10 Years of Silence: How Long It Took Mozart, Picasso and Kobe Bryant to Be Successful

mozartHow 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

kobeKobe 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?


About the Author: James Clear is an entrepreneur, weightlifter, and travel photographer in 18 countries. He writes at JamesClear.com, where he uses proven research and real-world experiences to share practical ideas for living a healthy life. You can get new strategies for sticking to healthy habits, losing weight, gaining muscle, and more by joining his free newsletter.

This post originally appeared on JamesClear.com


If you liked this post, you might also like “What These 13 Successful Entrepreneurs Wish They Knew 5 Years Ago” and “The Habits of Successful People: They Do The Painful Things First

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  • http://bit.ly/LaqVGI RoundTable

    Great article James. It goes to show that hard work really does pay off!

    • Leonardo Wood

      Yes… but as the article states, you have to deliberately practice… which is when you really get results from the hard work you put it. Excellent article James, I am going to think about what I can deliberately practice… I’m half way through my “10 years of silence” and with a little more effort in the right direction I reckon I’ll be shaving a few years off that number. Thanks for writing! :-)

  • http://missionallendale.wordpress.com/ Joey Espinosa

    This is encouraging for me. While my wife and I “discovered” our love of working with children years ago, it has been over the past 3 years that we have been drawn / compelled to work with kids in poverty. We’ve learned a lot, and still have a lot to learn. Like at least 7 more years of learning!

  • Prak

    Great post dude! Another reminder that we truly get out what we truly put in

  • http://programminglife.net/ mcatlett

    Excellent article my friend. To help with patience, I find it’s better for me to forget the long-term goals after determining what daily behavior will get me there ~ rather, the focus turns to the short-term enjoyment and success of that behavior, trusting that in time the tree that grows will bear its fruit.

  • Beth

    Thanks James. This was an inspiring article.

  • http://www.writingriffs.com Steve Kayser

    James … excellent article. Well-written. Helpful. Hopeful. Thanks.

  • SFMH57

    I get the concept of “deliberate practice.” And the idea of putting in 10,000 hours to achieve, to be an “expert” and a “master” has been shared widely and sure appears to be valid. But I do challenge just a bit the use of the term “silence.” It would lead one to believe that these masters were not seen or heard during a period of prep time — the 10 years — when that is not so. Is it? Perhaps the better term is “10 years in the shadows”??

    • LeoWid

      I love “in the shadows” – you’re right, they’re still trying their best!

    • http://whoisariston.tumblr.com whoisariston

      You bring up a good point. Simply practicing for 10,000 hours then suddenly releasing something out to the wild does not necessarily yield a masterpiece. In this day and age, feedback is important during practice. You have to know that you are practicing the right way and using the right methods. Granted when it comes to artwork and the creative fields there is much more leeway, in other areas where expertise is admired, practicing the right way is crucial.

    • http://www.peternjenga.com/ Pete R Njenga

      I’m convinced this whole ‘10,000 hour practice’ notion points to sticking to it and deliberately carrying on, with the long term in mind. I remember reading from Steven Covey that one ought to begin with the end in mind.
      What then happens is that you deliberately carry on, enjoying the journey as well as the final destination. I have recently written on The Walkabout how things happen gradually, but we only notice suddenly
      With this in mind, it becomes easy to understand how Floyd Mayweather can earn millions of dollars in under 10 minutes…

    • SRR126

      Actually your suspicions are spot-on – the whole 10,000 hours has not stood up to rigorous analysis.
      It is a stupid number from a silly study – poorly designed at that – people choose to endlessly repeat.

  • Rick Yvanovich

    Good article – The book Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov gives 42 rules for getting better at getting better and shows clearly why the old adage practice makes perfect is wrong.

  • http://glassduffle.com/ Eric White

    Killer post. That struggle/no recognition period can suck bad. These examples are great and definitely give some inspiration. Go Lakers!

    • Avril111

      my Aunty Sienna recently got a stunning red Nissan Maxima by
      working part time online… find out here now J­u­m­p­6­2­.­ℂ­o­m

  • Azalea Pena

    James, thanks for the inspirational post. I came across this Kobe story a while back and admittedly, after reading it, I found new respect for the man. We all know the basic principle of practice makes perfect, but not many realize that in order for a person to practice and practice, there should be will, determination and a purpose. Indeed, deliberate practice. No one becomes great overnight. The moment we realize that we need to work hard to become great is the moment we’re on our way to greatness.

  • Dubem Menakaya

    Great article, it reminded me off the book ‘The Talent Myth’ which debunked the conventional thought that geniuses just have that DNA. It’s where I first heard about deliberate practice. I think another factor you mised out on was the importance of a mentor/coach to correct you and share there experience (and potentially connections) which means you don’t have to spend as much time as they did in reaching that level.

  • http://tembrooke.net/ Cheryl

    Great post! I read another take on the 10,000 hour rule earlier today, but your version is a lot more helpful as a guide to doing your best.

    It’s also reassuring to know that even the greatest performers toiled in obscurity for years before achieving recognition. That’s something we all need to remember when we’re struggling to improve — being patient and sticking with it is just part of the process.

