It’s Not Practice That Makes You Good, It’s Having Fun

- Worker Happiness

by Vasco Duarte

It’s a romantic idea, I’ve always thought: 10.000 hours of practice and you’ll turn into a professional. Good for me, I can go on 24/7. So it’d only take me about a year and a half to become an expert, I already looked for legal ways to change my name into Happy Einstein. But it looks like that story is a myth.

Why this myth has taken root isn’t surprising; it just sounds so logical. You practice, you become better. And in the grand scheme of fairness, it just feels right, right? You do something constructive, you get rewarded. But alas, recent research shows that practice isn’t what makes us experts. Alfie Kohn wrote a great article about it called Perfect, It Turns Out, Is What Practice Doesn’t Make. One quote I like to share with you guys:

Practice explained 26 percent of the variance in achievement for games, 21 percent in musical accomplishment, 18 percent in sports, 4 percent in college grades, and less than 1 percent in professional success.

Alfie Kohn

In other words: how much practice you’ll need for success depends on the domain you’re operating in. So what is it that makes us good? Well, it looks like the age you get involved into an activity plays a role. A bigger one than practice anyway. The other aspect has to do with how much you like getting involved in an activity. But wait, isn’t that…. Yes it is. Intrinsic motivation.

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So am I advocating against practice here? No, not at all. Practice is good for several reasons. First, it still can make you better at things you like. Second, to see if you like something, you need to understand at least the basics. So after some practice, you might discover that doing something makes you happy after all. And then practice is useful.

In the end I think it’s not a sad thing the 10.000 myth isn’t true. Life might be slightly less romantic and if you sing like a crow you’ll have to face the fact that you’ll never become the new Shania Twain. But the good news is that you can trust your gut-feeling: do what makes you happy and before you know it, you’re the expert.

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