I’m not sure if I believe Malcolm Gladwell’s theory, made popular by his book Outliers, that 10,000 hours is sort of the magic number where one reaches mastery. Nor would I say I’m convinced otherwise by the concepts David Epstein presents in The Sports Gene where the conversation about nature vs nurture continues. Gladwell certainly concedes it’s a complex issue and Epstein’s TED talk makes a strong case for how we’ve been pushed towards sports that fit our body types such as tall players playing basketball and smaller, more compact bodies for female gymnasts, as example of aptitude. Despite the disputes of the 10,000 hour theory, or maybe because of them, I’m really looking forward to the results we’ll see in 2018 of this experiment testing the 10,000 hours to mastery theory in a golf player who contends that if the theory is correct, he will be able to play golf competitively after his 10,000 hours are up (projected to be 2018). It’s certainly some interesting food for thought if you desire to excel at your chosen hobby and/or practice, though I’m not sure all that matters.
Here’s what does matter. The Guardian reported that “Each of these books arrives at a broadly similar conclusion: that it is practice that matters most” so it’s clear no one’s saying practice doesn’t help even though Smithsonian reported in August 2014 that practice does not make perfect — which is okay, because we think practice makes progress.
Regardless of the time frame to the ever elusive label of mastery, I’m certain practice is good for me, even if mastery is still in degrees as discussed related to chess in this article, and in my experience, equally so with other forms. Through-time discovery brings a deeper and subtler understanding of the nuances, an ever improving connection one can only acquire through practice.
I’ve been asked many times over the years about practice, motivation, the reasons to do it, “when will I know I’m good?” and a slew of other questions that are natural to ask as you invest more and more time into a practice. In fact, these questions make sense to ask before you expend much energy on the practice — after all, why make an investment that doesn’t have a return you desire?
In response to some of those questions I present 10 techniques for getting the most out of your 10,000 hours.
Some have asserted that people with more natural aptitude find it easier to be motivated and therefore learn a skill better than those without natural aptitude.
To that I say I have 10,000 hours in at least two practices: piano, which I played for 25 years with varying degrees of intensity for the first 12 years and pretty consistently for the remaining 13 years culminating in a 20 hour a week practice in the last 5 years or so. My second practice is flow arts performance which I’ve now done 14.5 years, the first 2.5 of which included significant time off for injuries sustained in a 4 car head on collision.
I feel confident that I have way more aptitude for piano. Equally confident that despite my natural aptitude, I have excelled far more at poi in nearly half the time.
Here’s why: My lack of aptitude has had the lessons from my flow arts journey feel more profound and as a result, seem to impact me more deeply. In a sense, though I was doing drills and competed in NYSSMA with piano, at a young age, I had little direction and the direction I had was motivated by emotional release and intuitive access to the tools rather than skill improvement. Piano was something I connected to in a way that transcended needing to understand technique because I could just play and it made sense. It was pretty easy to get to a place where I could improve and even though I haven’t played in years, I imagine I could drop into that space within 10 minutes and bust out something soothing off the cuff.
In contrast, perhaps because I picked up poi at a much later age and with less intuitive comprehension of it, I found a need to practice to improve… especially so as to not hit myself, an experience which took away from the fun. Later, practice was strongly motivated by my desire to serve more client’s with the school. Since it was such a bigger struggle to understand something with poi, I felt a much greater sense of accomplishment in learning something, even things I’ve worked on over a decade.
Put differently, while I practiced both, because I didn’t feel challenged by piano and knew I could get by (fake it till you make it, if you will), it wasn’t nearly as motivational as knowing that I utterly sucked at poi and needed to put in practice to not hit myself, be and good and eventually get better.
All of this is to say that aptitude may actually hinder achievement if you take for granted those things that come easily. And, after teaching thousands of students, I can say the ones with less aptitude often take it farther in my experience.
To those who say you’re too young, too old, too out of shape, too klutzy, too uncoordinated, too dorky or a host of other negative and limiting beliefs, we say that’s their shit to deal with and yours to ignore. We’ve witnessed some fabulous transformative examples over the years, including a one legged man determined to spin and doing it for the enjoyment of him and others watching. Ignore the naysayers and allow your mind to be more free for the practice itself.
