How to become an expert in Your Field

By Y K Gupta          Updated on May 22, 2020

How to become an expert in your field depicted by man dominating in a chess game

I left you wondering in my last article – How to attain expertise in your field, whether the 10000 hour rule which tells us how to  become expert is correct? Or does it apply to all of the people?  What are the missing pieces of this jigsaw puzzle of becoming an expert?

Now allow me to answer all your questions. First of all let me assert that 10000 hour rule is correct but with certain conditions.

Please also know  that 10000 hour rule  proposed by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book Outlier is based on  study paper published in 1993, by Anders Ericsson, a legendary psychologist.

In this study, Ericsson proposed that expert performance can be achieved by Deliberate Practice. Anders Ericsson further elaborated the concept in his year 2016 book coauthored by him with Robert Pool, titled- Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

So, the next question you would like to ask is – What does Deliberate Practice implies? As defined by Anders Ericsson, basically Deliberate Practice require these four components –

1. Have clearly defined goals to become expert

Goals keep you motivated to challenge your limits and get past from them. Further, these goals if kept in writing keep you focused.

Writing goals bring them out of your mind and in to the realm of reality, from where actions to achieve these goals can be initiated successfully.

2. Get guidance of a teacher/coach/mentor to become expert

Importance of having a teacher cannot be over emphasized in achieving your goals and attaining expertise in your chosen field.

Your teacher sees you from outside and provides you with immensely valuable feedback and suggestions for improvements, until you are able to become expert and able to deliver your expert performance.

3. Distraction free practice

You have to practice those 10000 hours with great focus on the skill you want to master. And for that you need to practice in those 10000 hours free from all distractions like simultaneously indulging in watching TV, social media, making some phone calls etc.

I have discussed about how to produce high quality work, free from all distraction, in my article- Improve Your Productivity with Pomodoro Technique.

4. Go beyond your abilities to become an expert

How to become expert depicted by man jumping on track
How to become expert in your chosen field

Now, when you have clearly defined goals, have a teacher for mentoring/coaching. Then you can just start deliberate practice to reach your goals. Push your limits and try to go beyond them, where there are hardly any limits for your performance and achievements.

As for learning any art, craft, skill, profession or games and sports, in fact in any field of any importance and their branches, you have to put in considerable deliberate practice in order to become an expert .

It may not be exactly the same for all the fields and for all the people. But we have to draw a line somewhere and that is approximately 10000 hours.

So the missing piece between attaining expertise or not even after working for this magical figure of 10000 hours is how you practice your work in these 10000 hours.

And therefore for becoming expert in any field in addition to working for 10000 hours, you have to ensure that–

In order to become an expert continuous improvement is the key

Without an eye on your performance, without ensuring that your performance is getting improved with each passing day, it is really hard to get expertise in any endeavor.

There is no stage exists in reality called stagnation. Either you are improving or you are deteriorating.
As soon as you stop improving you start deteriorating. And sometimes it is too late before you start noticing the deterioration.

And in the meantime competitors might have gone so much ahead of you that it may be difficult or even impossible to catch with them.

I have discussed this phenomenon further in my article – Three Steps of Producing High Quality Work. 

Don’t Repeat your Mistakes if you want to become an expert

If you keep on repeating same mistakes day in and day out, then you will become an expert in committing mistakes and not in the desired field.

There is nothing wrong in committing mistakes, everyone commits mistakes, but the real problem is when you don’t learn from your mistakes and keep them repeating.

In order to become expert Mentor/Coach is necessary

Have you ever noticed that in any field of any importance successful people always have mentor/coaches?

It is more visible in the field of Sports and games.

However, if you keep a mentor/coach in whatsoever field you want to achieve expertise,then you will have to do much less effort and your time to reach at the expert level will also become dramatically less.

Coach with swimmers in swimming pool depicting how to become expert
How to become expert in your chosen field
Teachers/coaches /mentors make the attainment of mastery so very easy. As they have already walked the path you are going to walk. With the guidance of your mentor, you don't get stuck at every twist and turn in the path of success.

As your mentor already knows which turn to take, at what stage of your journey towards attaining expertise.

