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.


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: The Story of Success, and all of a sudden every man- and woman-in-the-street was urging their offspring to put that nose to that grindstone.


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 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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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 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]



(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you….)


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














  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!

    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.

  6. Pentrental says:

    10,000 hours is a pretty good figure. Remember though, anything can be done in under 10,000 hours. We all have our skill sets. Could Beethoven play a piano in under 10,000 hours? Could Jordan hit a high percentage of shots in under 10,000 hours? I’d venture to bet the low on it. The point is that humans are capable of more than what science suggests. Interesting that tournament play did not did not improve playing skill. This is an interesting post that really gets my mind going, thank you!

    1. Pentrental, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.

      I do tend to agree with you that humans are capable of more than what science suggests and it is quite likely that our own unique skill sets add to and enhance any new learned discipline we do so it is very likely (if we’re already doing similar things or things that are related to a new discipline) that the new thing could be picked up quite fast.

      A black belt judo master would probably not have to spend the whole 10,000 hours learning how to do capoeira, for instance.  [Ooh!  What a combo that would be!]

      I’m glad the post engaged you.

      Please do come again….

  7. As cliche as it may seem, practice makes perfect. Often times, people take this for granted especially in studying and honing skills.

    This is true because of the firsthand experience I encountered in the past. 

    Once a year, our district would be open for school competition and I am always assigned for public speaking. For a month, I train my students and you can very well see the difference from where they started up to the day of the contest. 

    For kids who are skipping practices and training, they usually lack some skills they needed and ends up not placing in the over all ranking. But for those who are really dedicated and would extend their practices at home would significantly win even if they lack experience in joining those contests. 

    Thanks for sharing this article. Now I have a proof that I can show to the kids why deliberate practice is important. I will make them read this as one of the motivations for them to strive harder and give them a mindset that winning ain’t hard if they put effort and time to practice.

    1. MissusB, I do thank you for the visit and for sharing your story.  More proof that deliberate practice is the way to get to new levels of skill!  

      I’m glad you want to share the post with your students.  I hope it helps.

      Please do come again….

  8. I find the 10,000 hour thing interesting, but I’ve never completely agreed with it.  After reading your post I realize that I might have misunderstood it… I had thought it meant that 10K hours were required for someone to become truly proficient at something, which is different than what you said in the first paragraph – that 10K hours “guarantees” proficiency (or at least makes it highly likely).

    I think the latter is probably true more often, but like you said, it’s deliberate practice that probably has more impact than the total hours invested.  One thing that fascinates me about this whole subject is whether the rule tends to be more or less true depending on the types of activities.  Do you know if there is any further research done that looks at how much variance there is between (for example), activities that are thought of as “creative” (e.g., painting, a musical instrument), “physical” (e.g., playing a sport), or “mechanical” (e.g., carpentry)?  I would love to read more about that.

    Really interesting post, thank you.

    1. Jordan, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  

      Thanks for your question.  Apparently many other studies sprang up out of the Charness team’s work.  All of them have consistently shown that the thing holds true across the board:  Whatever humans can do, they do better if they practice deliberately.  Cool, huh?

      Please do come again.

  9. Hi Netta!

    Great post! I think I have heard about this ten thousand hour technique to be a master at something but didn’t know much about it. It is very interesting how the Charness study went through and how they analyze the different aspects from the chess players and how that actually explain why some were better than others. 

    However, I think some people get scared or aren’t into spending that much time to master something, and they want to find an easier path. 

    But I think that is the thing, the only way to be a master at something is investing a lot of time in it, practice continuously and deliberately. 

    I really liked the poem at the end and the video from Esteban Martinez writing kanji by the way.



    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Mariana.  I’m glad the post was helpful to you.

      Please do come again.

  10. This article isn’t just motivation, but an explanation of motivation. It gives it to you straight on how much and time and effort it takes to be the real deal. I have a question, however.