As ever evolving creatures, our motivation shifts as we do. If you’ve been spinning for a while, what got you started may not be what keeps you coming back. To that end, it’s useful to take some time, on a regular basis, to identify the motivation that keeps you coming back to the practice. We’ve heard lots of reasons over the years and could present those here, though it might be more authentic for you to uncover your own reasons without offering ideas that might impact what you say. Try to access the reasons you value your practice — anything from, “getting in my 10,000 hours” to “it makes me feel good” and anything else that might come up for you.
In moments of confusion, doubt and uncertainty, you can come back to these answers and use them as a means to get you back in the studio practicing, so it may even be helpful to make a list of your motivations, date it, and make a fresh list each month, quarter and/or year. At the very least, it will be a great record of where your head was at when you go back years later to review yourself.
It’s also good to consider as you start a longer term practice — not just a year forward but maybe a decade from now when you’re still exploring your tool(s). Tap into a future you who is connected with their prop and the lessons of the tool. What did that future you learn that motivates current you toward that knowledge?
Assess Your Skills
Just as motivation changes through time, so do skills. It’s useful to take inventory of what you know, what you want to know, and identify ways you can begin to understand the things you don’t know you don’t yet know. Put differently, in the 4 stages of learning, we start out not knowing what we don’t know (unconscious incompetence), begin to understand what we don’t understand (conscious incompetence), then we learn to understand what we understand (conscious competence) until we understand is so well that we don’t have to think about it to make it happen (unconscious competence). This is a universal journey, or at least until we can download skills like in The Matrix. But even with downloaded skills, there would still be the human element that individuates us all that seems to always come back to embodied practice… at least theoretically.
As you move through these stages of learning you’ll begin to see what was formerly incomprehensible and you’ll begin to demystify the magic you might have first seen these art forms to be. As part of this process, continue to keep track of your progress through time so you can realistically assess where you were, how far you’ve moved and where you are presently as that will help you understand the path to where you want to go next.
There it is: where you want to go! While the journey is an amazing experience, many people have destinations in mind along the way in their practice. I’ve heard things like:
- tone up my arms
- improve my posture
- an activity to do with friends/a community in which to play
- perform at Burning Man
- increase self confidence
- improve body awareness
- develop discipline
- and a whole bunch of other reasons!
When considering goals, just like any project plan, it’s useful to consider them as they relate to the
- long term
In this way, you can work backward from your long term dream to create intentions for manageable intervals.
Another factor to consider when creating your goals is the type of focus you’d like to have. If you’re a performer, you may want to be focusing on working in your costumes, as some costumes have particular limitations you have to work with. Maybe your goal is about mastering a technique a bit more deeply. Overall, here are some areas to consider:
- flow between moves
- accessing new moves in flow
- performance presence
- a particular kata, combination, sequence and/or choreography
- a character
- a particular style of movement
- a particular song
- blind folded
- with a video running
- in front of people
- with fire
- with a specific prop
- in a specific location
And so on. Each of these can help shape your practice plan and allow you to more effectively move toward the desired experiences.
Strategize for Success
Once you find your motivation, assess your skills and identify your goals, you’re ready to make an action plan for your practice that will allow you to succeed. For example, if you have an end goal in mind, such as performing at a particular place and time it’s pretty easy to understand the time contraints on your practice schedule by working backward from the date.
Sure, you can go into practice in an undirected manner and hope that helps you achieve your goals. After all, any practice is useful in some context.
You could also create your practice so that it is actively pushing you towards your specific goals. By considering the time frame and building an action plan/practice schedule around those goals, you’re more likely to systematically achieve the results you see. Here are some ideas to play with and elements to consider when building your practice structure:
- targeted drilling – where you’re repeating a particular thing with one or both hands so as to get the basic skill more deeply engrained in your muscle memory.
- structured practice – when you’re working on a particular set of goals as defined in the item above
- unstructured practice exploration – where you try things you’ve never tried before with no particular goal in mind other than to experience the learning and surrendering to the moment. As Sparky always says, “Never underestimate the value of f*cking around!”
