In a study conducted in 1993 for the now famous paper, “The Role of Deliberate Practice”, three psychologists analyzed what distinguished ten of the best violin students from the Music Academy of West Berlin, who could become international soloists, from ten good students who could become members of a symphony orchestra, and from ten further students who would in all likelihood be good enough to become music teachers. All the students shared the fact that they all started at around the age of eight, and all had decided to become musicians at around fifteen. In addition they all spent around 50 hours each week practicing their music skills in one way or another at the academy.

Study Hacks Blog - Violin

The lead author K. Anders Ericsson became the father of the 10,000 hours rule which he determined was the time needed to become an expert in any field. This is what it takes most people to become an expert in a field. The key difference however between the very best in this study was related to their average accumulation of hours they had spent practicing the violin on their own. The top two groups spent significantly more time practicing independently: over 24 hours each week, compared to around 9 hours for the bottom group. In addition, the top violinists had begun increasing their solitary practice by the age of twelve, giving them over 1,000 hours on the future teachers. By the age of 18, they had accumulated on average over 7,000 hours of solitary practice, compared with the over 5,000 hours for the middle group, and over 3,000 hours for the future teachers.

The reason I believe this difference is so significant is that it demonstrates the drive and purpose the top performers had, to do whatever it takes, to fulfill their potential, rather than playing merely to pass a school or please bystanders. To me, this intrinsic motivation is the key ingredient to becoming world class at whatever you do. In a similar study, Angela Lee Duckworth analyzed the traits of the most successful high school students, and came to the same conclusion. It was not IQ, good looks or social background that increased success rates, but rather grit. Grit is the passion to achieve long term goals, and is reflected in stamina that drives a person’s work ethic day in and day out to stay focused to achieve specific goals.

To have the passion and drive to be successful in a specific field is what enables people to dedicate their lives to exceptional performance. By having a growth mindset, a term that originates from Carol W. Dweck and refers to the belief that our abilities are not set in stone, such people view effort as the key ingredient to success, and temporary setbacks as part of the journey. To achieve major successes, I therefore urge you to develop a strong passion for what you do. A great way to start is by spending time imagining the long term satisfaction that the accomplishment of your efforts will bring to your life.



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