The 10,000 hour rule is something you’ve probably heard thrown around quite often; it’s the belief that in order to master something you would need to invest 10,000 hours into that activity.

On paper that sounds well-and-all but it brings up an important thought… what if you were doing something wrong that entire 10,000 hours?

I stumbled across a discussion on the matter over on Reddit.

User Yeargdribble had this to say which summarized the fallacy:

I’m a professional musician, so this is one that I see and deal with personally every day. People love to throw around the idea of 10,000 hours, but if you spend those 10,000 hours doing it wrong, you won’t be a master at the end. You’ll just be really good at doing it badly.

You have to practicing doing it correctly. There are also diminishing returns to practice in a given session that are readily apparent for someone practicing music at a high level, but maybe not apparent to those who practice sports.

You can practice doing it right, but as your brain and muscles fatigue, if you keep going, you’re only going to start practicing in your mistakes. In music you should always make your last past slow and controlled. There is something to be said for the way your brain makes connections while you’re away from an activity.

In fact, it’s better to practice 6 different things for 10 minutes than 1 thing for 60 minutes. Amazingly, after rest and your brain having time to make the connections, 1 10 minute session will have similar or even superior results the next day. It’s almost magical to see something that was hard even at the end of a session on one day just be easier the next day. But hammering it for an hour is more likely to cause you to walk away after tons of mistakes due to mental fatigue and you’ll be fighting the whole way through.

When practicing a very specific skill, you should hit it for little bursts, take a break and come back to do it again. If there are lots of smaller skills involved in what you’re doing, you should practice them equally. So for basketball, don’t spend an hour on free-throws. Mix it up between free-throws and whatever other sport things goes in there (sorry, not much of a basketball guy).

At the very least, you’ll get more out of several short sessions than one long one. You’ll also get more out of 10 minutes every day than 1 hour once a week.

Sadly, in music, far too many students and even teachers don’t fully comprehend how this works. It’s partially due to the fact that people who have already achieved a high level of skill either did it when they were so young as to not realize the process involved (e.g. they can’t remember when it was hard), or they were just naturally talented, so they’ve never had trouble with a particular thing and end up giving poor advice due to ignorance of how to solve a problem they’ve never encountered.

Though the reply was based around music and (and the OP’s question on basketball) it still should strike you as something to consider especially in business.

We know we’re not great at multi-tasking and should generally try to keep to working on one goal but at the same time we do have trouble sticking to just one activity for long stretches of time. Breaking up those tasks so that you can examine if you’re doing them correctly does seem like the appropriate way to master a topic.

So next time you sit down and think that you want to master something go ahead and throw out the idea of the 10,000 hours. Instead, gather all of your trusted resources and stay directed so you reach that mastery in 1,000 hours of real practice rather than 10,000 hours of busy work.


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