- play time – where you connect with the aspect of your practice that brings you most closely to a stage of playfulness.
If you don’t know where you’ve been, how can you know how far you’ve come? To that end, it’s important to keep records of your experience. This serves a variety of purposes. For one thing, it allows you to see how far you’ve come, something we often lose sight of when focused on getting to a particular level. In addition, it allow us to have a record of something we have previously done so that knowledge is preserved for us to access again later.
I recently had an experience where I reconnected with an old move because of my vblog and I couldn’t be more grateful. I completely forgot the move was something I did and now, almost 4 years later, I’m reconnecting with it. This would not be possible had I not had this recording.
Over time, I’ve used two techniques for keeping progress. Video is an obvious first choice these days. What’s great about video is that you can see the entire thing before you and even though it’s 2 dimensional, it conveys an enormous amount of data rapidly. On the other hand, you have to find the place in the video where a movement is in order to see it and it can be time consuming to looking things up quickly. For that reason, we recommend you use a flow journal — a place where you can list your moves, write down what you’re working on, take notes about your experience and generally support your practice in written form. Of course, with everyone having a smart phone, we see lots of flow journals on phones also.
I also use a third option. I have just words in some journals but I found a digital journalling app that works on my iPad and it allows me to write down the performer blocking and move information all in one place quite easily on the tablet. This is an ideal blend of technologies if you ask me, because it even allows you to insert photos into the digital journal.
Record Video & Study Results
With the ease of access we have today for video creation, start recording all the time. Really. All the time. This will help you in multiple ways.
First, when you have that brilliant moment where you did that one trick that one time you will have a video of it. Second, you’ll have a general sense of where your practice is in a consistent format you can review through time, allowing you to compare yourself to a former you more effectively. Third, you’ll have a real record of your journey. I wouldn’t have thought this mattered, or, rather, I wouldn’t have even thought about this mattering just a few months in because why record that? Yet, here I am 14.5 years in and I wish I had more video from the old days. I find myself grateful for every bit I have because storage space is pretty cheap.
Yet, it is not enough to record your experience. You must, in addition to recording the knowledge, study the results so they may provide the learnings that will guide your progress forward. Use the direct feedback of your videos to help you determine where to bring your attention next in your practice. It can be useful to study a particular technique through time by recording that same thing every month or quarter or something like that specifically for self-to-self comparison.
Have a ‘Fit’
Some years ago, I took a Hoop Path workshop with Baxter and at some point over that weekend or shortly after the subject of fits came up. It’s something I had experienced but hadn’t named until that point in time. Think of a fit as a moment where you sink as deeply as possible into repeating a movement again and again drilling it for consistency, style, precision, competence and/or all of the above, as is appropriate for the fit and the move/pattern/combo.
In my own practice, I’ve found that these intense moments may last for short periods of time anywhere from 5 seconds to multiple minutes, but despite the curtailed duration, the depth of learning seems to be deep. I liken it to that point in an aerobics interval class where they tell you to go all out for a short duration with high intensity. In the context of flow practice, at least for me, it seems to help with the muscle memory a great deal, even if I don’t do the move again for a few days after.
Get out of Your Head
I’m not sure how universal this idea is, though I have heard many people share moments of experiencing this sense of lacking choice in their lives. It’s that space where you somehow forget that you have options and can choose anything you want, knowing there may be consequences. That’s the reality though: we each choose our realty through the sum total of the actions we take moment to moment.
That means you can choose to be stuck in your head and you can choose to practice getting out of your head and out of your own way. Here’s a couple of techniques that help us with the so called monkey mind that have helped many artists.
Psychologically and emotionally, your goal is to adopt practices that encourage openness, presence, and the balance between boredom and anxiety. The flow diagrams presented here give you a sense of the direction in which to move in order to glide toward the flow channel. If you’re bored, increase the challenge. If you’re anxious, decrease the challenge/increase the skill. It’s useful to consider these two diagrams as a means of directing your experience during your practice to keep your practice in the flow channel.
