THE TEN THOUSAND HOUR THING

THE TEN THOUSAND HOUR THING

Everybody’s heard about how putting in 10,000 hours  working on a particular skill-set pretty much “guarantees” that you will be very good at using those skills.

The number makes the “rule” easy to remember.  It’s so nice and round.

It’s also more than a little intimidating!  Ten thousand hours apparently translates to about ten years, after all, and I’m not sure whether that includes time for eating, sleeping and doing all of the other stuff humans do.

On top of the sheer immensity of it all, there is a caveat hooked onto that number:  any self-improvement and skill development that occurs after you’ve reached a certain level of skill is actually tied to how you spend your time practicing and expanding on what you do.

WHAT IS IT REALLY?

The 10,000-hour thing bounced around scientific circles since the 1970’s.  Why, the Big Brains wondered, did some people achieve an extraordinary mastery in some discipline while others did not?

It was in 2005 that a research team headed by Neil Charness, a psychologist from Florida State University, published the results of a decade-long investigation of The practice habits of chess players.

Their findings were popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book, OUTLIERS, and all of a sudden every man- and woman-in-the-street was urging their offspring to put that nose to that grindstone.

THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY

Throughout the 1990’s the Charness team placed ads in newspapers and posted flyers at chess tournaments, looking for ranked players to participate in their project.  They eventually recruited over 400 players from around the world.

For each player, the scientists collected a detailed history and created a timeline of their significant training and practice events.  The players were asked questions like these:

  1. At what age did you start playing chess?
  2. What type of training did you receive each year?
  3. How many tournaments have you played? When?  Did you win or lose?
  4. Were you coached? By whom?  How?

And so on…

The Charness study not only asked the players how long they practiced, it also asked what the players did when they practiced.  What the Charness team found was that chess masters dedicated five times more hours to serious study of the game than the players who plateaued at the intermediate level.

THE HOW OF THE MASTERS

The grandmasters focused on what Anders Ericsson, a colleague of Chandress, called “deliberate practice.”  These players chose to do activities that stretched their chess-playing abilities where they most needed stretching.  As Ericsson would say, the grandmasters challenged themselves “appropriately.”

The grandmasters studied the moves of historic gamesmen.  They memorized important game strategies until they could recognize the start of a game-winning gambit.  They studied counter-moves and practiced blocking or subverting their opponent’s efforts as well.

In this YouTube video, “Deliberate Practice,” calligrapher Esteban Martinez allows his viewers to watch as he practices writing his kanji.  It is a beautiful thing to watch.

COMPETITION DOES NOT FURTHER

An interesting sidelight was the finding that, after a certain point, tournament play really did not significantly improve playing skill.

The better guy wins.  Period.  If the better guy is you, you’re just using your skill well.  If the better guy is not you, then you lose the game and probably don’t learn much that is new.  The improvement to your game playing, if any, is a small “don’t-do-that-one” insight.

Hundreds of follow-up studies in a diverse array of fields validated the Charness team’s finding that deliberate practice is the key to excellence.  If you practice deliberately, you do get very good.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Assorted life-coaches and other advisors will usually give you the following pointers after they’ve explained about the hours.

  •  In order to get past “good” you have to take on projects that are beyond your current comfort zone. You have to bite off more than you can chew, but not so much that you choke on it.
    • Because the project is an exploration of new territory, you are going to have to shift into high gear and pick up chops. Hustle becomes the order of the day as you try to keep all those spinning plates going on that forest of sticks on your stage.
  • At some point you will go into overwhelm.  If you keep on going past that point, you will break through your  former comfort zone barriers.
    • That’s when your “comfort zone” gets bigger.  That’s when you’ll succeed at pushing back the fences and walls that enclose your zone and all of a sudden you’ll have more space to move.
  • It is a good idea to measure and get feedback on everything when you’re heading onto new territory. Measure, track, and listen your way to a new understanding.  Then you’ll be able to repeat your successes and avoid the potholes and bogs into which you’ll probably fall the first half-dozen or so times you do this.

WHAT MOST ADVISORS DON’T SPELL OUT

All of that practical advice is good and righteous.  They are very likely to work just fine in real life if you actually do them.  However, most of the advisors do tend to touch on (and then bypass) a most important point.

