If you’ve never heard of the Ten Thousand Hour Rule, then here’s my quick summary.
The idea is that to become what’s considered world-class at something, you need to accumulate ten thousand hours of practice, that’s focused deliberate practice, in that particular skill. In other words, you need to practice for over 3 hours a day, every day, for ten years.
You: Wait, what?
Me: That’s right.
I was first introduced to the ten thousand hour rule in the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, which after reading I was forced to accept my role as a jack of very few trades, and several thousand hours away from being a master one.
Despite feeling a little demotivated after reading the book, it was a huge eye-opener to how some of the well known, world-class experts become so good at their craft. The biggest surprise, and a point that Gladwell emphasises in the book, is when it comes to being world-class, it has little to do with what we call “talent” and a lot to do with exterior circumstances, and of course, putting in the hours.
One example from the book is Bill Gates. We all assume that Gates was born to be a computer wiz. He was naturally wired to be able to understand code, and develop software right?
Or was he???
Yep, he was.
But, it also had something to do with him being in the right place at the right time.
Sure, Mr Gates is a really smart dude, and was really interested in computing, but he was also fortunate to have access to computer labs before most of his peers. Through exterior circumstances, Gates was given free mainframe time to develop his skills in exchange for software testing. This helped him accumulate 10,000 hours of computer programming much ahead of the game.
This is another point Gladwell emphasises a lot. Timing and circumstance is one of the biggest factors for people becoming world-class.
When these circumstantial events happen to a small few of us, starting from a young age, (spoiler alert) an outlier is formed.
The Beatles are another example Gladwell uses to explain the ten thousand hour rule. Between 1960 and 1964, The Beatles, then unknown teenagers, were contracted to play in a bar in Hamburg, Germany. The bar would never actually close which meant they would sometimes be performing for up to 10 hours a day straight.
The four years of performing in Hamburg earned them their accumulated ten thousand hours of playing, and propelled them to their success soon after returning to England.
Is the ten thousand hour rule a bad measurement for learning?
When confronted with ten thousand hours of practice to become a world-class guitar player, it’s unthinkable that someone can actually accumulate that many hours of guitar practice, or practice of any kind for that matter. For a child to have accumulated ten thousand hours of guitar practice before the age of 15, their parents must be overpowering slave labourers, forcing their prodigy to play guitar until their hands are all bloody.
In those situations, I’ve always wondered, does the kid even want to play?
The problem, in my opinion, is that when you set the bar at ten thousand hours, you are not focusing on the best part of learning something, which is the learning part. If you start any learning endeavour with a stopwatch clocking every second of practice, you’re focusing on the outcome, not the experience.
If you want to get really good at something, you should fall in love with the process of getting good, not the idea of being good.
A great process to master the guitar neck is to memorise the C Major scale in all positions.
In response to Gladwell’s book, Mr Gates stated that while the whole idea of the ten thousand hour rule is valid, there are variables which you should also take into consideration. For someone to be able to perform ten thousand hours of deliberate practice, they need extreme discipline and dedication to the process of getting better.
Gates considers the ten thousand hour rule to be cyclical. After about 50 hours, most people will drop off and lose interest. Another 50 hours, another huge group of people will stop or plateau. For someone to actually put in ten thousand hours of deliberate practice (this is a key factor), they must really love and be inspired by what they are doing.
For me, the most interesting thing isn’t the fact that they put in ten thousand hours. What I find more interesting is what was their source of motivation to accumulate that many hours.
What Can We Take Away From This Rule?
Yes, the ten thousand hour rule can seem demotivating at first glance, but where would we be without these world-class experts and performers?
In the instant gratification world of today, long periods of concentration is hard to come by. These world-class, ten thousand hour idols are there for us to look to for inspiration.
Having an understanding that becoming an expert of that calibre requires such a long journey of dedication should help you find motivation when feeling too tired, bored, or even drained from your day job.
Here are some ways I find inspiration, and how guitar has changed my life.
Although the ten thousand hour rule is un-achievable for most of us, I am so grateful for those who have actually put in that time and dedication.
We would love to know you thoughts on the ten thousand hour rule, leave us a comment below.