  • Nate Heinekamp

    “Most people who think they are working hard are merely developing the skill of being in the gym, not the skill of making baskets.” — Awesome analysis, James

  • Silas

    When a basketball player practices his or her jump shot, they get immediate and objective feedback as to how successful they are. They either make the shot or they do not. As a budding writer, I’m curious what the equivalent to the jump shot would be for a writer.

    • Anna B

      Definitely joining a writer’s workshop, or running a blog where you get views/comments. Not everyone who comments knows what they’re about, but it should give you a feel.

  • ILMostro

    work “smart”, not (just) hard

  • George Soros

    Curious as Japanese apprenticeships are 10 years before one can be called a master…

  • http://saintsnotsinners.org/ D. R. Silva

    GREAT post, James. :)

  • Michael Horton

    Great blog! I blogged about how deliberate practice and 10,000 hours applies to teachers and administrators here: http://motivationalschoolleadership.blogspot.com

  • http://whoisariston.tumblr.com whoisariston

    Here’s my question…how do you put in 10,000 hours of practice for something like management? With basketball or writing a symphony, you can practice by yourself for hours on end. An artist can draft painting after painting…a writer, page after page. But how does one practice a skill for 10,000 hours that requires significant involvement of other people?

    • Anna B

      I’d say you have a big advantage if you’re in a management position, because you’re paid to work on the skill 8 hours a day. If you’re not in a management position, practice the skills of interaction, consideration, and leadership in your current job and put in for a management position as soon as you can.

    • Jason Philbrook

      Dealing with other people deliberately is to be thoughtful in managing teamwork, interactions, conflict, etc rather than just doing paperwork and meetings because that’s what your job says you do for 40+ hours a week. I’d suggest volunteer work as a more intense management skill crash course, nobody gets paid and people don’t have to be there, and you can be just as committed or more committed to the outcome. Thus management and people skills become more important and have less room for error.

  • Stuart

    “…what looks like failure is often the foundation of success.” Absolutely true – thanks for the reminder. :)

  • http://www.globallearningpartners.com/ Joan Dempsey

    Thanks for this, James. You guys who found this interesting might also be interested in a book by Josh Kaufman entitled “The First 20 Hours: How to Learning Anything . . . Fast.” He takes a bit of issue with the 10,000 hour frame, reminding us that this applies only to the Kobe Bryants of the world. But if you’d like to be good at something, enjoy doing it, and have your own small measure of success (without being the best in the world), you don’t need to do what Kobe does. (Kaufman even has a section entitled “Damn You, Malcolm Gladwell.”) :) The book is about how to focus your attention on the right things (he would agree with Gladwell and Ericsson here) in order to learn something new in 20 hours. Check it out: http://www.first20hours.com/.

  • M.H. Vesseur

    Thanks for posting this fine filosophy. There is too little of this in today’s “rushing to fame” mentality. Here we have “The Voice Kids” and they all wish to be famous tomorrow. It is good to stand back, perform your daily work with the right amount of “lontano” towards the end result. Not everybody has the patience for these ten years, or your thirty years! And that’s what’s good about it too: being patient is an Olympic achievement in its own right.

  • http://www.redemptor.me/ Max Ghezzi

    Love, love, love, love this post! Awesome. Inspirational. And very much proves that there’s no such thing as ‘luck’, ‘chance’, nor ‘circumstance’. You just have got to put in the hours. Create your own luck. Be the master of your own future. You can be, do, and have anything in life, as long as you’re willing to do what’s necessary to achieve. It’s not gonna be easy, it’s gonna be hard. There’s gonna be a lot of failures, hardships and sleepless nights along the road, but if you keep at it, if you’re persistent enough, if you’re willing to give up everything else to get it; Yes, then you WILL succeed!

  • mixmason

    great post. loved this most: “What looks like little pay and no recognition is often the price you have to pay to discover your best work”

  • Peter

    There is one very, very serious flaw in the methodology. Only talented composers are studied. There is no variation in the independent variable (talent). The researcher wouldn’t be able to calculate the “odds ratio” to see the statistical relationship between putting in 10,000 hours and mastery. To be specific, there is NO data as to how likely it is that an average Joe would become a master after having put in 10,000 hours.

  • Rene

    I just love this quote because I feel so related to this and it makes me even more motivated.

    “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.”

  • http://www.ddr.ee/ Remy Konimois

    tarantino said it took him 8 years to make couple of his first movies and nothing happened. Now he calls it as his ‘college degree’.

  • http://hubskills.com/ Partha Bhattacharya

    I am reminded of a bongo drum player of my childhood days who
    didn’t study, but would be engrossed in practicing his art every day from morning
    till late evening barring small breaks. I went on to study and become what I
    am. But this man became a famous drum player in a very short time.

  • pfultz

    James, if you haven’t already, you must read this book,
    Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin. Great book and was inspiring to me. Every young parent…for that matter every jr. high kid should read this book.

  • SGR Fieldbook

    The silence was probably broken once it become difficult to impede or muffle their calling. At some point, one just has to pursue the dream – to seize the moment just to be at peace with oneself! A calling can be loud and annoying if one does not feed it attention, action, steady practice. Only then, can it become glorious! #SGRFieldbook sgrfieldbook.wordpress.com

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