Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

The 10,000 Hour Rule

By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 14, 2013

This post first ran November 9, 2011. We’re revisiting it today as I approach another deadline and am reminded of those 10,000 hours.

I’m not sure whether Malcolm Gladwell was the first to identify this principle or was simply responsible for popularizing it. But his name is definitely associated with it.

The rule says that in order for an individual to master any complex skill, be it brain surgery or playing the cello, she must put in 10,000 hours of focused practice. Since a thousand hours seems to be more or less the maximum we humans can handle in one year, ten thousand hours equals ten years.

Of course there are exceptions. Tatum O’Neal won an Oscar at age nine. But, from my own observation, I’d say that ten-year figure is about right.

But what exactly are we learning when we’re beating our brains out all those years? What was Charles Bukowski learning while he was boozing and wenching and sorting mail at the P.O.? What was Henry Miller accomplishing in Brooklyn and Paris? Or Miyamoto Musashi dueling all those samurai swordsmen?

Skill, certainly. Patience, professionalism, many other things. But it was something much more subtle—and far more difficult. I almost hesitate to write about this, in that it borders on the mysterious and the sacred. I must silently (or not so silently) beseech the Muse’s permission.

What these masters were learning was to speak in their own voice. They were learning to act as themselves. In my opinion, this is the hardest thing in the world.

I understand why Zen masters give their students koans, i.e. unsolvable, logic-defying riddles. They are trying to crack open the young aspirants’ minds by making them hurl themselves over and over into a brick wall of futility until they finally and inevitably give up … and inexplicably succeed.

To speak in one’s own voice means to let go of all the other voices in our heads. Whose voices? The voices of what is expected of us. Yes, that means the voices of our parents, teachers, mentors. But it means something more elusive too. It means our own expectations of what we should be doing or ought to be thinking—what is “normal” or “right” or “the way it ought to be.”

“If you meet the Buddha on the road,” says the master, “kill him.”

In terms of the aspiring writer, we sit down and try to write the way we think writers write. If we’re painting, we paint like painters paint—or dance like dancers dance. What this means of course is that we’re writing like somebody else writes and painting like somebody else paints and dancing like somebody else dances.

The agony of an artistic apprenticeship comes from our inability to bust out of this self-imposed prison. People tell us to “break the rules” or “think outside the box.” But how the hell do you do that when you’re trying to? You can’t. It’s a koan. It’s impossible.

How does the actor get past his own excruciating self-consciousness? How does the entrepreneur come up with an idea that’s really new? The answer is they both beat their heads against the wall over and over and over until finally, from pure exhaustion, they can’t “try” any more and they just “do.” The writer says fuck it and writes a sentence in a way he would never imagine himself writing a sentence, and to his amazement that sentence is the first real sentence he’s ever written.

The price of achieving that breakthrough is time. Time and effort. Ten thousand hours if you’re lucky, more if you’re not. The gods are watching for those ten thousand hours, like instructors at Navy SEALs training. They can tell when we’re faking and they can tell when we’re for real. They can pick out those of us who really want it from those who are only pretending.

The worst part is there’s no guarantee. Put in your 10,000 hours in medical school and they hand you a scroll of parchment and call you a doctor. But try to make a movie, or write a symphony or paint a picture.

In the end those ten thousand hours must be their own reward—which is the way it ought to be, don’t you think?

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

71 Responses to “The 10,000 Hour Rule”

  1. November 9, 2011 at 4:56 am

    Very nicely stated. The 10,000-hour rule has rapidly become so over-mentioned that it’s in danger of becoming a cliche, and/but you’ve done a nice job here of bringing out what its central principle really means/involves/entails for writers and other artists. The whole thing always reminds me of what Ray Bradbury said in “Zen in the Art of Writing”: “Have you trained yourself so that you can say what you want to say without getting hamstrung?…We are working not for work’s sake, producing not for production’s sake. What we are trying to do is to find a way to release the truth that lies in all of us.”

