6 Misconceptions on Becoming an Expert


Whether you’re looking to better your department at work, switch fields, or generally increase your understanding of the world around you, the verbal allure of being an expert is hard to pass up. Many ideas have been floating around on how one can truly procure this title, especially when Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers hit bookstores in 2008.

Numerous studies on experts, from athletes to people in the sales force, have researched the true characteristics these well-endowed individuals tend to possess. From buckling down and learning the true skills it takes to manage your team at work, or simply desiring to know the ins and outs of your life insurance plan, we’re looking at 6 common misconceptions about becoming an expert that is keeping yours from your goals.

  1. You Must Follow Malcolm Gladwell and His 10,000 Hours

Ever since Outliers made the impact it did, Gladwell’s most notable point of needing 10,000 hours to become an expert in something has been his most misconstrued idea. In the book, Gladwell looks at a study conducted by Anders Ericsson and says that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something.

Not only has this idea been debunked, but it’s not what Gladwell truly says in his book. He does not say that anyone can master anything as long as they put in 10,000 hours. Gladwell looks at and acknowledges the need for, some sort of natural talent, body composition, or inclination to better succeed at something over someone without these advantages.

  1. It’s All About How Much Time You Put In

According to a study by Microsoft, the average human attention span is about eight seconds. This means that the duration you can truly stay entertained by your practice is shorter than most anticipate.

You can be “practicing” your skill for five hours a day, but the depth and intensity of those five hours are more important than the length of the session. If you’re constantly checking your phone, zoning out, getting exhausted, the quality of your practice isn’t bettering your skill, even if you’re doing this for five hours.

When it comes to expanding your expertise, it’s better to focus on the contents of the time spent practicing rather than the numerical value associated with the session.  

  1. You Can Pick Anything to Master if You Stay Dedicated

If you suddenly decide one day you want to become an expert stock day trader and start practicing, you’re more likely to fail compared to if you set the goal up before and committed to it in your mind. The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, as reported by Time.com, explains why this is.

With the same amount of practice, the long-term-commitment group outperformed the short-term-commitment group by 400 percent. The long-term-commitment group, with a mere twenty minutes of weekly practice, progressed faster than the short-termers who practiced for an hour and a half. When long-term commitment combined with high levels of practice, skills skyrocketed.”

Committing in your mind that you’re going to accomplish your goal, and continue your practice into the long-term, shows a better success rate over not realizing that expertise takes dedication and time.

  1. Don’t Take Breaks in Your Preparation

According to Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success, a book by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, there are a few things hard workers can take from athletes.

Just as an athlete needs time to rest and recover after workouts and before their big race, workers need to take breaks as well. This rest period allows us to better perform later and prevent burn out. Athletes need to rest their muscles in order to continue making progress As we work towards acquiring expert status in our lives, we need to take breaks in our practice in order to keep performance at a level that allows progress.

  1. Work Towards the Idea of Simply Getting Better

Along with setting your goal up in your head prior to starting, Psychology Today points out the importance of setting specific goals.

You need to pinpoint exactly what you want to improve, and how you can improve it. Then you need to practice making the specific improvement. Your goals need to be broken down into small steps that you can achieve within a short time frame, or you will become discouraged.”

Simply working towards mastery of a certain field isn’t enough to get you where you want to be. You need a way to check your progress, markers that show you’re moving in the right direction, and a way to measure what you’ve accomplished so far.

  1. Study Up So You’re Ready For the Real Thing

In preparation for a big test, it’s commonplace to study the material learned in class. However, we have found that this is not the best way to master what we are trying to learn. To get a better insight on this, again, we look at the author of The Talent Code Daniel Coyle for advice on this one.

Our brains evolved to learn by doing things, not by hearing about them. This is one of the reasons that, for a lot of skills, it’s much better to spend about two-thirds of your time testing yourself on it rather than absorbing it. There’s a rule of two thirds. If you want to, say, memorize a passage, it’s better to spend 30 percent of your time reading it, and the other 70 percent of your time testing yourself on that knowledge.”

If you want to gain expertise in a field, you have to do more than study it. Most of the learning will come in practice. You can study and learn for hours, but if the information is easy going in, the general rule is that it’s easy going out.

Put yourself in a real-life scenario and test out your knowledge. This is the situation you’ll need your expertise for, so it’s best to try to place yourself in that environment and see how you fair. If you mess up, you’ll proceed with a better understanding of the topic. You’ll never know what you don’t know unless you test yourself and challenge the way you need to retrieve and use your skill.

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