Read here a Harvard Business Review which explicitly proves how people who were mentored reported higher income, achievements and job satisfaction compared to those, who were not mentored.

You must also have noticed that, particularly in case of highly successful people that their coaches have lesser abilities than the celebrity himself in that particular field.

Yet they continue to practice under that coach because for improving their performance coaches are so much, not only important but also necessary.

To become expert: you need someone who sees you from outside

This contribution comes because your coach watches you from the outside. His view of you is different from your own view of yourself.

If you are a base ball player, your coach can tell you that a slight change in the angle of your bat can improve your performance a lot.

This is hard for you to notice yourself, when you are so immersed in playing. No matter at what level of your fame you are, scope of improvement is always there.

Don’t try to do each and everything by yourself. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Take advantage of the expertise of your coach/mentor. However, until you don’t find a mentor, don’t keep your growth in abeyance.

Until then find your way with the help of some good articles on the subject, some good books, some online courses etc. But these should be in addition to some human mentor/coach and not in place of him.

As you desperately need someone to see you from outside for really identifying, where are you lacking.

It is like while your eye sees everything but it cannot see itself. For seeing itself it needs something out side of it, a mirror. Your coach/mentor is like that mirror for you.

Let us explore this phenomenon a little further

Now, Let us explore this phenomenon a little further. Assume that a group of friends’ practices some game or sport like chess together; they are practicing regularly and giving the same time for that particular sport.

And one player among the group decides to become world class expert in that particular sport.

He finds out a professional coach and practices under the guidance of that professional coach for two months, where he gets the guidance regarding diet, exercise and also a chance to practice with other highly motivated aspirants and faces the really tough competition.

While his other group members chose continue to practice among themselves. After a period of two months, what do you think who will be a better sportsman? The answer is obvious.

How to become expert if you can’t find a coach/teacher/mentor readily available?

This is a valid question. And of course some of you might be in such a position where you can’t find a coach/teacher/mentor due to things like your geographical location etc.

Here the answer is- make Google your coach. Yes, Google has answers for almost all of your learning needs.

Explore the vast reservoir of the knowledge available at internet and follow your pursuit with whatsoever means are available with you.

In absence of availability of a teacher in person, you may also consider taking online classes.

The other thing you can do is to learn through the good books available on the subject related to the skill in which you want to become expert.

To become an expert: find out someone to practice with

Further, if not a coach then at least try to find out someone who is following the same pursuit as yours and company with him. Provide input to each other; help each other in attaining expertise as much as possible.

Don’t hesitate to cooperate with such a partner. As always keep in mind that he is not the only competitor for you in the world. In such a situation always remember the adage that cooperation is a greater value than competition.

However, please understand that this will not take you much far. You will always need a teacher in person, if you really want to excel in your field.

These are the things you should be doing in addition to a teacher in person and not in place of him.

Meanwhile keep on searching for a personal coach, coaching class etc. And rely on the other means of attaining expertise only when you are not in a position, for whatsoever valid reasons, to find a teacher/mentor/coach in person.

Be passionate towards your chosen field in which you want to become expert

Fuel your passion written in white against black background depicting how to become expert
How to become expert in your chosen field

Good news about 10000 hours rule is that you may even reduce the hours it takes to become an expert in your chosen field.

You must have experienced that there are people who get mastery and become an authority in their field earlier compared to their other counterparts. How does this happen?

The answer lies in their passion towards the field they are working in. If you are passionate enough for getting expertise in your chosen field, then you will even not be counting the hours you have put in practicing.

You will just be wanting doing and practicing more of it, just because you enjoy doing it so much. Because it is your passion, because it is not a work for you, instead it is a source of joy for you.

If you are such a passionate person then attaining expertise in your chosen field will not even be taking 10000 hours. You will become an expert in your chosen field much earlier.

10000 hour rule to become expert doesn’t work for people who don’t enjoy their work

Need not to say that if your heart is not in the work you are doing. Then any number of working in your chosen field will not make you an expert in that field.

If you are not enjoying your work and always counting the number of hours you are putting in and always complaining and waiting when these 10000 hours will come to an end, then chances are that even after working for more than 10000 hours you will not become an expert in your field.