  2. Carla Smith
    November 9, 2011 at 5:45 am

    When I was a teenager I remember people telling me to “just be myself.” Even then that confounded me. I didn’t even know where to start. I think that ‘becoming’ is a life long endeavour and even when it looks like we finally know something for sure, it is merely the beginning of a very long journey. I keep trying to remind myself that the gift is in the opportunity to authentically try, and that there is no finish line. I think the very real challenge is to do as you depict so beautifully in “The War of Art” – to attempt to shed peripherals and access one’s essential truths, cloak them in haunting real life images with layered dialogue that both reveals and shields, and somehow allow these characters to grow, to ‘become’ on screen and in print, on the precise journey we are struggling with ourselves. Easy.

  3. Tina
    November 9, 2011 at 6:03 am

    Never heard of the 10,000 hour rule! Always learning something from this site — the best part is it gets you thinking!

    With the ballet training I have had there is a point where you are working so hard and you feel you are getting nowhere and actually you feel you are getting worse and then it happens, you cross over and you are improved — your technique has new strength and ease. Actually, for me, I could hear and feel the music better — then I was able to put some feeling and artistry into it…no mechanical steps but actual dancing! Of course, in ballet you have to always practice or it goes away.

    • june
      November 22, 2011 at 5:11 am

      Tina: Thanks for this comment. It expressed something i’ve felt from time to time with my writing–that feeling that you’re not making any progress or even getting worse. It helped me to be more hopeful that maybe somethng good lies ahead if I keep on going…

  4. Jay Lee
    November 9, 2011 at 6:15 am

    The 10,000 hour rule came from studies in motor learning looking at mastery. (It actually may be based on the time required to learn to roll a specific cigar shape by hand! Bless them.) The mathematical rule of thumb is 1.5 times overlearning after mastery. For example, if I need 100 repetions to learn how to free throw correctly, I need another 150 reps after that to “master” it. As a Marine and law enforcement professional and trainer this rule held up pretty well when designing training programs and fighting for time and resources.

    • Tina
      November 9, 2011 at 8:16 pm

      Jay Lee,

      Thank you for the insight on the “10,000 Hour Rule” It seems like you pass a point where it becomes “second nature.” Never thought of it in terms of hours.

  5. Scott
    November 9, 2011 at 6:35 am

    Exactly what I am going through. Exactly.

    • Steven Pressfield
      November 10, 2011 at 10:49 am

      Scott, those are two pretty good sentences. I like ’em.

  6. November 9, 2011 at 7:06 am

    I remember reading the 10,000-hour rule years ago in Creative Minds, a book by Howard Gardner. He said that the first breakthroughs in an art happen after ten years of solid practice, and then the masterpieces come after another ten years.

  7. Shyam
    November 9, 2011 at 8:04 am

    A very insightful article indeed.

    While reading the Steve Jobs biography I have somewhat felt the same about him. Initially he was following many folks in his spiritual and business persuits but later he carved a nitche for himself.

  8. Sonja
    November 9, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Great stuff.

    I know about the 10,000 hours rule, and sometimes it’s downright terrifying…I’m glad that banging my head against the wall counts towards my 10,000 hrs.

    The irony: the work should be its own reward, but is it too grandiose to think we’d like it to be successful…and (gasp!) even make a living at it? :)

  9. November 9, 2011 at 9:53 am

    Mastery feels like a dying commodity Steve. We’ve built a society of immediate gratification and false fulfillment. We eat fast foods and are left hungry, we fcuk fast broads and are left lonely. Who really has the time (or inclination) to write everyday for ten years? I want a best seller now…

    The fact is that anybody that’s counting down the hours will never be a master of their craft. They aren’t obsessive enough. Their work doesn’t haunt them. They are not afflicted.

    Gladwell’s number is interesting, but only for academic discussion. Anybody that needs his number as an excuse to set down and get busy simply isn’t cut out for the game he’s trying to play. Like you said, the Muses can tell.

    • beth
      August 14, 2013 at 6:33 am

      I count the hours Brandon. I learned of the 10,000 concept early in my apprenticeship and I use it for all it’s worth. During the painful work sessions where it feels I’m going nowhere, I tell myself “you’ve got 2,200 hours, of course you’re not yet a master, but you’re well on the road.” I believe that I will improve with each thousand hours and it helps keep me going when otherwise I might collapse in despair. When I stand before my work, almost paralyzed with anxiety, I tell myself “1 more hour, put in an hour” and I do, then another and another and I’m moving again. No one who knows me would say I’m not haunted!

