Lessons on Success and Deliberate Practice from Mozart, Picasso, and Kobe Bryant

How long does it take to become elite at your craft? And what do the people who master their goals do differently than the rest of us?

That’s what John Hayes, a cognitive psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, wanted to know.

For decades, Hayes has been investigating the role of effort, practice, and knowledge in top performers. He has studied the most talented creators in history — people like Mozart and Picasso — to determine how long it took them to become world class at their craft. Furthermore, he has investigated the choices and experiences that have led to their success.

Let’s talk about what Hayes has discovered about world class performers. And more importantly, let’s discuss how you can use these insights to achieve your goals and become your best.

“10 Years of Silence”

Hayes started his research by examining successful composers. He analyzed thousands of musical pieces produced between the years of 1685 to 1900. The central question that drove his work was, “How long after one becomes interested in music is it that one becomes world class?”

Eventually, Hayes developed a list of 500 pieces that were played frequently by symphonies around the world and were considered to be the “masterworks” in the field. These 500 popular pieces were created by a total of 76 composers.

Next, Hayes mapped out the timeline of each composer’s career and calculated how long they had been working before they created their popular works. What he discovered was that virtually every single “masterwork” was written after year ten of the composer’s career. (Out of 500 pieces there were only three exceptions, which were written in years eight and nine.)

Not a single person produced incredible work without putting in a decade of practice first. Even a genius like Mozart had to work for at least ten years before he produced something that became popular. Professor Hayes began to refer to this period, which was filled with hard work and little recognition, as the “ten years of silence.”

In followup studies, Hayes found similar patterns among famous painters and popular poets. These findings have been further confirmed by research from professors like K. Anders Ericsson, who produced research that revealed that you needed to put in “10,000 hours” to become an expert in your field. (This idea was later popularized by Malcolm Gladwell.)

However, as Hayes, Ericsson, and other researchers started digging deeper, they discovered that time was merely one part of the equation. Success wasn’t simply a product of 10 years of practice or 10,000 hours of work. To understand exactly what was required to maximize your potential and master your craft, you had to look at how the best performers practiced.

The practice habits of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant provide a perfect example…

How Kobe Bryant Made it to the Top

Kobe Bryant is one of the most successful basketball players of all–time. The winner of 5 NBA championships and 2 Olympic Gold Medals, Bryant has amassed a net worth of more than $200 million during his playing career.

In 2012, Bryant was selected as a member of Team USA. During this time, one of the athletic trainer’s for Team USA, a man named Robert, was working with Kobe to prepare for the Olympics. In the story below, which was previously published on Reddit, Robert describes his first experience with Kobe and reveals one of the reasons the superstar has become so successful.

From Robert, trainer for Team USA:

I was invited to Las Vegas to help Team USA with their conditioning before they headed off to London. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade in the past, but this would be my first interaction with Kobe.

The night before the first scrimmage, I had just watched “Casablanca” for the first time and it was about 3:30 AM.

A few minutes later, I was in bed, slowly fading away, when I heard my cell ring. It was Kobe. I nervously picked up.

“Hey, uhh, Rob, I hope I’m not disturbing anything right?”

“Uhh, no. What’s up Kob?”

“Just wondering if you could help me out with some conditioning work, that’s all.”

I checked my clock. 4:15 AM.

“Yeah sure, I’ll see you in the facility in a bit.”

It took me about twenty minutes to get my gear and get out of the hotel. When I arrived and opened the room to the main practice floor, I saw Kobe. Alone. He was drenched in sweat as if he had just taken a swim. It wasn’t even 5:00 AM.

We did some conditioning work for the next hour and fifteen minutes. Then, we entered the weight room, where he would do a multitude of strength training exercises for the next 45 minutes. After that, we parted ways. He went back to the practice floor to shoot. I went back to the hotel and crashed. Wow.

I was expected to be at the floor again at about 11:00 AM.

I woke up feeling sleepy, drowsy, and pretty much every side effect of sleep deprivation. (Thanks, Kobe.) I had a bagel and headed to the practice facility.

This next part I remember very vividly. All of the Team USA players were there. LeBron was talking to Carmelo and Coach Krzyzewski was trying to explain something to Kevin Durant. On the right side of the practice facility Kobe was by himself shooting jumpers.

