The 10,000 Hour Rule

I promised a counterpoint to yesterday’s post “Work On Your Weak Areas First“.
Most of us have something we’re really good at and it’s tempting to keep working on that one area of goodness, rather than working on our weak areas and bringing ourselves into a composite balance of goodness. If you’re in fairly decent shape, wearing fairly decent clothes, with a fairly decent job, in a fairly decent house, and you have fairly decent personal interactions with your wife, that whole package adds up to pretty damn good.
However…
If you have something that you can do, that is truly exceptional, you can go in the opposite direction and seek to completely excel in that one thing. The intent and hope being that your excellence in that one area is so profound, that it effectively covers all your other weak areas.
This is in fact what most boys imagine themselves doing “when they grow up”. We all want to be professional baseball players, astronauts, rock stars and in my case, the reincarnation of Sir Edmund Hillary conquering Mt. Everest et al. (Which is awkward in that he was still alive when I was little.)
The catch is you really have to excel at something, there isn’t usually any benefit to being “almost excellent” at something. As an example, getting on your college football team is nice, but you have to make the NFL for the real payoff. Dropping out of med school a year before becoming a doctor is called failing, not “almost succeeding”.
The other half of the catch is you have to practice like crazy. As in you should mentally allocate around 10,000 hours of practice to turn your natural gifts, into practical honed skill that breaks you into the big leagues of whatever it is that you do so well. Or put another way, plan for twenty hours of effort a week for ten years to hit the 10,000 hour mark.
The 10,000 hours comes from research done by Anders Ericsson in the early 1990s. He and his team divided students into three groups ranked by excellence at the Berlin Academy of Music and then correlated achievement with hours of practice. They discovered that the elite all had put in about 10,000 hours of practice, the good 8,000 and the average 4,000 hours. Then after applying it to excellence in other disciplines, the 10,000 hour mark proved to be the key to unlocking the very top tiers of skill.
The hope being once you are at that top tier of skill, you have enough status and make enough money that all your problems with women are reduced to plucking one (or lots) out of your legion of admiring fans and having her meet all your… whims.
The payoff can be huge, but it is a very risky strategy. There’s always a cohort of other guys trying just as hard as you to be “the guy”, and it can only take a bit of bad luck and a nasty injury and there’s no hope for a professional career anymore.
So for 99%+ of us, we’re regular guys and the composite plan is a better option than trying to break into being an awesome stand-up comedian for too many years. In part it sounds like I’m telling you to shelve your dreams and just head back to the grind at the office, and there is an element of truth to that. But if you enjoy an activity, there’s no reason you can’t keep doing it for as long as you like and enjoy it. Don’t stop enjoying playing a round of golf simply because you can’t quite make the pro-tour cut. Don’t stop painting because the galleries aren’t calling for your art.
Don’t stop doing the fun stuff.

Comments

  1. Just wanted to throw out that for those of us taking the composite approach, I think it's important to keep trying new things. 'Fairly decent' or 'good enough' pretty quickly turns into boring and complacent.

  2. Good post Athol. For anyone who wants to read more on the 10,000 hrs = excellence theory, I would recommend Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

  3. Ian Ironwood says:

    Outstanding post. This is the reason I return here every morning: Athol turns to real research and careful observation instead of falling back on dogma and idealism. This is an utterly pragmatic and beautifully useful piece of advice that can be of use even if you aren't currently pursuing this strategy. It can be applied to a lot of different things, too. For example, if you've spent more than 10,000 hours being an asshole, then you can consider yourself an Expert Asshole — good to know.

    A corollary to this tactic is what NPR commentator Noah Adams did for his wife for one of their anniversaries. The story goes (and it's been a few years since I read it) that he wanted to give his wife a unique surprise for their anniversary, and so for a year before the big day he secretly took piano lessons. He never practiced around her, but he kept at it at work and in his off time until he could play one particular piece he had chosen quite adeptly. He hadn't had any training or even expressed an interest in the piano in years — it was just always something he wanted to do.

    So the big night arrives, and after a toast to their anniversary he casually walks over to the piano at the restaurant and — out of nowhere — begins playing this amazing, romantic, beautiful melody. It wasn't perfect, and outside of that one song his skill was limited, but for that one magical moment he looked like a concert pianist to his utterly shocked wife.

    This is how you effectively turn a Beta Skill, like playing the piano, into an Alpha DHV. Learning the piano is hard, and learning to play it well is much harder. By suddenly revealing this heretofore unknown skill to his woman, his adjusted sex rank shot up with this move. More importantly, he got to indulge in something he always wanted to do without seeking her permission or her input . . . and the result was spectacular.

