The Real Lessons of the 10,000-Hour Rule

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Okay, it’s happened: 10,000 hours is officially in the mainstream. Athletes, musicians, students, businesspeople are counting away, waiting for their practice odometer to tick over and — presto! — they’ll be world-class experts.

Sorry, but that ain’t how it works.

Why? Because when you count the hours, it’s easy to lose track of the real goal: finding ways to constantly reach past the edge of your current ability.

The real lesson of 10K is not about quantity; it’s about quality. It’s about getting the maximum possible gain in the shortest amount of time — and to get that, you don’t focus on the time, but on the gain. You put your focus on improving the practice, which happens two ways: through better methods or increased intensity.

To be clear:

  • 1. Certain kinds of learning — deep, or deliberate practice — are transformative.
  • 2. That transformation is a construction process.
  • 3. That construction process depends on your intensive reaching and repeating in the sweet spot on the edge of your ability.

You are what you count. If you count hours, you’ll get hours. But if you find a good way of measuring your intensity, or measuring your improvement, that’s what you’ll get.


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8 Responses to “The Real Lessons of the 10,000-Hour Rule”

  1. tyson says:

    Hi Dan,

    I think this is a critical concept for any improvement. As a coach, I spend a lot of time trying to teach my teenage athletes that “how much” is much less important than “how”. The analogy I use with them that seems to resonate is to think about how long their parents have been running (or spinning or whatever exercise they do) and how much has that changed over the years. Most of the time they are well aware their parents run about the same speed and weigh about the same that they did a few years ago. In order to improve, we have to constantly challenge ourselves to do things differently. Just like anything, we can chase change too much, but changing with a purpose has a direct impact on performance. Love your work, it has challenged me to be a better coach and I know I have improved because of it.

    Thanks,

    Tyson

  2. Scott says:

    Unrelated to the exact point of your post, but still important to the process is the parents you choose. Genetics seem to play a significant role in development. The Science of Sport did an absolutely fascinating post on the variation of talent development versus the 10,000 hour rule (http://www.sportsscientists.com/2011/08/talent-training-and-performance-secrets.html). When I am coaching, I say that by focusing our efforts, we can become the best athlete we are capable of being, and no one knows where that envelop is.

  3. gosobooks says:

    Hi Dan,
    I was just thinking it’ll be nice if u could provide ur blogs in ways that they can be read on tablets like touchpad and ipad. Also, on mobile phones on the go and as pdf downloads as well. Thanks.

  4. djcoyle says:

    Thanks — tech-genius that I am (not), I didn’t realize that we needed to provide different formats. Lemme check it out…

  5. Dale says:

    Your next post goes nicely with this one, because, at least for me, practicing at the point of failure is something I find myself fearing to do. Be brave enough to fail.

  6. Kevin says:

    Scott,
    I read this article and quite frankly, I found just as many problems in his argument as he created. He completely avoids the motivational aspect (ignition) of the people studied, maybe none of them actually wanted to be elite?? Furthermore, he doesn’t consider what deliberate practice is and seems to just take quantity of practice over quality. He looks for loopholes in Ericsson’s work, tries to form a counter-argument, but fails to adequately convince in my humble opinion.
    I briefly tried to find the post that follows on genes but couldn’t. Do you have a link to it? I’d like to see what he says…
    I like your idea of focusing your efforts, becoming the best you are capable of becoming…My quote is, “Its not about doing your best, It’s about finding out how good your best can be!”

  7. Bob Fisher says:

    Kevin,
    Your quote is outstanding. I love it. Is it original?

  8. Ravindra says:

    I agree the point made, but rule actually expects you to be driven and not think about how many hours you have put in. the rule is nothing but a trend seen in lives of many successful people.

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