     I used to play basketball, ( until I lost hope in that dream 🙁 ) and not to toot my own horn, I was pretty good at it. Would a principle like deliberate practice apply there too even if it isn’t chess?



    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your story, Jose.  

      According to the guys in the white coats, every kind of human activity gets better with deliberate practice.  The exciting thing about it is that you don’t lose the skill you develop as a result of doing all that work.  Even if you stop, the skill is in there still waiting to be used.

      Also, you have to remember that deliberate practice is a meta-skill.  All the stuff — your passion, your focus, your dedication to your dream — that helped you keep on practicing is still in there.  You’ve already built the skill of deliberate practice to a high level doing your basketball thing.  

      You can take that stuff and apply it to your next big adventure.  

      And isn’t that a cool thing?

      Please do come again.

  11. This is such an eye-opening article for me. 

    In my younger days, I tried to learn many things at once and failed because I stopped after several hours of learning. 

    I believe that we have the potential to learn and master any skill that we want. However, some people are just born with talent, which makes them much easier to master that skill. 

    In the end, I choose to sharpen what I like and feel like my talent from birth to reduce the ‘training hour’. 

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Allblue.  

      I agree with you that we humans can certainly learn any skill that we want.  And when we have a natural affinity for a certain set of skills it can help us develop in our chosen skill-set faster if we choose.  

      (Some people are really good at doing stuff they actually don’t really like.  But, that is another story….)

      And even if we have a “talent,” it does still take time and a deep commitment to get to mastery.  

      We choose and we do.  Along the way, picking up other skill-sets can expand our ability to create cool stuff.  And that can be a very good thing too.

      Please do come again.

  12. This is an interesting concept. Although I would say it is more of a general guideline rather than a hard and fast rule. It’s not like someone is working away after nine and three quarter years and thinking to himself, only another hundred hours to go then I know what I am doing. LOL

    1. Kwidzin, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  You’re right….this 10,000-hour thing IS a general guideline, but also, I think, it is more of a seed-idea.  

      If you keep the mondo-time requirement in mind then you’re likely to understand it does take time to get to excellence.  If you can accept that deliberate, conscious practice and doing something or other over and over, repetition after repetition after repetition, is an essential part of re-wiring your mind and/or your body to do anything extraordinarily well, then you’re less likely to give up on putting in the effort you need to get yourself to that place.

      Probably, you also are more likely to think on whether putting in all that effort is really worth the time it takes.  

      It’s very likely that the 10,000 number is an arbitrary thing.  Its major quality is that it sure does sound huge.  (I just heard somebody or other say that in order to become a true master craftsman, a person would need to spend 60,000 hours or more perfecting their skill at something or other.)  This is a massive mind-boggle!

      Please do come again.

  13. Jerry McCoy says:

    This great insight to what many people want to achieve but do not have the how. The how is described in detail with the philosophy of “deliberate practice”.

    This is very useful to those of us who want to improve where we are in life or in our blog posts. I find that when you keep trying to improve your posts that you need to always look for ways to improve. You may come back to a post that was done when you first began and learn that it needs help to be one of VALUE to the audience.

    With deliberate practice, you learn a skill set and master it before taking on a greater challenge. The more skills you master and retain the better you outcome should be.


    1. Right on, Jerry.  Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.

      Please do come again.

  14. This has been an inspired reflection on the 10000-hour school of thought. I read the Gladwell book “Outliers” and found it to be an interesting read, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a scientific study in mastery.

    While putting in the time to practice (or work, play, etc), it is natural to continually improve over time, up to a certain point. Yet as you note, putting in hours is not the only thing, nor the most important element, in becoming a master.

    It is nice to note how it factors into the overall equation without getting overwhelmed by the sound of the high number of hours.

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Aly.  My own thought is that high numbers of hours really don’t matter much when you consider the durned things pass by all on their own anyhow.

      Please do come again.

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