I went over to him, patted him on the back and said, “Good work this morning.”


“Like, the conditioning. Good work.”

“Oh. Yeah, thanks Rob. I really appreciate it.”

“So when did you finish?”

“Finish what?”

“Getting your shots up. What time did you leave the facility?”

“Oh, just now. I wanted 800 makes. So yeah, just now.”

For those of you keeping track at home, Kobe Bryant started his conditioning work around 4:30am, continued to run and sprint until 6am, lifted weights from 6am to 7am, and finally proceeded to make 800 jump shots between 7am and 11am.

Oh yeah, and then Team USA had practice.

It’s obvious that Kobe is getting his 10,000 hours in, but there is another part of his story that is even more important.

The Importance of Deliberate Practice

Kobe isn’t merely showing up and practicing a lot. He is practicing with purpose.

Kobe had a very clear goal at practice: 800 made jump shots. He was deliberately focused on developing the skill of making baskets. The time he spent doing it was almost an after thought. That sounds simple, but it’s very different from how most of us approach our work each day.

When most people talk about working hard, they use the amount of time they worked as an indicator of how hard they worked. (i.e. “I worked 60 hours this week!”)

Putting in a lot of time might make you tired, but simply working a lot (even if it’s 10,000 hours over the course of your career) isn’t enough to make you a top performer. It’s not the same thing as practicing deliberately. Most people who think they are working hard are merely developing the skill of being in the gym, not the skill of making baskets.

To keep this basketball analogy going, consider this quote about deliberate practice…

Consider the activity of two basketball players practicing free throws for one hour. Player A shoots 200 practice shots, Player B shoots 50. The Player B retrieves his own shots, dribbles leisurely and takes several breaks to talk to friends. Player A has a colleague who retrieves the ball after each attempt. The colleague keeps a record of shots made. If the shot is missed the colleague records whether the miss was short, long, left or right and the shooter reviews the results after every 10 minutes of practice. To characterize their hour of practice as equal would hardly be accurate. Assuming this is typical of their practice routine and they are equally skilled at the start, which would you predict would be the better shooter after only 100 hours of practice?
—Aubrey Daniels

Each player in the example above could brag about practicing for one hour, but only one of them is practicing deliberately.

Researchers have noted that top performers in every industry are committed to deliberate practice. The best artists, musicians, athletes, CEOs, and entrepreneurs don’t merely work a lot, they work a lot on developing specific skills. For example, Jerry Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” strategy is all about deliberately practicing the skill of writing jokes.

Applying This to Your Life

Mozart has been called the “genius of geniuses” and even he toiled away for 10 years before producing popular work. I don’t know about you, but I find this inspiring.

I don’t have the natural talent of Kobe Bryant or the sheer brilliance of Mozart, but I’m willing to put in my “10 years of silence.” I’ve only been writing on this site for 9 months, but I see this as the beginning of a 30–year project for me. And because I’m in this for good, I can win with commitment, grit, and unwavering consistency.

You can take the same approach to your work, to your goals, and to your legacy. By combining these two ideas — the consistency of “10 years of silence” and the focus of “deliberate practice” — you can blow past most people.

On a daily basis, this doesn’t have to look big or impressive. And that’s good, because it will often feel like you’re failing. What feels like struggle and frustration is often skill development and growth. What looks like little pay and no recognition is often the price you have to pay to discover your best work. In other words, what looks like failure is often the foundation of success.

Thankfully, just one hour of focus and deliberate practice each day can deliver incredible results over the long–run. And that brings us to the most important questions of all:

Are you working toward your 10 years of silence today? Are you deliberately focused on developing your skills? Or are you simply “putting in your time” and hoping for the best?

Further Reading


  1. I actually just finished reading the book Talent is Overrated, which talks about this exact same thing. If you haven’t read it already, definitely pick it up!

    • Thanks for the tip, Joel! I’ve heard good things about the book, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. It’s on my list.

      Thanks for reading!

      • I have that book. This article is so much better than that book – more motivating despite the brevity. THANK YOU for this article and all of your other articles as well. I can’t believe I only just found this site.

        You’re an amazing writer – keep it up (for all of us)!

  2. James, this pumps me up man! I wish you the best of luck in your efforts to become a master. Love the blog too, you’re killing it man!

