Fans of Malcolm Gladwell's best-selling book Outliers: The Story of Success will recognize the theory that, on average, it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate, efficient practice to produce expertise in a given field, irrespective of whether that field is chess, dance, swimming, etc. This theory was based on the careers of professional musicians who tended to start their 10,000 hours before they were even old enough to read!
In an era when human lifespans are the highest they've ever been and many are adopting second or third careers or even hobbies, starting from scratch at the age of, say, 30 or 40, makes the prospect of logging 10,000 hours (equivalent to working 40 hours a week every week for 5 years) somewhat daunting. But there is hope. A new school of thought posits that a phenomenon called interleaving may be a more effective way to train than simply slogging through hour upon hour of monotonous tasks, be it pounding ball after ball on the golf course, logging the miles en route to a marathon PR, or writing that first sellable novel. In other words, the number of hours you put in might not be as important as what you do with them. Interleaving is analogous to cross-training in the field of fitness, made popular for example by the Hansen brothers in their marathon training plan which dispenses with the long run in favor of shorter, more intense training sessions, with weight-lifting mixed in. Or just ask any triathlete who will testify to the effectiveness of cross-training, which is built into this sport. It seems that mixing tasks or disciplines provides just enough stress to stimulate important synapses that improve memory, learning, and translate into better fitness, says Mark Guadagnoli, a kinesiology professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. During blocked practice, by contrast, you're under less stress, but can become bored and less engaged. So bring the theory of "mixing it up" to your pursuit of choice. If you're a runner, try training for a triathlon or obstacle-type race to incorporate disciplines such as swimming, biking, and weight training and round out your fitness. Or at the very least, mix in short bursts of speed with longer periods of lower intensity training - for example by entering shorter races (5k, 10k, the ever-increasingly popular half-marathon) en route to your race of choice. A PR (personal record) awaits.
And remember, whatever you do, do it with total focus and concentration. Still the mind and lose your self in the task, be it playing music, writing, exercising, or something as seemingly mundane as making dinner or doing the laundry. The hours you spend in focused awareness add up, making you an expert at that most grand pursuit, the purpose and pinnacle of existence: Self Realization. Sitting in front of a candle and meditating is only one of many roads that lead to the Infinite.