  10. Carla Smith
    November 9, 2011 at 10:47 am

    I love the way you put it Brandon. Particularly the line, “Their work doesn’t haunt them.” To submit to being haunted, to become more familiar with how to ‘go in deep’ than subsisting on the surface. The reconciliation of those two lives and spaces is both exhilirating and excruciating, not unlike the bends experienced by divers.

  11. Trish
    November 9, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Yet more serendipity! Thank you, Mr. Pressfield for this. It’s something I’ve been trying to deal with for a while, just lately crescendoing into greater importance.

    Several years ago, I tracked down (what I believe is) the original article for this 10,000 hour concept. It’s “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” by K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer, and was published in 1993 in the Psychological Review. [Vol. 100. No. 3, 363-406, if you’re as anal as I am.]

    One thing that is often lost in the “telephone” version of both this study and of Gladwell’s book is the rest of the concept. It isn’t just putting in 10,000 hours of routine work, it’s putting in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. In other words, those hours have to be spent actively working at getting better.

    “Time and effort,” to quote Mr. Pressfield.

    For me, the hardest part is sorting through all the accretions of “others” in my head. Is any given attitude or belief truly me, or is it one of those notions that slipped in sideways in my childhood and took root in my brain as a child’s interpretation that now influences the adult?

    I love studying about the new brain research and how we become who and what we are, almost – but not quite – more than I love researching (at the moment) corrupt 18th century politicians. (And, yes, I’m pretty darn sure that last is not anything I absorbed, sideways or not, from anywhere else.)

    The zen koan reference reminds me of the Growth Mindset (as delineated by Dr. Carol Dweck), whereas a Fixed Mindset would quit the trials long before we might “inexplicably succeed” (again, to quote Mr. Pressfield).

    It’s the idea that the trials and the explorations themselves are what propel us forward that’s hard to implement for many of us, but so vital that we do.

    Any suggestions as to how to sort through the morass to discover our own “true”?

    Brandon,

    My take is that while there have always been the wannabes, the ones who want the caché of being an artist (or anything perceived as ‘special’) without doing the actual work, there are others who for reasons complex and often hidden have more difficulty moving forward, yet their aspirations are true.

    It is to those last that I see this article being particularly helpful. (Myself among them.)

    So, again, my thanks to Mr. Pressfield.

  12. November 9, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    In Do the Work, you mention that if you’re a professional writer, you write because you have to. I am, by my rough estimate 3,000 to 4,000 hours into my apprenticeship. But I’m not exactly counting to 10,000. I’m just writing because I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do with my time on this earth.

  13. November 9, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    I wrote myself a note the other night:

    “Success is not somewhere you go.
    It’s something you do.”

    Every day you kill the dragon of Resistance, you succeeded. If you kill it for 10,000 hours, you succeeded, whether it resulted in a work of art visible to others, or simply the one you created by killing that beast over and over and over again.

    The value is in the craft, not the thing crafted.

  14. November 9, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I am not a writer (well, actually, I am paid to write, but it’s technical IT stuff, and is a nice little earner and certainly not a passion!). However, I am currently studying kinesiology. I have found that it seems to take years for people to really ‘get’ kinesiology. There are very, very few kinesiologists whose work I have been really impressed by, but those who have impressed me have blown me away. I had a sense the other day that it was going to take me about 27 years to get really good at it and I just did a quick calculation to see that that was a little over an hour a day for the next 27 years. While I appreciate what Brandon says about how you will never succeed if you aren’t “haunted” I think that it’s easy to lack discipline and focus in a study and then find, too late, that you’ve run out of time. This has been a really helpful article for me to read as it’s made me appreciate that, unless I make sure I am doing an hour a day, I am unlikely to live to the age when I master this skill!

  15. November 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    You have to do the work, but there is no guarantees of the outcome. You have to do the work therefore, for the sheer joy of doing the work.