  3. Thanks for the encouragement! I’ve always heard it takes 20 years to become an overnight success. Glad to know it may be considerably shorter if I practice the right way!

    This challenges me to examine how I’m practicing my craft (writing, speaking, and inspiring others) to make sure I’m not just spending time “building the skill of being in the gym.” That’s a powerful thought.

    • 20 years to an overnight success? I’ll take it. I love long-term thinking and winning with relentless and undying consistency.

      Thanks for reading, Mark! I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

  4. Okay, this is another very very inspiring post. Let me write this comment with more articulation:

    James, I’m so happy to hear that you are going to stick with this thing for 30 more years. This blog has been helping me for the last month or so and you have sent an article every week. Your dedication and consistency has inspired me. I see change in my life as well, change! Most importantly, I’m starting to see things with a time frame. I’m starting to want to build things, and hang on to the things that matter.

    I’m sure you will keep improving and Thanks for another great post! Keep having fun at this!

    A friend of mine introduced a book called “Mastery”, it talks about consistently working your craft instead of the “talent”, “luck” etc. Another tip if anyone’s interested.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Fancia! I’m glad my little posts could help your journey in some small way. Keep up the good work.

      And I’ll check out Mastery. I’ve heard great things from some other friends already.

  5. Right on, James – this is DEFINITELY a huge factor that we should be thinking about every single day. If it was only the 10,000 hour rule that played into being an master, phenom, etc in your field, then everyone who worked a 40-hour week would be an expert at their job in just under 5 years! However, we know that most people never reach that classification – in fact, very few do. I think you just hit on the exact ingredient that makes that distinction – we don’t spend the majority of our day focused on deliberate, fully engaged practice. I will be thinking about that as I work in the future!

    Be well!

    • Thanks Moose! I think deliberate practice is something we all struggle with from time to time. At least, I know I do.

      It’s hard to stay full engaged on a task (even if it’s just for 20 minutes) and do it every day. The good news is that if you stick with it, it pays off — both through short-term improvements and long-term success.

      As always, thanks for reading!

  6. I definitely believe that deliberate practice is a much more critical factor to success than any initial genetic endowment.

    However, there does seem to be evidence of naturally born geniuses.

    Here is a recent Wired article on the subject.

    The issues I’ve been discussing recently are:

    Are some people naturally more talented than others?


    Was it early nurturing that gave them the deliberate practice to make them appear to be natural geniuses?

    For example, are autistic savants genetically predisposed to particular talents or does their hyper-focus just give them opportunities for massively more deliberate practice than normal people. Maybe you have to have a brain ‘defect’ to be a genius? Socially balanced people can’t make the time to focus on any single pursuit that intensely.

    My current belief is that there may be some naturally born geniuses out there, but whether or not they exist is irrelevant to my life. If I want to get world class at a particular discipline, I have to put in my 10,000 hours.

    I believe all of us are capable of genius, we are just not willing to make the sacrifices.

    • John — I think your conclusion hit the nail on the head. Some people are genetically superior (at least with respect to a particular craft, maybe not as an overall human being) … but that doesn’t have much of an impact on your day-to-day life. And it doesn’t change the amount of effort and practice that you need to put in to maximize your potential.

      Moral of the story: work hard, keep your eyes on your own paper, and do the best you can.

      p.s. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! It’s great to have you in our little community.

  7. Excellent article, James…. I watched a documentary recently called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” about an acclaimed sushi master who has a small restaurant in the subway of Tokyo. He has his apprentices work on a single aspect of sushi making for 10 years before they are qualified to serve it to the customers.

    • Wow. That is serious dedication to the craft. (Also, whenever I hear stories like that I realize how little I know about most subjects. How can there be 10 years worth of knowledge wrapped up in making sushi?)

      Thanks for reading and sharing, Kit!

  8. Thank you for this! I’ve been writing every day for a little more than a year now. That’s a big achievement for me, because I’ve never really been a persistent person. Still, sometimes I feel that I need to go further, so the concept of deliberate practice has really hit home. Now I’m wondering how to apply it to writing.

