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10,000 Hours. 10,000 Choices.

By Robyn Openshaw, MSW | May 10, 2013



I’ve been thinking about that newly famous, often-quoted piece of research that, to be great at something, you must spend 10,000 hours. Breaking it down, that’s 5 years of full-time work. I’m awed by the beautiful, virtuoso violinist, Anne-Sophie Mutter. I heard her play, live, when I was in Paris in 1992, when she was 8 months pregnant, and I was utterly devastated by her performance. I did not know sounds like that could come out of a violin.

I could not sit still for the performance that night in the Paris opera house, so I stood in the back through the whole thing. Barely breathing.

You can hear her playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, about that time, with the Berlin Philharmonic, HERE.  Or a shorter performance on Letterman, HERE.

I think about the phenomenal amount of effort that went into earning a talent like Anne-Sophie’s. Maybe 50,000 hours!

Actors like Meryl Streep or Daniel Day-Lewis who bring us to tears. They paid the price, in workshops, being painfully evaluated by peers, trying out for parts, delivering lines in the mirror.

Writers like John Irving who astonish you with their prolific stories—he’s been writing for 40+ years!

Anne Lamott quoteOr Annie Lamott who enlivens an everyday event to be something you think about for weeks. Who writes single sentence you read five times because it rolls around in your brain so deliciously, and you write it and pin it on your cork board to save for later. Annie Lamott didn’t get to be my favorite writer because she sprang forth with an exquisite way with words. She put in the 10,000 hours honing her craft. Getting a degree, writing, re-writing, reading copiously, re-writing some more, listening to other professionals, teaching workshops, re-writing and reading some more.

A surgeon who completes 1,000 successful specialized procedures. A Major League Baseball player who fields every grounder, no matter how fast or angled it’s coming at him. (Evan Longoria on 3rd base. Magic.)

I was thinking about this, watching my 12-yo son’s baseball tournament last weekend, thinking about the difference between these boys—competitive players way ahead of the average 12-year old playing city league—and the Tampa Bay Rays athletes we watched play 4 games in 4 days on our recent spring break.

My boy’s a great athlete. But he misses a pop fly and misses grounders and strikes out pretty regularly. I was amazed, watching the Major Leaguers go entire games with almost no infield or outfield errors. The difference? About 10,000 hours!

robyn and family at game

Robyn and Kids at the Ballpark

And I am always sad and amazed at how everyone—LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE ONE—at a baseball field, if they’re eating at all, is eating hot dogs, candy, soda, chips, nachos, and salty pretzels.

And I had this thought:  Being 100 lbs. overweight is the result of 10,000 bad choices.

Cancer and heart attacks are the result of 10,000 bad choices.

Jillian Michaels’ body is the result of 10,000 good choices. Not a little “health kick.” (A friend of mine who lost 80#, then gained it back, made 5,000 good choices, then stopped short—and made another 5,000 bad choices.) Jillian Michael’s megastar reputation and sculpted body are the result of many years, of thousands of instances, of doing the right thing.

I don’t believe it’s 5 or 10 bad choices that have a net result of heart disease. It’s 10,000. The body deals with insult by rallying. If you drink alcohol, your body works very hard to detoxify. If you drink a lot of water before you go to bed, you’ll likely wake up with no hangover. Because you helped your liver do its job.

But drink yourself to sleep every night for 20 years? It’s amazing the body survives it, but sometimes it does. Not without a heavy toll. Cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, or many other disease states are the likely result.

good bad choicesThink on whether you have a great ratio of good choices to bad. A green smoothie won’t be enough, against a highly stressful lifestyle, tons of Diet Coke, an absence of exercise, AND a smoking habit. But you make about 10 or so food decisions a day. If all but one of those are whole plant foods, mostly raw, maybe it’s okay that one choice isn’t great. If you’re eating an 60-80 percent raw, organic diet, maybe it’ll be enough to cover for the glass or two of wine you have with dinner a few times a week.

I’m not legitimizing poor choices. But we’re none of us perfect. Myself included. We live in a flawed world, and I choose to operate in reality rather than sniffing around the ether zone. I like to talk about things I’ve personally achieved and know to be possible.

life result of choices10,000 good choices lead to health and vitality in the “senior years.” Like Coach Jeanette’s dad, Ed, my friend who is a DYNAMO at age 59, buying and selling companies and traveling the world with a mind as sharp as a razor. Most people his age are nursing a bunch of diagnoses, eating a bunch of pills every day, and winding down permanently. I could talk to him for hours. He eats a whole-foods diet and has educated himself about health, healing, wellness and spirituality. And he walks the talk.

My point is, it’s all in the ratio. I’ve quoted my grandmother many times. Even though she said this to me only once when I was in my 20’s, it went to my core and stayed there:

“It’s not what you do once in a while that’ll kill you. It’s what you do every day that’ll save you.”


Posted in: Mind/Body Connection, Standard American Diet

3 thoughts on “10,000 Hours. 10,000 Choices.”

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  1. Marianne K says:

    I needed this today! Just a few days ago I was telling someone how a strict juice (or smoothie) detox for several days isn’t that hard and doesn’t make me feel sick (like it made this person), and discovered that it’s because, thanks to smoothies, juicing, and regular and conscious effort towards whole and raw foods, “detoxing” isn’t a traumatic experience. But then I had a horrible couple of days, and I have to remind myself today to pick up and continue the good path, because good choices still add up and get easier and easier to make when you don’t depart from them for long.

    Glad I know you, Robyn. I love the difference you make in the world! I send people your way constantly! 🙂

  2. Cherilyn says:

    You can also compare this to wanting a runners body. My husband has a runners body but he’s been running 5-6 days per week for over 25 years. That’s how you get a runners body. Those of us who join in late can’t expect such results from running 2-3 times per week! Dang!

  3. Sandra Hutchins says:

    I have several questions to ask Robyn:
    1) Where does Robyn get her coconut oil that she uses on her skin and hair? Also what is the brand name of the coconut oil?
    2) When making a smoothie and you are using apples, do you core the apples? I leave the skins on them but didn’t know about coring them.
    3) I’m diabetic and need to watch the amount of sugar that comes naturally from fruit. How can I adjust my smoothies so that I have some fruit and not all greens?
    4)Thank you for all you do to help people eat more healthfully and nutritiously. YOU’RE THE BEST!!!!!

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