  16. November 9, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Emanuel Lasker, in his Manual of Chess, claimed that 120 hours of guided instruction sufficed to “educate one ignorant of ches to the level of one who, conceded any odds, would surely come out the winner.” If there is a law of diminishing return – more effort for each step higher – then perhaps the “formula” for competency is 100 hours (to keep the numbers even), for journeyman 1000 hours and mastery 10,000. (Is “craftsman” a better term than “journeyman”? Meaning one who produces an acceptable product.)
    I teach English 101 (throw out those stereotypes and put down those weapons). The first half of the semester the students bang their heads against the wall and get angry with me because I won’t let them follow formula. (Have you ever tasted that stuff? YUck.) In one place I teach students must take an “exit exam” – an in-class essay graded by a panel. They’re given a prompt. (Ex.: Should student loans be forgiven?) I told them if their first sentence is the prompt as an assertion (Student loans should/should not be forgiven) they’ve already lost their voice. Orwell talked about this in “Politics and the English Language.”
    The voice empowers. It’s worth 10,000 hours – or more – to find it.

  17. November 10, 2011 at 4:43 am

    I loved Outliers, but part of me felt a little hopeless, too. His point didn’t seem to be, “Hey, if you want to do this, you have to put in 10,000 hours of work!” It was that these successful people were all in very unique situations that enabled them to log that many hours. Most of us are not in similar situations. All this to say, as others have said, focusing on the number 10,000 is not where it’s at. Putting in the work is where it’s at. The voice will come.

  18. Chuck
    November 10, 2011 at 5:07 am

    Man, oh, man…everyone wants to fit complex, hard won wisdom in a nice little catchphrase. “10,000 hours” equals whatever it took that professional to go pro. if a pilot has 5000 hours of flight time, he has expended 5 times that much, planning, studying, thinking and rethinking those missions…Hard won wisdom cannot be understood by those who have not gone down the path. Semper Fi!

  19. November 10, 2011 at 5:36 am

    I like the concept of the 10,000 hour rule, but I don’t like the idea of putting in the work.

    But as an aspiring writer it makes sense. What’s the old saying “to become a success overnight all you need is 10 years of hard work”, or something like that.

    I first heard author Po Bronson (author of What Should I do with my life), talk about the concept, he held somewhere between 17 – 20 different jobs before he became a writer (none related to writing).

    I don’t believe achieving mastery is easy, and I know I’m going to have to put in the work.

    Read the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, it goes more into depth about the 10,000 hour rule.

  20. November 10, 2011 at 6:20 am

    My field is futures trading, Steve, and it took every bit of ten thousand hours to get to the point where I was doing the right thing. My mentor would say, “You have to see it.” There has been no short cut for me to get to where I can see it. A great trader was asked how he came to choose trading. He answered, “I don’t think you choose trading. Trading chooses you.” Must be the same for writing. Thanks for a great post.

  21. November 10, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Steven

    The 10,000 Hour Rule was codified by a guy called Anders Ericsson. He conducted a study in the early 90s – which you can see written up in a report called THE ROLE OF DELIBERATE PRACTICE IN THE ACQUISITION OF EXPERT PERFORMANCE, google it, you’ll find it.

    If you want the Cliff Notes version, then read TALENT IS OVERRATED by Geoff Colvin.

    The intersting thing about Gladwell using it in Outliers, is that he only really alluded to half of Ericsson’s research. It’s not JUST 10,000 Hours of practice – it’s 10,000 Hours of a very specific kind of practice.

    That kind of practice is called Deliberate Practice.

    To me what’s most interesting is that you can use the elements that need to be there to qualify your practice as Deliberate Practice to structure teaching and learning to any level and in any discipline.

    HTH.

    Paul

    • Steven Pressfield
      November 10, 2011 at 11:11 am

      Thanks, Paul — and thanks, Jay, Jonathan and Trish. Isn’t it amazing how many totally credible sources there can be for one great idea? (Now that I think of it, I think I heard about the 10,000 hour rule in Geoff Colvin’s book.)

      My one final thought is of that great scene in “The Seven Samurai,” where the two original samurai are holding tryouts in the rainy hotel/inn/whatever where they were staying and they had the young apprentice samurai take up a position just inside the front door (but hidden from anyone entering from the street) with a big stick raised over his head and orders to clobber the next applicant who walked through the door. First comes Toshiru Mifune (the make-believe “tough guy” samurai) and he gets nailed full-on on the noggin. In other words, he lacked (at that point in the story) the right stuff that a true samurai should have. Then came the next applicant. He stepped up to the door, stopped just before entering, looked in at the two original samurai (who were observing him with keen attention) — and laughed. Immediately both original samurai laughed too; the senior slapped his own thigh in approval and stood with a big grin to welcome the new samurai as a member of the team.