  9. Great article. I work with issues facing nearly or newly retired. Focus is important. It needs to be balanced with play, but can be very helpful in getting the most out of exploration. I think I’ll try this or that. Not bad ideas but what is the take-away? Did one seem more meaningful than the other. Reflection is the imbedded concept in deliberation.

    Thanks for the good work.

    Ed Zinkiewicz

  10. FAN-TASTIC! Love this article and really hits home for me in working towards my passion/goal. I’m grateful I’ve found this site and grateful you’re working on your “10 years of silence”. Keep it up!

  11. Great article James. I took up surfing a few weeks ago and have been out just this morning. I was measuring my practice by time based instead of deliberate practice. Going forward it will all about not leaving the water til I’ve caught 5-10-15 waves.


  12. Very inspirational post.

    One thing that these theories of either 10-year or 10,000-hour practice miss is that people who successfully accomplished this kind of practice all thoroughly love what they do, or at least they somehow all found out how to enjoy the practice. From outside, everyone just thinks they have great willpower and are willing to work that long to strive for success. But from inside, I just feel they are simply people who enjoy and love what they do and keep at it for a long period of time. Thus, their success is just a natural result of 10-year or 10,000-hour love and enjoyment with whatever they do.

    So to apply this in our own life, perhaps we can start with love, or joy. Find first how we can learn to enjoy whatever practice we are doing, and once we can do that, even 20, or 30 year silence won’t matter, and our success is almost guaranteed.

  13. Hi James, this is my first email from you and WOW! It addresses my problem of maintaining a consistent work schedule…. I work in small chunks of time and try to squeeze in too much, at other times I won’t work at all! This article has inspired me to do little but regularly…. I will also be using the Seinfeld chain method in the procrastination link. Thank you once again! :-)

  14. I think deliberate is the defining word. In anything we do, being deliberate makes all the difference between falling short and success. I once read that one of the differences between someone that is called a pro in their field and anyone else was only 20 book. Thanks for the article, it was very good and motivating to read. Their is a price to be paid for success, it isn’t luck.

  15. Nugget: “Most people who think they are working hard are merely developing the skill of being in the gym, not the skill of making baskets.” That’s the issue, James, I’ve always had with the 10k hours to become an expert rule. Certainly, time alone doesn’t make you an expert but it’s touted as a (or the) necessary ingredient. I think that’s putting the cart in front. Deliberate is the too oft neglected adjective.

  16. I think there’s been a shift in thinking and you’ve really got it down. Before, the studies showed that all it mattered was getting the 10,000 hours in. Now, there seems to be a shift. Not only is it imperative to get 10,000 hours in, but also how focused and deliberate are your actions. Thanks for the reminder James, and I’m glad this was the first post I read on your website.

  17. Great. Now please do a motivational post about how age doesn’t matter and all that so we don’t get discouraged about how old we are going to be in ten years.

    I know there are lots of people who became successful in their older age, but really, it’s so depressing to think about sometimes.

    • The 10,000 hours isn’t a “you’ll suck through the first 9,999 hours, then suddenly become good” concept. Through deliberate practice, one will progressively get better. So one can expect to start seeing some noticeble progress pretty quick. I think interspersing the deliberate practice with simply enjoying what you’re doing is important.

      I wouldn’t worry about how old I’ll be in 10 years, but rather set intermediate goals for monthly and yearly results.

  18. Another notch in the belt. Very well done. Love the emphasis on timeless principles, especially when they underscore how accessible they really are. Easy? No. But accessible? Yes.

  19. When I was a teenager, I loved to put together words in songs and poems and put in a lot of time practicing. I loved it. When I became a mother, I would stay up late into the night to find that time to work on my writing. As I got older and had more responsibilities in my life I began to do it less and less, sometimes only going to it when I was in the worst states and needing an outlet.

    I guess what I see about this subject is that writing songs and poems is something I love to do, but even so, I still didn’t give it the time I could have. Even just 30 min. to an hour a day put aside for it would have been something.

    Also, there are parents who are very conscientious who think that if their craft is not directly benefiting the family by helping out or bringing in dollars they let guilt keep them from working on it. No one wants to be that self-centered artist who is a drain on everyone else in their lives.

    For me, it took my grown daughters, one who also writes poetry, to convince me to put a space in my life for my own personal work. After many years I do so every day. I don’t know what will come of it, but my heart is much more at ease because I am again doing what I love, but now, it is done with more purpose first, the passion following, not the other way around.

