Repetition is the basis of excellence. Do it until you get it right. Keep doing it until you cannot do it wrong.

Repetition is where learning starts. As toddlers and children, repetition is how memory is built, muscles are developed into functional units, and how language is learned. The importance of repetition extends all the way to the masters and experts within a field. Malcolm Gladwell emphasizes this in the book “Outliers” where the 10,000 rule is noted; the idea that at least 10,000 hours is required to master a field or discipline. In many cases, the hours are likely significantly more. How much time is 10,000 hours? How many repetitions is that? How many iterations, are held within those 10,000+ hours? Striving towards mastery one assumes that extra effort, beyond the 9-to-5 is being exerted, with time in the evenings or on the weekends devoted to ones craft. At 60 hours a week, for 48 weeks a year, the 10,000 mark is reached in just under 4 years. Incidentally this is approximately the amount of time for an undergraduate or graduate degree. 

There are disparate reactions to this. The first is surprise at how long this is, the second surprise at how brief. If mastery is accomplished in significantly less than 10,000 it is likely a field in which mastery is not highly valuable. The emphasis here is that this is MASTERY, not merely competence. Whether medicine, computer programming, law, or any number of other tasks, basic competency can be achieved at or below 10,000 hours. Yet to be a true master, to be exploring the fringe of the known and the unknown, requires enormous repetition. 

Many attending physicians have incredible stories. Many have lived through many eras of medicine- some before HIV drugs were discovered, others when cancer therapies were still in their infancy. Even decades after a particular patient, they can envision specific patients, specific disease manifestations, or other interesting aspects in the case. Often they even remember the family of the patient. These repetitions, achieved over decades, not hours or years, are where true mastery is developed. 

Often repetition feels monotonous, like the background drone of an airplane. When it goes on for long enough there may even be a sense of futility, a sense of repetition without improvement or purpose. Perhaps there is a sense of numbness, perhaps even a loss of purpose for brief periods along the way. Yet it is in these repetitions that true mastery, expertise, is developed. Anyone can do something once. A blind squirrel will eventually find a nut. Only a master performs Every. Single. Time. 

Do it until you get it right. Keep doing it until you cannot do it wrong.

This is the basis of excellence.

Published by JR Stanley

I am an MD, PhD student, training to be a physician scientist, with a deep interest in science, faith, and living life as an adventure. Join me as I entertain ideas from new findings in science, evolving interpretations of faith, and experience life one day and one adventure at a time.

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