Where Men Can Become Better Gentlemen

Learning: Fundamentals

The 10,000-Hour Rule

What is This?

It is based on a 1993 study by Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and enhanced upon by Malcolm Gladwell, in one of his popular non-fiction books - “Outliers: The Story of Success.” The stated rule is 10,000 hours represents the average estimated time required for someone to master a subject or skill. An amount of time stated like this sounds very daunting and can be enough to put most people off from ever learning anything new. To give it some perspective, if you dedicated 1 hour per day for study and practice it would take most people over 25 years to become very good at something. However, if you were able to dedicate 8 hours per day to this, it would take a little under 3.5 years.

Is this an Absolute?

Now, the 10,000-hour rule is not an absolute, it does depend upon the skill and depth required for the task to be mastered - it may only take 500 hours or up to 20,000 hours. It also depends upon the person and their current aptitude (based on previous experience and skills), it has been suggested someone could take up to 22 times more practice than another person to master a particular skill. Although 10,000 hours is a guide, it is a good yardstick to measure by, so when planning what to learn next expect it to take you years to master but plan for it to cover decades, if not a lifetime!

Lesson 1: Choose what you wish to learn and study with care. Ideally pick things you have some existing ability in, but most importantly have a passion for  – because to be very good at it, you must be in it for the long haul.

0 - 10,000 Hours

10,000 hours is the estimated time to master a subject or skill, it does not mean you will not develop any useful knowledge or ability until those 10,000 hours have been reached. Spending an hour a day for one year should give you some reasonable ability: to play a few tunes on a musical instrument, make yourself understood on basic things in another language, be able to turn wood on a lathe etc. Indeed 50 to 500 hours will give you abilities in most things, creating a base to explore and develop further. 500 to 2,000 hours should make you quite capable: to play a range of different music and have a repertoire of many pieces to entertain people on a musical instrument, to hold everyday conversations with other people in a foreign language, to be making your own wooden chess sets and producing ornamental wood pieces for furniture etc.

Lesson 2: It is not the destination but the journey. Do not see 10,000 hours as an ultimate goal to be reached but more as something that will be achieved by default – the result of your passion.

Only Time?

Following this theory means: if we all put 10,000 hours into something we would all be masters of that chosen area of endeavor. However, we know from personal experience and observation that this is not the case. If you have been a son for 20 years, are you a brilliant son? If you have been a husband for 20 years, are you the best husband? If you have been a father for 20 years, are you the most amazing father? We may be good at certain aspects of these things but the time served in itself, does not necessarily make us good, let alone masters at it. To continually progress requires deliberate practice and we recommend reading the book - "Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else" by Geoff Colvin.

Lesson 3: Practice, despite the well-known saying, does not make perfect. To quote the famous sports coach Vince Lombardi: it is “Perfect practice makes perfect”.

2,000 Hours +

If you wish to be great at something it is around the 2,000-hour level of time spent that can seem to be where the beginning is in making a difference. There are often laudable reasons why people do not go beyond this level: some are satisfied with their achievement, they choose/wish to try something else instead or priorities/time require their attentions elsewhere. However, there are others who wish to progress but may think they have achieved their natural level of ability, or they may be unsure of how and what to do to progress.

Most people when presented with the 10,000-hour rule can verbally agree they will be able to do it. However, the reality is very few are capable of sticking with something for 10,000 hours. It doesn’t matter if it’s to do with intelligence or a physical ability; the truth is sticking with one thing for this length of time makes a difference. Being great at something, or achieving greatness begins at the 2,000 hours + level. Although hotly debated many believe no one is born great, or with a great ability, but they learn it. What separates the great is often demonstrated by a single-minded focus of passion. It is this that drives them and results in things like 10,000 hours being spent in their pursuit of it! To be really good at something, it has to be an obsession.

Lesson 4: Dogged perseverance can be a key difference between greatness and OK. However, do not do it to be great, do it because you like doing it (the intrinsic value of it) and nothing else!

Other Factors

Of course, all of the above is no guarantee of success or greatness. 10,000 hours will generally make you good in you chosen field of endeavor but just how good is dependent on other factors too:


Some people have a genetic advantage over others. A simple example of this would be say height, it is hard to be a great basketball player if you are no taller than say 5 feet 8 inches. Although debated, it may also be some athletes are genetically faster or stronger and so have a natural edge over others. This does not mean to say they can’t be beaten, although it may mean others have to work a lot harder to beat them.


Age can also have an impact! It seems the older you are the harder it is to gain mastership over a subject or ability. Now this could be youngsters are more atuned to learning or they are better practiced – and the older you are the less learning you do and thus the less practiced you are at it! There is some evidence to suggest skills in complex “games” like chess and adroitness in learning a language are achieved more readily when started at a young age. There is also scientific evidence purported that the brain begins to shrink by about 1% each year after the age of 65, or so we are led to believe!


Coaching/Teaching has a significant role to play in the development of a skill or the attainment of practical knowledge. Access to coaching, usually from supportive parents, is often the key to childhood prodigies but access to a good teacher, mentor etc, at anytime is an essential part of success. Having someone who can look at your performance objectively from the outside can provide vital feedback for improvement. The book “Bounce” by Matthew Syed makes for a good read on this.


Good fortune or luck can be as simple as being the right person, with the right skills, at the right time in the right place. Now, this is not always necessarily down to “luck” in the strictest sense of the word but it does describe this situation for many. Very rarely is there an “overnight” success, because it is usually the culmination of hard work and dedication, which results in this good fortune or “luck”.


Do not think that by dedicating yourself to 10,000 hours of work on something it will make you great at it. However, do not think you can achieve a meaningful level of success with something, without putting any hard work into it - say 10,000 hours! We are all different with certain unique qualities, find what you are good at and like doing, then dedicate yourself to it. Just make sure it is not in pursuit of a negative vice – see the section on “Addiction” in Our Mission.

A hero is born among a hundred, a wise man is found among a thousand, but an accomplished one might not be found even among a hundred thousand men. - Plato.

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