  20. “I don’t have the natural talent of Kobe Bryant…”. How much is natural talent and how much is the result of work? It takes the work to develop the natural talent. The work makes the talent look natural.

    • Ron — I think it’s mostly the result of hard work (and was the main point of the article), but there’s no denying that Kobe has natural gifts. For starters, he’s 6 feet 6 six inches tall. If he was 5 feet 6 inches tall, then he wouldn’t have the same natural ability as a basketball player. His natural talents are enhanced by his incredible work ethic, but he was born with amazing genetics as well.

      This is usually the case when someone is the best of the best in a particular craft: they have a unique combination of genetic ability, luck and timing, and a remarkable work ethic. The good news for you and me is that (even if we don’t have superior genetics or incredible luck) it’s work ethic and deliberate practice make most of the difference.

      Thanks for reading!

  21. “Ten years of silence.” How I love this sentence. At this time I’m right in the middle.

    Five years ago I began to write my first novel. After the first year I had a first draft. But it was bad. Really bad. In every single way.

    The second year begun. I didn’t start to learn how to write a novel but how to construct a really good plot, how to create really good characters, how to write a really good scene.

    And then I understood it. It’s all about CRAFT. Yes, there is creativity and it’s important, too. But I need craft to handle my creativity. I could write and write and write and some distant day I’ve created something readable but as long as I don’t know WHY and HOW I’m doing these things I could never become a really good novelist. From the bottom of my heart I know I am already this kind of novelist but I have to be an apprentice as long as it’s necessary. In this case five more years.

    Today I’m still learning. I’m still working on my novel but with a deeper unterstanding. I’m still practicing to construct plots, characters, scenes and other things. Not only for this novel but for all the novels I’m going to write someday.

    And after a long day of learning I sit down at my small desk and write the next scene of my first novel. Like a composer who practices working on small ideas to create a full sonata someday. Like a painter who practices color mixing to create a full painting someday. Like a basketball player who practices free throws to win a game someday.

  22. HI James,

    I liked the part where you never compared two people against each other. Deliberate practice is my take away thank you!

  23. James, I love your stuff, you’re one of the highest quality blogs that I’m subscribed to, so it really irks me to see these little errors that seem to sneak into every other post. Shouldn’t it be ‘The Importance *of* Deliberate Practice’ in one of the headlines? Sorry to start my commenting career on this blog in such a nitpicky way, just trying to help.

    • Thanks for the heads up, Jakub! I’ve got it fixed now.

      p.s. I’ll try to improve, of course, but if my biggest error is a few grammatical mistakes, then I’m happy with that! Thanks for reading!

  24. Hey James !

    I want to personally thank you since your blogs really motivates me and brings the difference to the living.

    Your research and efforts are much appreciated.

    Thanks Again,

  25. This was truly inspiring. I guess I shouldn’t label myself as a failure. I have some more work to do. And being sought by producers for a fitness reality show last week isn’t so bad. :)

  26. Excellent article. I have only been receiving your newsletter for the past month but each time, I have the strange feeling that you wrote it for me. Thank you.

    Have you read the Dragon’s brush? It is a fascinating book about a French young woman willing to learn traditional chinese arts. Her old “master” made her repeat the same brush movement for years before even considering starting with painting. This is a true story (the woman is now a renowed painter named Fabienne Verdier) who really spoke to me. I highly recommend it if you have some time, plus it makes you travel virtually.

  27. Great post!

    I just finished reading the book “Mastery” by Robert Greene and he talked about something similar in his book. I also agree that we should be inspired to know that these very talented people got to where they are through hard work and lots of practice and not because they were born with their talents or got lucky.

  28. I don’t understand why writers keep trying to use Mozart as an example for the 10,000 hours rule. First, it is obviously impossible to know what kind of time he put in; that’s all speculation. Second, there is considerable confusion regarding Mozart as a performer and Mozart as a composer. As a pianist he was world-class as a young child and in a much shorter time frame than the ten year “silent” period. Also important is the distinction between popularity today and popularity back then. While Mozart was alive the compositions that Hayes says are immature were popular as well. Now with 200 years of perspective we can group some of his later works to be the most mature works of a genius. Using what is currently popular muddles the argument because it’s claiming that he received liitle recognition during the first ten years of his composing and it’s simply not true.