You can find such examples spread all around you. Where you will find people working in their field for more than 10000, 20000 or even for 30000 hours are still not the expert in their respective fields.

These are the people who are not enjoying their work. They don’t have a mentor, keep on repeating their mistakes and don’t care for the daily improvements in their work.

Results of pursuit to become expert may vary

One more thing to understand about 10000 hour rule is that all individuals are not created equal. Some of you may be more talented than others in a certain area.

So if you follow your passion, if you work in the area where your heart is and where you are supported by your talent, then the results are likely to be more profound.

You might have noticed this phenomenon all around you in your day to day life. you may find such people easily who weren’t  having a good academic record but are highly successful in some other field like sports, music, entrepreneurship etc.

So, it is very important to choose your field where your talent is, where your heart is and where your passion is.

Further, you also might have noticed the phenomenon that all the students in a class don’t get the same grades in examination, although they share same school and teachers.

And all the athletes under the coaching of the same coach don’t share the same level of success and expertise.

This happens because although school, teacher or coach might be the same but other background, individual talent level and circumstances at individual level of students or athletes are widely different.

This is still not a fair world.

Further, even after all the tall talks, it is still not a fair world.

So barring the exception, issues ranging from your gender to which geographic region you belong to which faith you follow to color of your skin, all have a potential to support or drag you, as per the perception of the world toward your background, fortunately or unfortunately, as the case may be.

Further, you can’t do much in this regard.

Ultimately how much success, recognition and acceptance you get will largely depend on a lot many factors, some of which I have discussed and few of them are not under your control.

Still, I urge you to go for the practicing 10000 hours as discussed in this article with passion. And do all that you can do, which is under your control using all your resources which you can use.

As if you practice for 10000 hours passionately while having a mentor, learning from your mistakes and with an eye on daily improvements, after practicing 10000 hours, results are bound to be stunning.

To become an expert keep your goals in writing: it keeps you focused

And this one is one of the most important stuff. Keep your goal of attaining expertise in any field, always not only in your mind but also in writing.

This helps you to remain committed to your goals. The same stuff has been emphasized at the start itself, in this excellent video on productivity –

Keeping your goals in writing helps a lot, when during your journey for attaining expertise you start felling like giving up; it keeps you on track and provides courage to stick to your goals.

It reminds you that why you have started to work on this goal at first place? What has changed now? Why you want to give up now after putting in so much effort?

And that giving up following your goals now will result in living a life of mediocrity which you will most certainly wouldn’t like to live.

Further proof: Neuroscience has proved that keeping your goals in writing helps you in achieving them.

This happens because you keep on giving so many instructions throughout the day to your mind by thinking.

And when you give some instruction to your mind in addition to thinking also through writing, then your mind differentiates this written instruction from the other ones and starts producing ideas and circumstances conducive to desired result.

Your mind treats this written instruction more important, works on it more seriously and keeps you focused on your goal.

If you are interested in finding out more proof then read this article at Forbes which discusses how neuroscience explains why you need to write down your goals if you actually want to achieve them.

This step of writing, about in which field and also of what level of expert you want to become, is important. Don’t miss it. It will make a difference in sticking with your goals and actually attaining them.

Straight from the horse’s mouth – Watch Malcolm Gladwell himself discussing, practice, talent and 10000 hour rule to become expert.

But before I sum up, what about the idea of listening it straight from the horse’s mouth?

Please watch here none other than Malcolm Gladwell, The legendary writer, of the book outlier in which he has introduced the world to the 10000 hours rule, citing the example of Bill Gates, one of the richest people in the world and Beetle, the legendary rock music band.

But more importantly, watch him insisting the need of practice and putting it above the talent –

Now the stage is set! Just start performing, keeping in mind that you are making at least some progress every day in your chosen direction, that you are not repeating your mistakes, have a mentor/coach and just not working but working for attaining expertise.

Bon Voyage!

Y K Gupta

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Published by Y K Gupta

Author, Blogger, former AGM State Bank of India (SBI)

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  1. Good article. Continuous effort is the key factor for achieving your goals in life and that too not possible without proper guidance. Please keep it up .

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