Practice makes perfect. As a musician I’ve heard this phrase hundreds, maybe thousands, of times over the years. I’m sure you have as well. Whether you were a basketball player working on your free throw shooting, a tennis player honing your serving technique, or a singer learning an opera aria, this mantra was probably drilled into your mind.
This concept is a recurrent theme in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. He refers to it as the “10,000-Hour Rule.” Based on research done by the Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, Gladwell posits that achieving greatness requires enormous time, with the magic number being 10,000 hours. He explains that reaching the 10,000-Hour Rule, which he considers the key to success in any field, is simply a matter of practicing a specific task that can be accomplished with 20 hours of work a week for 10 years.
“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”
Is it possible to apply the 10,000-Hour Rule to our journey with Christ? Have you spent 10,000 hours practicing and honing your Christian faith? What does it look like to achieve “true mastery” in Christianity? Is it even possible?
As a professional musician, I can appreciate the value of the 10,000-Hour rule. I know the countless hours I’ve spent sitting at the piano or organ bench honing my skills and developing my craft. However, I also realize that simply playing an instrument for hours on end will not necessarily improve my skills to the point of mastery. In order to master the instrument, I have had to develop a specific practice routine, in which I spend hours in “deliberate practice,” meaning that I practice in a specific way that pushes my skill set as much as possible.
Deliberate practice is difficult. It is strenuous and sometimes even painful. Anyone who has tried to work out at the gym consistently can tell you that! But the benefits are certainly evident in your subsequent performance. Growth in any area requires you to stretch beyond your comfort level. A study in 1908 by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort created a steady level of performance. In order to maximize performance, however, we need a state of relative anxiety – a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This space is called “Optimal Anxiety,” and it is just outside our comfort zone.
As Christians, we have a perfect example to emulate in Jesus, whose practice routine involved regular time alone in communion with His Heavenly Father, as well as exercising his faith by teaching, healing, and keeping company with individuals of low status. In Mark 2, the Pharisees rebuked Jesus for eating with the tax collectors and sinners, but Jesus replied to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:17
Paul paints the picture of what a mature Christian should look like in Galatians 5:22-25, “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.”
What would it look like if we committed to spend 10,000 hours loving those who are neglected and forgotten in our community, spent 10,000 hours being kind and patient with individuals who we may find disagreeable and difficult, or spent 10,000 hours exhibiting self-control, in a world inundated by impulsiveness and a YOLO mentality?
It’s possible only if we allow the Holy Spirit to do its work in us, molding and crafting our characters, stretching us beyond our state of relative comfort to the space of “Optimal Anxiety.” Approach the journey with the mindset of James 1:2-4, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a change to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”