The magical 10,000 hour rule to attain mastery skills has been a known fact for quite some time. The rule is that we need up to 10,000 hours of practice to master a specific skill. If we look at the work environment that many hours would equal eight to ten years. We work on average between 1,750 and 2,150 hours a year, but to be fair we can’t say that all those hours are dedicated to attaining and mastering a skill. Perhaps two thirds of the time would be more realistic, which means that 1,166 hours per year are put towards mastering a certain skill. If we keep this disciplined practice constant for eight to ten years we will have reached the magical 10,000 hour mark. But is it that easy? Is this realistic?
From a work perspective it is proven that most people begin to “master” and blossom in their careers in their mid-thirties. This is based on the assumption that there hasn’t been any deviation, distractions or disruptions along the way with no longs breaks for things like parenthood, health and unemployment.
Nevertheless there is more to this 10,000 hour golden rule. The quantity of time invested is one part but the other part is the quality of time. Repeating a task on autopilot will result in limited growth and make us stagnate at some point. We will actually reach the state of “good enough” and will plateau at that level.
If your aim is to excel and truly master a certain skill then you need to consciously go outside your comfort zone and continuously push the boundaries. The core prediction to mastery is called deliberate practice; persistent and repetitive training in which you consciously concentrate on the task at hand and match time with focused attention. This deliberate practice means that multi-tasking or being on autopilot will not take you further in developing your skills; they are hindrances that limit you. The aspect of deliberate practice is often aligned with Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow (where competency and challenge collide).
Another critical aspect to peak performance and excellence is applying a regular feedback loop that enables you to receive regular feedback on areas of improvement. Ideally the feedback should come from someone who is a subject matter expert because they will tweak the finer details and notice areas of improvement that will successfully lead to mastery.
We often forget about the 10,000 hour rule with junior employees. We become impatient with their level of progress or development and either consider doing the work ourselves or micro-manage every step. Both styles hinder the junior employee from growing because we have removed the feedback loop and the deliberate practice element. We stifle their growth which in the long-term means that we stifle our own career development and possible promotion because there is nobody to step into our current role. In the end, we hold ourselves back from achieving our potential.
If your aim is to master a skill either at work, on the sports field, or in art or music, you will need to find a mentor to support you and take you from the moderate “OK” plateau to excellence. A significant plus factor would be if the skill is a passion of yours and something that means a lot to you because the time, dedication, pushing the boundaries and remaining totally committed may seem like a long and cumbersome journey for you.