Anonymous December 5, 2012 at 8:02 PM #

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  6. cinemaprofound December 25, 2012 at 12:59 AM #

    Another interesting post, Bruce! I just put Gladwell’s book on my reading list for 2013. Peace!

  7. Andy March 13, 2013 at 10:25 PM #

    Great advice Bruce. I’ve read the Outliers and will definitely agree that practice is key in becoming good. I wonder what the future holds for my generation who is techno-addictive and dependent? By the way, you’d like Blink also if you enjoyed the Outliers. Glad to connect with you, you have an encouraging site!

  8. godanalytics June 4, 2013 at 12:49 AM #

    My mother made each of us 4 children, practice 30 minutes everyday, before we went to school, and before we had any other weekend activities. Interestingly enough, music has turned out to be my livelihood–guess practice did have Something to do with it.

  9. Elder Shawn Briscoe October 19, 2013 at 7:14 PM #