What everyone gets wrong about the 10,000 hour rule

Ah, the 10,000 hour rule – one of my favourite things to watch people squabble over.

On the one hand, you have folks treating it like some iron law. Or, at least, a promise. Put in 10,000 hours and you’ll become a genius!

Then you have folks gnashing their teeth, pointing out how nonsense that is. You can get good – really good – at something in a fraction of that. After all, genius is relative. You can become a leading expert at a skill in 20 hours of practice, if the skill is unique enough. Who says you need 10,000 of them?

Around and around the argument goes…

It’s helpful to refer to the original research and realise that, in fact, neither of these arguments are what it said.

The 10,000 hour rule came from studying people practicing the violin at the professional level. They found that none of the professional players had practiced for less than the now-famous benchmark.

There are many lessons from this:

Firstly, there were no ‘prodigies’. There were exactly zero people with ‘natural talent’ who became awesome after 500 hours of practice, or even 5000 hours. They all had to put the work in.

Secondly, if you put the work in, you can develop expert-level skills too.

Thirdly, 10,000 hours equates to around seven years of full-time practice. That’s the length of an apprenticeship, in the original, medieval meaning of the word. That’s not a coincidence.

Fourthly, the quality of practice matters. They weren’t mucking about for that time – they were training hard, deliberately and with expert guidance.

Fifthly, for violinists, 10,000 hours is just the beginning. It’s a competitive field and most of the students studied for much more than that. There were plenty of students who had practiced for 15,000 hours or more, let alone professionals.

Sixthly, this is in the context of elite performance. A ‘mere’ 100 quality hours of practice will make you extraordinary, but not an Olympian or anything. But do you need to be an Olympian? Be in the top 10% in a few fields and you can be wildly successful.

The funny thing – for a certain definition of funny – about it all is so many folks hear the 10,000 hour rule and get discouraged. They think about how much time that is and give up. That’s the wrong lesson. The real lesson is that, in a shocking twist, practice makes you better.

Yes, even you.

Yes, even in that thing you’re embarrassingly awful at.

Give it 10,000 hours of practice and you might get accepted into an elite school.

Give it ten and you’ll become much, much better than you are right now.

Of course, you have to want to develop your skills. Most folks want to want to get good at something, which is easy to do. That keeps it as a fantasy. When you actually want to get good, though, it compels you to take action and practice.

Finding taking action harder than you’d like?

It sounds like you need Threshold Coaching and Crossroads Training.

If you want to take a step forward in your life but find yourself hesitating, let me show you what that’s all about.

Flip that resistance until a compulsion to move forward and getting better is only a matter of time.

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