    “He had an extraordinary memory and an ability to compose whole symphonies in his head. He worked extremely hard, frequently to the point of exhaustion—often at breakneck speed, amid squadrons of distractions, and without putting pen to paper until every last note of a new work had been composed in his head. ”

    Remember this quote when you read that Mozart’s genius was a matter of practice because there is not a composer I’m aware of dead or alive except J.S. Bach who could handle that much musical information in their head at the same time.

    • Hi Mark,

      First, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. It sounds like you know much more about Mozart than I do. In particular, I like your point about Mozart being popular early in his career. It’s quite possible that you’re right about that, although (as you mention) it’s hard for us to know anything for sure about Mozart since it all happened hundreds of years ago.

      That said, the main point I was trying to get across (and I think it still stands) is that for anyone to maximize their potential (Mozart included) they need to put in years of deliberate, focused work. No one is doubting the genius or innate ability of Mozart, but it’s clear that even he benefitted from years of hard work. In fact, his incredible work ethic is mentioned in your very quote.

      In other words, whether you enjoy success immediately or after decades of work, whether you are born with incredible gifts or dealt a bad hand, whether you lived hundreds of years ago or today … the only way to maximize your individual potential is to put in years of focused work. At least, that seems to be what the research (and my limited experience) says. Mozart’s ceiling might be higher than yours or mine, but the path to reaching that height is similar for all of us.

      Thanks for reading!

      • James,
        I certainly don’t have a problem with the deliberate practice idea. My argument frankly goes back to Mr. Hayes and Mr. Gladwell who play a little loose in reverse engineering their concepts to fit a historical figure. Maybe it’s because Mozart was one of those few childhood geniuses who kept it up into adulthood or because he is now considered one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time, but it seems like people have a strong desire to knock him off his pedestal. Yes Mozart worked very hard at his craft, but I believe that where he ended up (and why he is considered a genius) is a place where very few of us can ever hope to achieve regards of our grit or commitment.

  29. Thank you James for this inspiring reading, I look forward to applying this knowledge in my life.

    I’m a 22-year-old soon-to-be-graduated engineer, and I want to make a living through entrepreneurship for positive social and environmental impact.

    If my aspirations are clear, I find it hard to convert them into clearly defined targets. I quite recently started to acknowledge that targets are the first step of any meaningful practice, but I find myself overthinking every time I want to set those targets: is it too ambitious, not enough, can I do that ?

    In short, how would you advise one would get from saying “I want to be a high performing, famous and rich athlete” to saying “I will make 800 shots every day” ?

    • Georges, that’s a really great question. You might have an answer by now, but I’ll offer mine anyway.

      Break your big goal down into smaller steps — what do you need to do to reach that goal? E.g., Learn about entrepreneurship, study business management, define exactly what kind of social and environmental impact you want to make and then determine what you need to know and do to make that impact. One very useful way to help answer these questions is to interview people who are doing something similar to what you want to do. Explain your goal/dream/motivation and ask if they would be willing to give you a little of their time. You could offer to take them to lunch or meet for coffee. Talk to lots of people. Tap your instructors for advice and referrals to other people who could help you. Also do lots of reading and research until you have a really specific picture of how to reach your goal. And, if possible, gain some direct experience via interning or volunteering or working for an entrepreneur doing something similar to what you want to do.

      Once you have notes on solid steps that you need to take, organize those into short-, medium-, and long-term goals. Then break each of those down into bite-sized pieces. Then pick 1-3 to work on today. Repeat.

  30. Hi James,

    I enjoyed this post! I’d also enjoy finding tools for deliberative practice as a writer. The baskets thing is so much more straightforward: you know if it’s a hit or a miss. With writing, paying attention to your process is so much harder.

  31. Great article, thanks!

    One thing I think all of the subjects in your article probably shared was a passion for what they were doing.

  32. Great article, consider me subscribed to see what your 10 years of silence has in store. It’s easy to get bogged down when you’re not feeling up to it, and get into thoughts of “I clearly don’t have the passion for this” when a lot of the work you have in front of you is monotonous and dull.