      In other words, the skill that the new samurai possessed was an intangible gut-feeling for danger. He sensed the ambush. And he also possessed a powerful sense of himself, his own knowledge and his own humor. I wish I could know what he had done for his 10,000 hours to acquire that indispensable genius.

      • Sonja
        November 11, 2011 at 7:51 am

        Oh, I’ll have to check out that movie. Thanks. : )

  22. Mike
    November 10, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    “Thou-shalt,” is the great dragon called. But the spirit of the lion saith, “I will.”

    -Friedrich Nietzsche

  23. November 10, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    A 10,000 hour dance with the Muse? I have the endurance? It will an adventure.

  24. John Zott
    November 11, 2011 at 6:54 am

    Anders Ericsson did much of this research that Gladwell references. The original research has more insights and information about developing expertise. Worth a look.

    http://www.psy.fsu.edu/faculty/ericsson.dp.html

  25. November 11, 2011 at 8:36 am

    I began to be haunted by sewing at age 9. I have more than met my requirement of technical mastery. The trick now is to defeat the resistance to reach Artistic mastery, quite a different beast.Thank you for War of Art. It is my favorite new weapon.

  26. Randy Stuart
    November 11, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Great post Steve! One of my college painting teachers in the early 90’s was fond of saying “The first one to 1,000 paintings, wins.” So at 10 hours each, you get your 10,000 hours. On any given day I could ask him and he could tell what number he had recently completed.

    But, the real secret I think is that the 10,000 hours allows enough time to pass for your mind to mature and really sift through what truly matters to you and you alone. At 43, I don’t give a crap about so many ridiculously nonessential things that seemed so damned important in my twenties and thirties. That is such a gift.

  27. Denise
    November 11, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Yes.

  28. November 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Syd Barret comes to mind. As any of his fervent disciples will tell you, he was a genius, but did he really grind it out in his bedroom for 10,000 hours?

    Did Rimbaud? No he didn’t. Unless he started writing extensively at the age of 5.

    http://blog.henrymiller.org/2011/11/sunday-9-am-cali-time-noon-eastern-your-last-chance-to-hear-the-fleet-foxes-hml-on-xm-satellite-radio/

  29. Todge
    November 12, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    We don’t always see the 10,000 hours that others have accumulated. We see the result. There is an interesting exhibition of Picasso’s work currently doing the rounds. I saw it in Seattle. It’s the Musee de Paris exhibit and it’s all about process and experimentation. Apart from the hours, it’s letting go of trying to control the work and the outcome. Picasso says somewhere – ” I start doing something and it turns into something else.” He let his voice emerge. I wonder if part of the problem is that we have a predetermined idea of what should be and when it is something else, rather than celebrate it as the unfurling of our own petals or voice, we shut it down because it was not as we thought it should be which augments the resistance that is already there. As soon as we relinquish control, then art happens. How can it be a creative act if we already know the outcome? This never occurs to us as we torture ourselves. It delays putting in the necessary hours.

  30. November 13, 2011 at 5:08 am

    Thank you for this article.

    After reading the book “Talent is Overrated” I decided to “pay” myself in hours. If I remember correctly, that particular book uses 12,000 hours. So I keep a time sheet and when the art feels more like labor I just remind myself that in ONLY 11,000 more hours I’ll be through it and on to creating. I’ve also set up mile markers along the way.

    Here, at just over 1,000 hours, many would describe my art as competent. By 4,000 I should be getting pretty decent. Hopefully by 5,000 hours I will be able to begin to earn a living.

    These little mind games somehow help when I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. I can look at my time sheet and reassure myself that if I keep applying focused effort, I will eventually meet my goals.