    Getting A-list good at anything is difficult, and requires the 10,000 or more hours before you get there. But even once you are there you still have to stay there in your wife's eyes. You could be the best in your profession when she met you, but after a few years she's likely to see you as just some guy who's good at his job, regardless of what it is, unless you can provoke her interest again with excellence — or at least competence — in another area.

    My wife knows I can write, so the days when she would be impressed with an original sonnet are over. My skills as an artist are much, much poorer — but last year I surprised her with a huge fake-stained-glass mural on a window in our bedroom, and it wowed her big. Being a versatile and highly adaptable mate with a strong aesthetic sense demonstrates high value to her, even if the result seemed (to me) more kid-with-a-crayon than Real Art.

    But finding your talent and your passion and pursuing a long-term goal that requires practice, dedication, and devotion to master? Whether it's baseball, art, or figure skating, that's a pure Alpha move.

  4. The thing about almost but not quite getting there being termed a failure is an unfair characterization of the effort made due to the passion involved. After all, we're told to be passionate about something, hopefully that something is a DHV even if we're not successful.

    About almost getting there, I knew a guy who was a good enough golfer to try out for the professional tour. After years of trying and failing to make it through qualifying school, he gave it up. Told me afterwards that he might have been the hottest player in school, but when he got to the pro circuit, everyone else was as good as he was so the competition at that level was extremely intense. Further, his perception was that the difference between the top golfers and those struggling to get in was 85% mental (overcoming the intensity of the competition) and only 15% physical.

    So for those trying to get into the top tier of something, that tells me that mental preparation is just as important as the requisite 10,000 hours. And there may be something alpha to be had in that mental preparation… just speculating.

  5. Athol, I'm a long time lurker, first time poster. Anyways, I wanted to give a link to a good counter argument to the 10,000 hours. 10,000 hours is approximately five years of full time practice (40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year), but talent is real. Happy reading: http://www.sportsscientists.com/2011/11/sports-science-2011-talent-vs-training.html

  6. "Don't stop doing the fun stuff."

    This! :)

  7. I wanted to back up Ian's statement about WOW becoming Old Hat.

    I was a computer tech. I was GOOD at it. My wife and my female boss became very complacent about me performing technical miricles. "That's nice" was the best response I'd get for performing nigh-unto-impossible task.

    I went back to school and became a teacher. My wife saw public school teacher as a display of low value. It was right next to hairdresser on her list of manly occupations.

    After 3 years in the business, I started winning awards, bonuses and recognition. It was a big deal for about 6 months. Now we're back to complacency. I don't expect any more reactions until I start winning awards at the next level up.

    The same applies to the martial art that I'm in. I am very good and hold the highest rank in the sport. I like to enter tournaments. My wife usually wanders off with friends during the first part of the tournament. "What's the fun of seeing you swat noobs?" She gets lunch and comes back after an hour or two. By this time we are just shy of the semi-finals. More often than not I am eliminated in the semifinals or the round before it. So my wife usually shows up just in time to see me lose. In her estimation, I am a failure. She watches 1-2 fights each tournament and I lose half or more of them. I started going without her. I come home and tell her that I went 6-1 or 7-1 in the tournament and it sounds much better and she is happier.

    As a counterpoint to all of this, I did a quick network upgrade last weekend (after 4 years out of the IT business) and youd've thought that I hung the moon AND the stars.

  8. POW – I agree with that link. I did say you should be "truly exceptional" at your chosen thing and then do the 10,000 hour thing. Natural talent + training. No shortcuts.

    The adaption thing women do to us is why we have to keep changing things around on them and no just working on the same area all the time.

  9. I chuckle at this post and comments. I'm top-rated in my profession – and a top-flight competitor in my chosen sport (as in five top-10 performances at World Championships).

    Damn it, where are my legions of female admirers? :-)

  10. Mike M – what sport?

  11. Shooting. Muzzle-Loading firearms. Not a big money or terribly photogenic sport, but I excel at it.

    I do karate as well, but not at a World Championship level.

  12. > Shooting. Muzzle-Loading firearms. Not a big money or terribly photogenic sport, but I excel at it.

    Sounds dopamine-inducing to me. Gotta get a way to do it in front of the right audience.
    Jason

  13. Time management is certainly an interesting and difficult problem for most people (both in the ideals and making it happen).

    p.s. thanks for the blog.


  14. The other half of the catch is you have to practice like crazy. As in you should mentally allocate around 10,000 hours of practice to turn your natural gifts, into practical honed skill that breaks you into the big leagues of whatever it is that you do so well. Or put another way, plan for twenty hours of effort a week for ten years to hit the 10,000 hour mark.

