Friday, November 28, 2014

The 10,000-Hour Rule

(Our guest blogger, Fiana Kawane, is a student of Kathak at Kadamb, Ahmedabad, since the past 11 years. She is of their performing troupe and has performed in Canada, Pakistan, Japan and all over India. Currently, she is in her second year of BA honours in English Literature from Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is doing her studies through correspondence so that she can continue to devote her time and energy to Kathak.)

Research shows that to achieve a certain level of proficiency and expertise in any field, it takes an individual 10,000 hours. It is a huge amount of time, averaging about 10 years of work. Be it dance, music, sport or academic excellence, everywhere the figure rests at 10,000. It seems to be the golden rule of success. We might ask, isn’t talent a more important factor? Don’t gifted people need less time to grasp concepts and acquire new skills and thus end up having achieved more in the same amount of time? 

Malcolm Gladwell, an influential thinker, says that ‘Achievement is talent plus preparation.’ Which means that individual progress depends more on hard work and practice than just innate talent. He gives the example of a study done in the 1990s headed by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson. It was conducted at Berlin’s cream of the crop Academy of Music. They divided the academy’s violinists into three groups. Group A were the top students who would go on to become the future soloists. Group B were the students who were neither great nor bad, they were simply ‘good’. The last group comprised of students who might never make it to performing and planned to teach in public schools. They were asked to map out how many hours a day they put into practice throughout their learning years.

All the students began learning violin at about the same age of 5. Till the age of 8 they all put in the same amount of time, that is, two or three hours a week. Differences in their learning patterns cropped up at age 8. Those who were the best in their class gradually started putting in more practice: by 9 they were practicing six hours a week, by 12 practicing eight hours a week, by 14 putting in sixteen hours a week and by the time they reached 20 they were determinedly practicing and pushing themselves to play violin more than thirty hours a week. By the age of 20, the top performers had practiced for a total of 10,000 hours. In sharp contrast, Group B of average students had totaled 8,000 hours and Group C of future music teachers just about 4,000 hours.   

These figures might reduce the idea of hard work and importance of practice to a matter of numbers. But that is not my aim. I don’t think if I robotically put in certain number of hours, I would become a good dancer. There is something more. To distinguish the difference, let me cite the study of another thinker Daniel Coyle. In his book The Talent Code, he says that there is a huge difference between mere practice and what he terms ‘deep practice’. Deep practice is an ‘error-focused’ approach in which the individual learns by making mistake after mistake to find the correct note, the perfect angle, or the true timing. 

Let me give you an illustration of ‘deep practice’ in action. For example, when you learn a new tukda, you first observe and try to imitate what you see. You are not getting the getting the sum right. So, what do you do? You try out variations. First you strike out the right hand to the 45 degree angle to your front and bring the head at the same time. It doesn’t work because you see your guru bringing her head slightly delayed and also tilted which looks more graceful. So you try to do that. Then you see that because you keep your right hand taut it seems like an unseemly stick. So you bend the arm from the elbow. It is coming closer but there is still something missing. What is it? You are letting your left hand hang loosely. So you keep it controlled against your frame. VoilĂ ! It finally works. This kind of practice in which you keep on adding layers of refinement in each repetition is what is known as ‘deep practice’. It is something in which you challenge yourself to go beyond your comfort zone. It is something in which you are not satisfied with an average understanding of whatever you learn. It is something in which you are ready to struggle and work harder for the sake of attaining that perfect sum. 

To bring this study closer to our home front let me cite some examples from our field of dance. All the great exponents have put in sheer hard work even though they were extraordinarily gifted. Take for example, the celebrated Kathak guru Bindadin Maharaj-ji. He commenced his training at the age of 9 and it is said that for three years he simply practiced tatkar for twelve hours a day. Do the math. It comes to more than 13,000 hours. Similarly, Birju Maharaj-ji began his Kathak training at the young age of 3. He says himself that in his early years he put in 4 and half hours of riyaaz daily − no matter what. Even at this age of 75 plus, he tries to do riyaaz for 4 hours. These are examples which inspire us. It is understandable that it requires a huge amount of dedication and commitment and not everyone can do this. Yet in small and simple ways we can incorporate a more productive approach in our learning as students of Indian Classical dance forms. 

5 Ways to Incorporate the 10,000 Hour Rule and ‘Deep Practice’ in Our Lives:

1. Learning Beyond the Classroom:
I’m sure 2 hours of class twice a week is nothing when put alongside the stories above. Spending even 10 minutes recalling what you learnt in class every day will build into a wonderful habit. If you are taking dance seriously then you might want to incorporate riyaaz everyday; it all depends on how much time you wish to devote.  If you like to remain motivated by working with others you could have a practice partner who could work with you before class for 15 min. This is just a beginning. 

2. Participate in Workshops: 
Workshops are great places for intensive learning. Especially those like Rasadhwani’s Suruchi where you get a holistic approach to dance. An atmosphere of high creativity and energy is created in such workshops which is extremely productive in an individual and collective context. 

3. Have a ‘Yes I Can’ Attitude:
Don’t give up. If you can’t get a teehai right, you will but all in good time. Just sleep over it and work on it the next day if your mind gets blocked. But don’t tell yourself ‘I will never be able to do this. This is too difficult for me.’ No. You have to challenge yourself and say, ‘Why not? I CAN do this right’.
4. There is Nothing Like the ‘End’ of Learning: 
Visharad and Arangetram are not the end of learning but rather the beginning of the journey towards achieving that level of proficiency. Similarly, we can never fully learn something and store it away in our memory box. We have to constantly work on what we have learnt. We have to keep on honing, polishing and practicing right from the basics.

5. Focus:
This one word says all. You might have to give up a few dear things: such as those languid times surfing Facebook, watching a certain tv series… But the joy of having a purpose in life and single-mindedly and sole-heartedly working towards it – that is a quality to be admired in any one. 

Well, wouldn't you like to join me in this endeavour? 

Coyle, Daniel . The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else. New York: Random House, 2009.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. London: Penguin, 2008.

- Fiana Kawane