  31. November 13, 2011 at 9:00 am

    I’ve struggled with “Turning Pro / Being Pro” the past 3.5 years. It’s been a challenge to not taint my Work by not putting pressure on myself, my business, my written or spoken message. Trying to both be real and make money. I respect that this is a long-term goal now, a 10,000 hour goal. But now I’m looking at going back to a Day Job as an engineer for purely financial reasons. I fear my Work will be relegated to the back seat. It could then take 20 or 30 years to reach 10,000 hrs. I’ve tempered my blind optimism with realism, but it’s a tough pill to swallow and feels like compromise. Any advice from a fellow Warrior whose been there? I’m not looking for a pep-talk from someone whose sittin’ pretty. I need it from a comrade in the trenches.

  32. MBMc
    November 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    Amen.

  33. November 14, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    The problem with adding “rules” to creativity is that creativity almost always suffers as a result. And unfortunately I only figured that out AFTER I got the MFA.

    Damn.

    ~A~

  34. GM
    November 15, 2011 at 8:07 am

    One thing Gladwell makes clear in his book “Outliers” is that to achieve the necessary “10,000” hours a heavy dose of passion must also be present. You cannot fake passion for 10 years, without it its a lot harder to put in the work. The urge to go out with friends when you should be studying or sleep in late are harder to resist.

  35. November 16, 2011 at 7:22 am

    Trish nailed it on the head. 10,000 hours is an awfully long time to slog away at something, so I think the large number distracts us from the often overlooked aspect of Dr. Ericsson’s research – that merely putting in the time is not enough. Dr.Ericsson wrote a nice summary for the Harvard Business Review here where he articulates the difference between regular old practice and that of the deliberate variety.

    I think we also tend to get hung up on counting the hours. Not to sound like a fortune cookie, but it seems that the master pursues mastery not to become a master per se, but for the inherent meaningfulness and satisfaction (with all of its frustrations and rewards) of the journey itself. I’m reminded of George Leonard’s book Mastery and the following story:

    A young boy traveled across Japan to the school of a famous martial artist. When he arrived at the dojo he was given an audience by the Sensei. “What do you wish from me?” the master asked. “I wish to be your student and become the finest kareteka in the land,” the boy replied. “How long must I study?” “Ten years at least,” the master answered. “Ten years is a long time,” said the boy. “What if I studied twice as hard as all your other students?” “Twenty years,” replied the master. “Twenty years! What if I practice day and night with all my effort?” “Thirty years,” was the master’s reply.

    “How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the boy asked. “The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the Way.”

    p.s. Mr.Pressfield – The War of Art reached out, smacked me upside the head, and resonated with me on a very deep and meaningful level. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book that spoke to me in this way, and so I find myself mentioning it to others often. Thank you.

  36. William Roger Jones
    January 15, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I find it most certain that time invested in an activity assures a showing outcome. I learned a bit in college by actually putting in some study time. Ability to perfect speaking a foreign language comes with time. Respectfully, bill.

  37. April 20, 2012 at 9:11 am

    Thank you very much for this insightful essay. Yesterday, I watched a YouTube video about “time” in which a noted psychologist pointed out that a young person today will have played 10,000 hours of video games by the time they turn 21. Could it be that young people are manifesting themselves and their genius through video games? I think they are. And what implications does that have? I’m not at all sure.

  38. joe
    September 22, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    The importance of the popularisation of the ten thousand hour rule as far as i am concerned is that it gives the people who really want to do something the breathing space to get on and do it without everyone else around them acting like they’re fooling themselves because they were no good after one thousand hours (and therefore not talented). I know that sentence was far too long – apologies.

  39. August 14, 2013 at 4:38 am

    AMAZING post Steven. When I used to practice Kung Fu, my teacher would constantly mention the 10,000 hour rule.
    Thanks for writing Steven.

  40. August 14, 2013 at 5:07 am

    I find that the 10,000 hour rule is flawed. Spending 10,000 hours on something does not guarantee mastery. If that was the case, every 50 year old would be the best in the world at something.

    It’s one thing to spend 10,000 hours and it’s another to spend 10,000 hours deliberately practicing your skill. That’s what creates mastery (or not) – (inspired by Geoff Colvin’s excellent book Talent is overrated)

    • August 14, 2013 at 5:38 am

      most 50 years olds, avoid doing practicing one thing for so long. They will try something, experience many failures, give up and move on to the next.

