What is the 10,000 Hours Rule?

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What is the 10,000 hours rule and how does that affect your son or daughter’s future?

The 10,000 hours rule is the principle that it takes about 10,000 hours of concerted focus, training, and learning in order to become one of the world’s best within a specific field of human activity.

The idea of accumulating 10,000 hours is a rule-of-thumb, not a strict accounting measure, based on the observations of how long it takes for talented people to make it to the top of their field of interest. It just takes that much time to get far beyond average in your field of talent. For comparison, even a college degree will get you only about 2,000 hours of training in your field of talent, since quite a bit of what you are learning is not specific enough to make you progress in your field of interest. The rule-of-thumb could also be expressed as saying that it takes about ten years of dedication with 4 hours of daily training. Ten years of that dedication will place you among the top ten people in the world who are doing the same thing you are doing.

This principle is not to be confused with just working hard for 10,000 hours in your field of employment. This rule specifically refers to the hours of deliberate training where you are pushing the boundaries of excellence, performance, and understanding. That is why someone who is working for 10,000 hours in a kitchen as a short-order cook is not acquiring any skills to become a world famous celebrity chef. The difference between the short-order cook and the celebrity chef is that the latter is on a deliberate training plan to constantly push his skills to the next level.

Deliberate training means that you are not randomly acquiring training and understanding, but that it has a unified purpose so that what you have learned previously gives you an advantage in the next things that you learn. The 10,000 hours of training and skill building has an implicit compounding effect. This allows the mind and the body to reach seemingly astounding levels of performance in your chosen field of talent.

When you think about it, this principle is in fact very intuitive. Who has ever heard of any famously super-talented persons ever achieving their amazing abilities without extreme hard-work, dedication, and focused vision over a long period of time?

That is in a nutshell the 10,000-hour rule for everyone.

Then how does the 10,000-hour rule apply to children?

Unfortunately, many parents approach the acquisition of talent in their child’s life in a manner opposite of what very talented people actually do to get to where they are. The mistake they make is to have their child hop from one activity to the next, one hobby to the next, one course of study to the next, in the hopes that somehow by dabbling around in as many things as possible, they will accidentally fall into their child’s talent. The consequences of that shotgun mindset is that if a child can’t easily perform on first try a difficult series of math exercises or can’t sing on pitch right away the Star Spangled Banner, then this must (falsely) mean any math or singing based talent should be dismissed without further consideration. It’s then on to the next shiny thing. In the process, potentially viable talent opportunities are abandoned and the clock then runs out on childhood.

But if parents do accept the concept of long-term focus around a specific skill set, they can re-arrange their approach to talent building and achieve systematic results with all their children, not with just one lucky child. However the parents still have some other obstacles to overcome in order to make talent development a reality. In the pursuit of 10,000 hours of deliberate training, parents run into two practical problems in the application of this principle for their son or daughter.

Problem number 1: If you wait for the year or two before they graduate from High School, your young adult will often not enough momentum and depth of talent to continue on without being overwhelmed by either the pursuit of a college degree or by a time-consuming, entry-level job.

Problem number 2: The other problem outside of a lack of time, is that a parent will run into the decision problem of whether a current interest or hobby should be pursued into building it as a long-term as a talent or not. So for example, if little Suzie is into ice-skating now, is that, or should that mean even more time be dedicated with ice-skating because that’s her talent? Parents also worry that it might not be relevant to her future. That worry is well placed because it is possible to believe in the 10,000-hour rule, act on it, and then have your child be the best in the world at something that is completely unhelpful to his future family life. Ideally, you want to be the best at doing something that would significantly enhance other people’s lives in some tangible way. The latter is often why a sport as a serious talent for a child, with a few exceptions, is usually not a good match for one to be developed long-term. There is a place for sports for personal pleasure and health reasons, but it should not be confused as a good talent plan for after childhood.

What I teach you on the 10ktoTalent website is how to apply the 10,000 hours rule to the realm of children. I show you as a parent how you can find something specific and early enough around which you can focus the many hours needed achieve lift-off. I also teach how to turn a beginning talent into something that will make sense to your child’s adult life. With the right strategy, you can even redeem a sports-based talent into something that will radically alter your child’s prospects after high-school.

For more details on the 10,000 hours rule as applied to children, go to “What is 10k to Talent.”