10,000 Hours to Mastery

Quote of the Week

“Gather in your resources, rally all your faculties, marshal all your energies, focus all your capacities upon mastery of at least one field of endeavor.”

John Haggai

10,000 Hours to Mastery

by Michael Neill

In Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating new book Outliers, he quotes research by Dr. Daniel Levitin into the amount of practice it takes to achieve world-class expert status in whatever field you happen to be involved in.

In Levitin’s own words:

. . . ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is the equivalent to roughly three hours per day, or twenty hours per week, of practice over ten years. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people don’t seem to get anywhere when they practice, and why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.

In researching this further online, I came across this fantastic blog entry by David Seah:

What to Do? Just Do!

Starting first with that 10,000 hours of practice: I’d had a similar thought about leveling-up abilities based on a magnitude-of-10 hour scale:

  • at 1 hour . . . you know some basics
  • at 10 hours . . . you have a pretty good grasp of the basics
  • at 100 hours . . . you are fairly expert
  • at 1000 hours . . . you are an experienced expert
  • at 10000 hours . . . you are a master

I originally got this idea when reading about pilots, who seem to always mention how many hours of flight time they’ve logged. Hours of experience are a good metric, and I’ve noticed that this pattern seems to recur (up to 100 hours, anyway) for me. It’s not always exactly this many hours, but as an order-of-magnitude analysis it holds true.

While 10,000 hours over 10 years is a daunting proposition, consider this:

  • 1000 hours is pretty doable. That’s a little less than a year of full-time work.
  • 100 hours is even more achievable…you could do that over a few months on the side, or just slam through it in a very intense couple of weeks.
  • Even spending 10 hours practicing something is going to make you significantly better at it. If you spent 10 hours practicing one song, or learning how to juggle, or learning how to bowl strikes…you’re going to learn something.
  • One hour? That’s worthwhile, too. You could spend an hour writing your signature over and over again to make it cooler. I’ve done that at least a couple of times in my life.

While breaking down the 10,000 hours to mastery in this way can certainly make it seem less daunting, another distinction I have found useful in this arena comes from motivator Anthony Robbins, who recounts his experience of booking himself out as a speaker 3 times a day to anyone who would listen. As Robbins says in the book Awaken the Giant Within.

While others in my organization had 48 speaking engagements a year, I would have a similar number within two weeks. Within a month, I’d have two years of experience. And within a year, I’d have a decade’s worth of growth. My associates talked about how “lucky” I was to have been born with such an “innate” talent. I tried to tell them what I’m telling you now: mastery takes as long as you want it to take.

When someone tells me “I can’t draw well”, or “I’m no good at sports”, or “I’m not a natural writer”, I invariably ask them “how many hours have you spent practicing?” It is very rare indeed that the answer is anywhere near 100 hours, let alone 10,000. The implication is that their apparent lack of skill is usually less a function of a lack of anything on the inside than it is a reflection of a lack of time and effort spent on the outside.

For me, the point of all this is not to give up on something you’d love to do because you’re apparently not very good at it. Almost any worthy goal will succumb to an investment of time – and time is the one commodity that we all have in equal abundance!

Today’s Experiment:

  1. Think of a complex skill you have mastered in the course of your lifetime. Example: Playing skills (chess, a musical instrument, or a sport); Work related skills (coaching, teaching, brain surgery, etc.); Language skills (learning French, Russian, HTML, etc.)
  2. Make a “best guess” as to how many hours you put in between your initial interest in the skill and your relative mastery of it. Over what period of time did you put in those hours? Example: 250 hours over 1 year, 100 hours over 8 years, 1000 hours in 3 months, etc.
  3. Now, choose a skill or project that you are currently working on, and make a “best guess” as to how many hours you have put in to it so far, and how many more hours you will need to put in to get where you want to go. Example: I’ve put in 60 hours so far; I probably need to spend at least that much time again to get to the level I want to reach.
  4. By when would you like to have completed your project or mastered your skill?

A simple calculation will tell you how many hours you need to put in each day, week, month, or year to get where you want to go in the time frame you want to get there.

Have fun, learn heaps, and remember – when you love what you are doing, putting in the hours is a privilege, not a punishment!

Copyright (c) 2009 Michael Neill, author of ‘You Can Have What Your Want’. All rights reserved – read more tips at http://www.geniuscatalyst.com.

Coaching Call to Action

Do Michael’s experiment. If you would like me to “hold” your commitment for you and send you a check in e-mail on a regular basis, respond to this Coaching Tip with: 1) your commitment, 2) the desired frequency of checking in and 3) the date you will have completed your skill.