Day #817:The 10,000 Hour rule and How to Become Good at Anything

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Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success is one of the best books written in the last decade. No doubt. If you haven’t read the book ,I will suggest right after you finish reading this newsletter/article, you should find it and read it. Not because it’s required reading by your professor, but because to understand what it takes to have an extra ordinary life,it’s important to understand some theories you may have about success and how this book debunks them. More so, telling people you have read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and discussing the 10,000 hour rule makes you look smart. Try it. one of the principles this book focuses on will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a master in your chosen field. This theory is the 10,000 hour rule.

Although Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000 hour rule, this was first discovered by Anders K. Ericsson. Ericsson (born 1947) is a Swedish psychologist and Conradi Eminent Scholar and Professor of Psychology at Florida State University who is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading theoretical and experimental researchers on expertise.

Ericsson discovered that in the studies of elite composers, athletes, violists, Chess grand masters, and other disciplines requiring mastery of complicated processes, it took and average of 10,000 hours for those individuals to achieve that level of mastery. This basically says if you want to achieve mastery in any field of human endeavor, you need to put in an average of 10,000 hours.

Now this sounds like a lot of hours to dedicate to something. And some of you are thinking, I don’t have 10,000 hours to put into my work. I want faster result. Yea you are right. But there are no short cuts if you truly want to be a master. If you want to be a ‘me too’, sure, we can discuss some lists.

Hard Work beats Talent
One of the myths this theory debunks is the idea that some people are naturally gifted to do some things while others are not.

This is not true. In one of the studies Gladwell cited about elite Voilin players done in Berlin, researchers asked subjects this question:“Over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?”

All of the violinists had begun playing at roughly five years of age with similar practice times. However, at age eight, practice times began to diverge. By age twenty, the elite performers averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able performers had only 4,000 hours of practice.

The elite had more than double the practice hours of the less capable performers.

Natural Talent: Not Needed
One fascinating point of the study: No “naturally gifted” performers emerged. If natural talent had played a role, we would expect some of the “naturals” to float to the top of the elite level with fewer practice hours than everyone else. But the data showed otherwise. The psychologists found a direct statistical relationship between hours of practice and achievement. No shortcuts. No naturals.
In a similar story about Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and richest man in the world, contrary to what we now believe about Bill Gates and Paul Allen just dropping out of college to start Microsoft in 1975, the study reveal this is not the entire story.Further study reveals that Gates and Allen had thousands of hours of programming practice prior to founding Microsoft. First, the two co-founders met at Lakeside, an elite private school in the Seattle area. The school raised three thousand dollars to purchase a computer terminal for the school’s computer club in 1968.

A computer terminal at a university was rare in 1968. Gates had access to a terminal in eighth grade. Gates and Allen quickly became addicted to programming.

The Gates family lived near the University of Washington. As a teenager, Gates fed his programming addiction by sneaking out of his parents’ home after bedtime to use the University’s computer. Gates and Allen acquired their 10,000 hours through this and other clever teenage schemes. When the time came to launch Microsoft in 1975, the two were ready.

Gates and Allen had opportunity. They had access to computers in 1968 something most kids in some countries still don’t have access to today.
So what is the most important thing you should take away from all these stories of how top performers become exceptional at what  they do?1.Fall in Love with Getting Better
The elite don’t just work harder than everybody else. At some point the elites fall in love with practice to the point where they want to do little else.

The elite software developer is the programmer who spends all day pounding code at work, and after leaving work she writes open source software on her own time.

The elite football player is the guy who spends all day on the practice field with his teammates, and after practice he goes home to watch game films.

The elite physician listens to medical podcasts in the car during a long commute.

The elites are in love with what they do, and at some point it no longer feels like work.
If you don’t love what you are doing? You will not want to dedicate 10,000 hours to get better at it.

2.Find What You Love That Would make 10000 Hours insignificant
Most people I have spoken to about learning something new or becoming good at something will tell you,’ I don’t have the talent for that’ or ‘ I am just not good at that’. Yes it’s possible there are somethings you will not be good at. But there are somethings you are really good at. Some things you are better than the average person at? What are those things?

To become even better at those things, you need to identify them and focus on becoming exceptional at them.

Final note:
This article is publish in my weekly newsletter to a group of friends. If you would like to be added to this list, please send me an email to with subject ‘Add me to @DesignYourLife newsletter’

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