You’re probably aware of the 10,000 hours “rule” made famous by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. Practise something for 10,000 hours, the theory goes, and you become a master. Well, it turns out, a little disappointingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, to be a big old oversimplification.
Ten thousand hours of practise doesn’t guarantee mastery.
Not for everyone, anyway, and so while it’s a nice, neat sounding number, it’s not a rule. And when you think about it, how could it be? We’re all so different from one another, wired so differently, informed by such diverse experiences and environments that one simple number simply can’t apply universally. It’d be like saying we all sneeze 47,000 times.
Which isn’t to poopoo the point of practise. I love the idea of dedicating yourself to something. And if that something calls you to practise for ten thousand hours then whether you emerge a master or not seems secondary to me. Because if you’re fortunate enough to be called, to find a calling, then you’re already winning, you’ve already won.
To be called to practise in this manner requires diligence and humility, and it is, by necessity, ego-transcendent. Dedication to the pursuit of practise and improvement, no matter the skill, gives you no choice but to get out of your own way: To make mistakes, to repeatedly fail, to repeatedly try again, to know that however good you think you’re getting you’re never the finished article – and to know, as the practise develops, that that isn’t the point anyway.
Because, really, there is no finished article. But there’s always the beginnings of one.
And for some, simply beginning is where all the trouble seems to lie.
If beginning is your problem then consider this other, far more palatable, number: 300.
Forget 10,000 hours and becoming great and all the rest and focus on 300 instead.
Because, the neuroscientists figure, it takes roughly three hundred repetitions of something new to form its corresponding neural pathway. In other words, it takes just 300 reps of anything to start becoming reasonably good at it. Or, put another way, it takes 300 repetitions to begin, quite literally, to embody the practise. And when you’ve begun to embody something – taken an externality and integrated it – then those 300 reps may turn into 10,000 hours yet.
So, a happy 300 to anyone thinking of beginning.