    I do find when I actually sit down and start a pile of dull work it gets me motivated to continue through. It’s the starting that I always find the toughest!

  33. I just love this concept of “10 years of silence” because it puts my current situation in context. It’s highly encouraging because even if there are no results now, I know that if I just practice correctly, I will succeed.

  34. Practicing deliberately is a fantastic distinction to mearly turning up, and finding a project you care enough about to commit to at least 10 years work, is a great way to narrow in on a purpose that matters to you.

    Great work!


  35. Incredible article. helped me a lot. Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to your 30 year project. Keep up the good work.

  36. Nice morning read. A week ago I began simple and started waking up every morning in 5 A.M. to write. I expect my first ten books to be complete garbage (1 book per year seems quite reasonable), and then maybe my Harry Potter, or even Oliver Twist will emerge. Thanks for this article, it subtly indicates that working selflessly for the pleasure of others will bring you pleasure as well after you create something worthwhile. :)

  37. It is always refreshing and inspiring to read your posts — however late in the day it is! Your writing style is simple, straightforward, conversational and yet it contains practical, useful, everyday advice! I have read several motivational books and listened to countless hours of motivational tapes; often one thinks that you have heard it all, seen it all, and read it all. Then along comes another writer with a unique, fundamental, back-to-the-basis style and approach that opens up a new vista that renews and increases your hope and belief in life and the constant striving to achieve success!

  38. Thank you, this is a very interesting and inspiring article! I was a little confused by the title, though, since Picasso is only mentioned once, as one of the creators Hayes studied.

  39. I have read over a 700 books about this topic and even then I couldn’t catch the real idea I wanted.

    Reading this single article of yours has given me what those 700 books couldn’t. I thank you very much and from now on I admire you!

  40. It’s funny, I found the story on Kobe Bryant a little disturbing, even irritating. To me, Kobe sounds as if he has serious OCD.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a solid work ethic. You need to practice your craft, you need to put in the hours, and maybe you need to be obsessive about it if you want to succeed at all costs.

    But these models for success need to be measured against the real costs that this sort of compulsive commitment demands. Kobe’s a great basketball player, but he’s certainly not a candidate for Husband of the Year.

    Trainer Robert seems immeasurably smitten with Kobe’s commitment, yet when Kobe calls him at 4:15 AM to ask for conditioning, wouldn’t any sane person point out to Kobe that 4:15 is NOT an appropriate time to make phone calls? Kobe clearly doesn’t understand that. But because he’s Kobe, the world relents.

    My point is, these kinds of stories encourage young, enthusiastic creative types to emulate models that are flawed and broken. One’s life isn’t simply lived as a writer. It’s lived as a father/mother, brother/sister, son/daughter, friend, lover, helper, volunteer, counselor, giver and receiver. As a writer, you NEED to live these things, not just write about them.

    There’s also the “luck factor” that can’t be measured or reported. Some people just happen to be at the right place at the right time and things happen for them. I am sure there are countless “Kobes” out there who do drills and 800 made jump shots but who still aren’t in the NBA. Why? Who knows?

    I’m all for focus and encouragement and trying your very best. But I hate it when the models for success are limited to success that can be valued only in the amount of money they make.

  41. I found the link to this blog post of yours just recently, and to be honest, I found this extremely inspiring. Having read all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, I think you should spend some time talking to him. It would be an enjoyable tea-break I presume.

    Also, I have been following your posts for a while but haven’t had the chance to thank you for all those inspirational and mind-blowing ideas.

    So thank you very much, James. And I will keep on spreading your ideas around here in Vietnam.

    Keep up the good work!

  42. James, excellently written and truly inspiring!!!

    I have started my 10 years of silence with a deliberate goal right at this moment. :)

  43. Love this article and others you wrote. I am a trader and I have fallen in he mindset of thinking about goal and forgot the process, but that has bent the way I achieved results in past. Additionally, it is the process that leads to performance high as we get more and more dopamine released for very positive outcome.

  44. Unbelievable. James, you wrote the article that I’ve had in my mind for years. My blog is all about living deliberately, and a huge part of that is choosing and practicing your craft deliberately. Thank you for compiling all of these great examples – I’m spreading this around to my audience.