Next, consider that by directing your experience, you’re opening yourself up to that which you want to create. To aid you along the way, here is a summary of the Flowology Mindset, another fantastic tool to assist in keeping your mind more still.
- Leave your judgment outside the door — instead, allow yourself the space of compassion and acceptance where you laugh at the learning rather than expect specific results. Through this, you accept the process of learning rather than focusing on some distant far off point that is not the present.
- Self-to-Self Comparison through time – Compare yourself to a former you and notice what’s different rather than comparing yourself to someone else whose journey is completely different anyway
- Choose empowering language – The process of consciously crafting your language so you can shape your reality is incredibly useful. It is also a practice. Here’s an example: instead of saying, “I can’t do this!” say, “I can’t do this yet!” The former leaves your body closed and without potential where the latter recognizes this is a rest stop on the journey.
Right along with this mindset is the idea of shutting down the negative self talk. A friend/student likes to call this the itty bitty shitty committee and it is not your friend. It’s that part of you that makes you wrong when you didn’t do it cleanly in a short enough period of time. It may say things like, “I suck” and actually mean it, rather than joke about it. It’s the part of you that gets in your way. The thing is, many artists have communed with this itty bitty shitty committee and haven’t learned how to have it shut up. Ultimately, it’s a form of monkey mind. Here are some specific practices to help you get rid of that negative self talk:
- breathe – just focus on inhaling and exhaling; feel the sensations in your lungs. If a thought arises, let it pass away and continue to focus on your breath. If you’re spinning, keep spinning while you focus on your breath. Let the thoughts drift off and move back to your breath and body motion.
- Focus on sensation – either on it’s own or in conjunction with breathing, focus on the sensations in all of your body as you move through all your patterns. Notice and memorize what you feel.
- Listen to the music – if you’re not using music, try putting on something that soothes you, perhaps something that puts you into a trance like state. Allow yourself the opportunity to get lost in the sound of the music without letting the motions of your tool dictate your actions, but rather, the sound of the music.
- Blindfold yourself – allow yourself to heighten your other senses by eliminating your vision. The increased sensitivity to the other input often quiets the self talk and causes presence
- repeat a comfortable motion again and again and get lost in the sensation — feel yourself slip into the known — perhaps even what might be the relaxation portion of the flow diagram above. From this place, you can begin to increase the challenge until you drop into the flow zone.
Adopt these Mindsets
- Practice makes progress
- Progress not perfection
- The mountain metaphor
- The journey is the worthier part
- Compassion and grace
- Believe and achieve
- ‘Practice’ is a practice
- Be water
- You are a constantly evolving ever unfinished piece of art
Get a Coach
We’re not the only ones writing about these ideas. In fact, here’s a great info graphic put out where they give you 7 steps to cheat the 10,000 hour rule. Not surprisingly, one of them is get a coach. When choosing your coach be sure you understand that teachers and technicians use different skills. Just because someone can execute a move doesn’t mean they can teach it, or teach it well. Similarly, just because someone can’t do a move doesn’t mean they can’t teach someone how.
With all these things, remember that you’re an ever evolving unfinished work of art. What worked yesterday may no longer fit today. What served you last week may no longer be in your best interest. Things you thought you’d never do, be or say years ago may suddenly become a way of life for you. In a sense, for me, that is the very purpose of the practice: to help continue to sculpt this piece of art into an ever more refined GlitterGirl.
Coming soon: A downloadable PDF with worksheets and everything!
If you’re ready for fire safety lessons via private instruction, want to try Zero to Fire in 4 Hours!, want to join our next beginner class or have other questions, contact GlitterGirl directly or subscribe to our newsletter for mailbox delivery of this and other articles written by Temple of Poi founder and visionary, GlitterGirl, who has been a full time flow arts coach and instructor since 2002. If you seek professional guidance associated with creating a safe performance, obtaining a permit in San Francisco or other personalized coaching, contact GlitterGirl directly for a free consultation (GlitterGirl <that pretty little ‘at’ symbol> TempleOfPoi <daaaaaaaught> com).