      A cyclical life of taste testing instead of consistent devouring.

  41. Eoin Kelly
    August 14, 2013 at 5:12 am

    Hi Steve,

    Really enjoyed the article. It’s similar to what the famous Irish musician Seamus Ennis said about learning to play a musicial instrument:

    “It take 7 years a learning, 7 years a practising and 7 years playing” to master an instrument.

    Thanks again for the weekly post.

  42. August 14, 2013 at 5:35 am

    Bukowski says “Dont Think” and I think this is short advice on how to release your authenticity while writing. Perhaps after training yourself thoroughly (10,000 hrs)

  43. Staffan Lindholm
    August 14, 2013 at 5:58 am

    I loved this sentence: They can tell when we’re faking and they can tell when we’re for real.
    When I sit down and actually write, for at least half an hour, or maybe one hour at least, I can hear the loud voice of criticism telling me how full of shit I am.But when I have climbed the barriers and finally wrote so much,and the voice has stopped – I am very pleased – then I feel – this is totally for real!The harder criticism in the voice, the more happiness I feel about the content!Pardon my english I am from abroad – Finland

  44. Allen
    August 14, 2013 at 6:22 am

    FYI ~ A full working year is 40 hours a week times 52 weeks or 2080 hours take out vacations and it’s 2,000 hours and that 10,000 hours equates to 5 years. In the days when you learn on the job most apprenticeships lasted around 5 years. Once again the magic 10,000 hours!

  45. Anne
    August 14, 2013 at 7:06 am

    I’ve never heard of the 10,000 hour rule, but it is consistent with almost everything I’ve thought about the arts. As a struggling-to-be-professional musician, I am always aware of the fact that your instrument and music must become an extension of your body and mind before you can really express your creativity through it. That being said, some people never achieve this, even after 10,000 hours and more of work. One still must allow the muse to take over.

  46. August 14, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Steven, since “your mileage may vary”, the 10,000 hour threshhold is not a “Rule”, no matter what Malcolm Gladwell or others declared; it is correctly termed a Heuristic.

  47. John Mulkerin
    August 14, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Love the process:
    “The right art,” cried the Master, “is purposeless, aimless! The more
    obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the
    goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will
    recede. What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will. You
    think that what you do not do yourself does not happen.”
    …”What must I do, then?” I asked thoughtfully.
    “You must learn to wait properly.”
    “And how does one learn that?”
    “By letting go of yourself, leaving yourself and everything yours behind you so
    decisively that nothing more is left of you but a purposeless tension.”
    “So I must become purposeless–on purpose?” I heard myself say.
    “No pupil has ever asked me that, so I don’t know the right answer.”
    “And when do we begin these new exercises?”
    “Wait until it is time.”
    -Zen In The Art Of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel

  48. Ahsoka23
    August 14, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Wow, this really made me think. I am experiencing so much synchronicity this week.

  49. John Mulkerin
    August 14, 2013 at 11:28 am

    The legendary brass teacher Carmine Caruso on positive practice: “The Italians have a saying, you can tell how good a player is by how loud his mistakes are.”
    great 40 second audio clip of him: http://www.carminecaruso.net/audio/doit.mp3

  50. August 14, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Steven, I always at least enjoy your pieces here, and sometimes, like today, you amaze me. You dare to pull the sword from the stone and swing it just right, cutting the heads from old gods that whisper we must be a certain way or be swallowed by monsters of conformity. I spent many 10,000 hour segments both searching for and living out my authenticity to become a writer. I ran way from Alabama to NYC by thumbing when I was only 17, and by the age of 26 I had thumbed enough miles to circle the globe 5 times. This On the Road life led me to learn to listen to those who gave me rides: I was given lifts by Mr. Universe and Mr. Teenage America and had lunch with them. I also got a ride with the Hell’s Angels. I mostly got rides, however, with every Tom, Dick and Harry that told me their stories, their secrets, that I would later use–one way or another–in becoming a published author. I don’t regret for a single second all those 10,000 hour segments that I spent on the road. And, yes, when I met Buddha time and time again on the endless highway, I did not kill him. I listened to his stories and wrote them down–at least in my heart.