    The 10,000 hours comes from research done by Anders Ericsson in the early 1990s. He and his team divided students into three groups ranked by excellence at the Berlin Academy of Music and then correlated achievement with hours of practice. They discovered that the elite all had put in about 10,000 hours of practice, the good 8,000 and the average 4,000 hours. Then after applying it to excellence in other disciplines, the 10,000 hour mark proved to be the key to unlocking the very top tiers of skill.

    I can think of any number of reasons liars would say such a thing even if it were completely and totally false.

    If you can't thing of the benefits gained for the usual suspects in promoting such a lie, then you perhaps are lacking in imagination.

  15. Okay, Barnum, I guess I'm lacking in imagination. Who are the "usual suspects" you're referring to, who are promoting the "lie" that it takes practice to get really good at something?

    Is it Jews? Bankers? Jewish bankers?

  16. Mike M –

    I'm an undersexed nympho female, and I would be all over watching you shoot. There isn't much that gets me hotter than men with weapons. And it doesn't have to be killing something, just the act of holding/firing it is enough. It also (obviously) has a direct correlation to other kinds of shooting in the female brain. Whether she's conscious of that or not, she's thinking it!

  17. Ah, Kristen, but are you a reasonably attractive lady in the Greater National Capital area? :-)

  18. 446 your accomplishment are impressive and at the same time it's disappointing to read how WOW can go to old hat. Some of what I have read here and experienced in life suggest that too often people are not appreciative for what they have.

    Would it be wrong to find this frustrating and discouraging?

    Is this just more red pill's bitterness?

    In any event, I appreciate Athol's book and this blog. Often the readers that post here also provide great info and insight. Thanks to all of you.

  19. Anon – the "wow" becoming old hat is the adaption problem. The solution is to mix things up on her.

  20. The old hat phenomenon is true….to an extent.

    You do not have to be at the Pro NFL type level to benefit from being good at something.

    I am one of the best in my 200,000 person city in certain sport. I can compete at a regional level. But I don't make a lot of $$ doing my hobby. My wife doesn't care anymore who I beat or lose to.

    What she loves is that
    1. I have a passion.
    2. I practice my passion.
    3. I enjoy my passion.
    4. I am respected by others for my skills
    5. People who I do not know will watch me do my thing and oooh and aahh loud enough for her to overhear.

    Of course I am fairly balanced in other areas too. Decent job, decent physical health, pretty good leadership at home.

    The passion for my hobby is just another plus.

  21. I would say I'm a more than reasonably attractive female that resides in the Eastern Canada area. :-)

  22. Also, I'm in a long term relationship – hence being on this site and trying to get some insight on getting lots of sex.


  23. Okay, Barnum, I guess I'm lacking in imagination. Who are the "usual suspects" you're referring to, who are promoting the "lie" that it takes practice to get really good at something?

    Is it Jews? Bankers? Jewish bankers?

    My my. The "usual suspects" are oldsters, rich people, and women.

    Oldsters get to feel superior to the young'n, cause the young'n hasn't put in his 10,000 hours yet. So the fact that he does twice the work and doesn't to a routine that is 20 years out of date is of little importance. And yes, the new people are dumped on with aggression in the modern American workforce. Oldster needs a justification for this.

    Rich People can explain their novel pay method, the "PAY THE MINIMUM YOU CAN BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY" method, by lying and saying the young'n just is just an "apprentice" still, and needs to put in his 10,000 hours. He needs to WORK. The rich person will handle the pay.

    Women can put down that dumb male animal that things he knows better just cause he has spent a 1,000 hours of his free time learning something whereas, like, you know, she watched a show on Oprah about the topic. He hasn't put in his 10,000 hours yet.

    Loudmouth moron Conservative/Liberals in general can mock people who think they know better than the "big bosses" by claiming the lack of the 10,000 hours in practice.

    Read history. A monkey could do better than the "big bosses" or Harvard Educated Elite in many situations in which they most definitely wanted to succeed.

    10,000 hours of practice so totally not required. But they do want to think they "know better".

  24. I figured out the 10k hours thing myself before reading it in "Outliers".

    I've put in way more than that amount of time in my profession, and I can tell you it shows, as I can still get a job fairly easily even in this terrible job market.

    But my wife told me she was used to my skills in that area, so she isn't as impressed as she used to be, which is the adaptation response you are talking about.

    So obviously it's time to fire up one of my other skills that she hasn't seen recently…

  25. PT Barnum – I think you're missing the point a little here. It's generally applied to "performance skills" rather than mundane jobs. Something that people need to buy tickets to go see.

    It's meant to explain why a band like U2 is so flawless in concert.

Speak Your Mind

*