  45. Best article I’ve read all year, hands down! You have shared this gift with us all, and I thank you. I will devote more time and focus to my drawing and, in time, become a master illustrator. The road has been especially filled with frustration most recently, but now I have your article as a reminder and a watchful guide through these trials.

    If you think about it, this is an essential life lesson. Apply it to your craft, sure, but also put in the deliberate effort into things like being a more loving parent, sibling, friend, etc, anything that matters to you.

  46. Really great article James! Very inspiring. Right now I am smackdab in the ‘what looks like failure’ phase – struggle, frustration and lack of money! I sometimes feel like giving up. But you are so right. No-one becomes an ‘overnight success’ overnight. It’s usually after years of persistence.

  47. I just want to thank you for a wonderful post. I have been very discouraged in many aspects of my life recently and today while at work I had an epiphany, that stemmed from my recent rereading of selections from Walden by Thoreau in which he famously states:

    “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

    At that time I decided that to get where I wanted to be in my personal and professional life I needed to do one thing, “live deliberately”. That is what led me to this article.

    I love how you have taken the concept of living deliberately and put it into a real life perspective. I am a social studies teacher, baseball coach, and basketball coach. I plan on taking this advice and implementing it in my own life to reach my greater goals. I also plan to share this with some of my students and players to show them what it takes to achieve the goals they have set for the season and in their own lives.

    I preach everyday in my class and at practice that it is not about the time we are there but instead about the work they put in during that time. That generally goes in one ear and out the other. If they see the work that Kobe (for the athletes) and Mozart and Picasso (for the artists) put in to get to the highest level it will be more meaningful.

    Once again thank you for this post. Keep up the good work. I plan on returning regularly to gain more insight and inspiration in to achieving my goals and helping others achieve theirs.


  48. I linked here from the article on how long it takes to form a habit, and both posts were credibly informational and helpful, thank you.

    Both also solidified my resolve, established last night, to establish a discipline of doing 8 particular things. One of them is practicing playing the drums (drumset), which I started to learn almost 2 years ago at the age of 42. I have been frustrated by my lack of progress this year, but know that it’s directly attributable to laziness.

    I looked up (via Google) how long it took to establish a new habit, because my recent experience has been that it took at least 2 months — which jibes with your post on that topic.

    This post is particularly helpful in demonstrating the value of structured practice, thank you.

  49. I practice “The Art of Peace” that is Aikido. So far have done it for two months and still going. I believe in the 10 years of silence. I also do my best in practice and I can’t imagine what I will be like in a 10-year time.

    Thank you, James, for this wonderful presentation.

  50. Jay!!

    Great article, I read your articles all the time and read this out loud to my girlfriend. We both agreed that this was an amazing and useful article as all your others. Thanks for realizing your goal of writing because if you hadn’t, you wouldn’t have made an impact on my life.


  51. Wonderful post, James. This was exceptionally helpful.

    I’m working toward on my “10 years of silence” to become a world class geneticist to unlock immortality.

    Deliberate practice is a wonderful thing to keep in mind.

    Thanks a bunch. You keep it up; I’ll do the same. :)

  52. Hi James,

    The idea of the “10 Years of Silence” is an amazing way to drill down the truth of what “Super-Achiever” really go through to rise to the level of the significant few. Most people see geniuses or talent as people born “lucky” or with some kind of super-power. There is no doubt that Mozart was a genius, but without the kind of practice he put in, he would have just been an “ordinary” genius instead of a brilliant one. I love the idea of focused practice too. Practice with purpose, not just putting in the time with the occasional distraction pulling you off the sidelines. Brilliant post to wake up to, thanks.

  53. Quite an interesting read.

    A few years back I was so invested in becoming a great draughtsman that I passionately drew every day, for many hours, and eventually I got a Scholastic Gold Medal for work I did at 14. Now, at 19, I stopped passionately drawing and it has been only last year that I had time for myself, gained more wisdom than in my years of high school, and enjoy my life now, even with its very harsh flaws.

    I want to live my passion, but a large part of me is scared that I will become like my parents and former friends. Overburned by work, depressed, and losing my soul in the process.

    But your article made me realize that if I will ever achieve those dreams, I will need to transform from an anxious, procrastinating daydreamer to an autonomous and active adult. It is something interesting to think about.

    Thanks, James.

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