It seems to me that what you are really doing during all the rest of the 10,000 hours as you work towards mastery of the skillset of your choice (after you get “good enough”) is deliberate practice.  No matter what other skills you are refining and perfecting, the one that is the meta-skill, fully transportable into every endeavor, is that one.

maui-trees-at-sunrise
Maui Trees At Sunrise by Derek van Vliet via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that mastery requires practicing deliberately over time.  [Doing something over and over without conscious thought (like a caged hamster running around a wheel) is not deliberate practice.]

As you work your way towards becoming a superb artist or a magical performer, a superlative farmer or a business-magus extraordinaire, you will also be learning how to pay attention to details without drowning in them.

You will be learning how to focus down on the essentials of a thing, learning to suss out what matters and what does not.

You will be developing the capacity to turn your hand to any task, even when it is outside your comfort zone.

More importantly, you will be developing grace and agility, the confidence and the trust that you will be able to deal with anything that life throws at you because, like the chess grandmasters, you will develop a very large repertoire of mindsets, strategies, and moves that work as you move along your way to your own mastery.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Real is “deliberate practice” is just another phrase for what the wise guys call “mindfulness.”

To me, it’s a cool thing to know that a person can get to that without having to sit in a corner folded up like a pretzel, trying to breathe right.  I have a hard time sitting still and have spent a lot of my life failing at that one.  It’s good to realize I won’t actually have to.

What do you think?  Your comments are always welcome….

Here’s a poem…


WAITING

Waiting properly, not stagnating,

Not caught in indecision,

Patiently doing what is essential,

Right, real, and true,

Letting time work its changes

One by one by one.

 

When the time comes to move,

You will know it.

There is no need for haste.

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Chess by Bob Vonderau via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below.

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10 thoughts on “THE TEN THOUSAND HOUR THING

  1. I wasn’t sure if I would like this page, but I found myself enjoying it. I did not have a problem understanding it or reading it. I actually had fun. I like the images and the video. I usually don’t read things like this, but now I’m a little intrigued to find out more. Well done

    1. Carla, thanks for the visit and your comments. I am very pleased that you found the post enjoyable and easy to understand. Please do come again….

  2. Hi Netta,
    Interesting that you’re talking about deliberate practice and mindfulness. I was just thinking about this yesterday because my daughter loves using computer software programs for her digital art She needed to do homework for digital art and maths this weekend and she doesn’t have a lot of interest in maths. Friday afternoon she was working on the art homework, Friday night while watching a movie she was doing some extra digital art homework so she could try some other techniques that she saw on a YouTube video.. We’re now into Sunday and she’s trying to get the maths homework done but is easily distracted.
    I think we all have the potential to get good at just about anything we want to be good at. But I’m seeing a stark example with my daughter of how having a passion for something can make deliberate practice very easy because every part of it is an exciting puzzle. Contrast that with trying to do deliberate practice of something you’re not interested in and suddenly folding your socks can become a very attractive (almost necessary) activity!
    So the 10,000 hours can be absolute hell if your heart’s not in it, or a heavenly indulgence if it is. I know what I’d prefer!
    Cheers,
    Rachel

    1. Hey Rachel: Thanks for your visit and your story. I loved it. I think that’s why all the wise guys and Big Brains both tell us we have to follow our passions. They provide us with the fuel we need to do the 10,000 hour thing right, I think….

      Please do come again…

  3. I agree, all that you work at to master must be deliberate, not accidental, It is easier when it is what you want to do and enjoy doing. To often people end up on that hamster wheel you talked about. Tolerating everyday that which they don’t like or have no intention to master. Your site provide useful information. Thanks

    1. Hey Herman: Thank you for your visit and your comments. I’m glad the post helped. Please do come again….

  4. ChazzBrown says:

    I’ve heard the 10,000 hour theory before and I thought it was a pretty useless concept if I want to get good at something NOW.

    But the distinction between deliberate practice and just doing something over and over until expertise happens is immediately understandable and practical.

    Much like martial artists train their weak side and practice the techniques they need improvement on instead of just doing whatever is easiest.

    1. Exactly, Chazz. Thanks for your visit and your comments. I do appreciate it. Please do come again….

  5. My brother LOVES chess. I have never been good at it and I must admit that he is the one who always wins. But he has a real passion for it and I have not been playing for that long.

    Nonetheless, I now know from reading your article about what I can do to become better at it. But my brother will also find this article helpful so I will be sharing it with him. Thanks a lot!

    1. Hey Reyhana:

      Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts (and for sharing the post with your brother.)  I appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

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