The Real Lessons of the 10,000-Hour Rule

Okay, it’s happened: 10,000 hours is officially in the mainstream. Athletes, musicians, students, businesspeople are counting away, waiting for their practice odometer to tick over and — presto! — they’ll be world-class experts.

Sorry, but that ain’t how it works.

Why? Because when you count the hours, it’s easy to lose track of the real goal: finding ways to constantly reach past the edge of your current ability.

The real lesson of 10K is not about quantity; it’s about quality. It’s about getting the maximum possible gain in the shortest amount of time — and to get that, you don’t focus on the time, but on the gain. You put your focus on improving the practice, which happens two ways: through better methods or increased intensity.

To be clear:

  • 1. Certain kinds of learning — deep, or deliberate practice — are transformative.
  • 2. That transformation is a construction process.
  • 3. That construction process depends on your intensive reaching and repeating in the sweet spot on the edge of your ability.

You are what you count. If you count hours, you’ll get hours. But if you find a good way of measuring your intensity, or measuring your improvement, that’s what you’ll get.