You’ve probably heard of the "10,000 hour rule" - the idea that it takes at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to "master" a skill. While the research behind the rule is valid in its original, limited context (that is, re¬¬aching the pinnacle of ultracompetitive performance fields like chess, sports, and music), the idea is commonly misapplied to the types of skill acquisition most of us do every day.
Here’s the reality: most of us aren’t training to be chess grandmasters or professional golfers. Our goal is typically to achieve a specific desired result: to create something new, to enhance our career, or to relax and have fun.
We’re playing a very different game, so we can play by different rules. Instead of obsessing over "mastery," embracing sufficiency – being "good enough" – can help up get the results we care about in far less time.
In my experience, you can reach surprising levels of ability in even complex skills, like computer programming, with around 20 hours of focused practice, often less. If you’re willing to let go of the idea that picking up new skills is a long, arduous process, it’s much easier to learn new things quickly.
In general, people tend to wildly overestimate how good they need to become at a skill to derive value from it. You don’t need to be the best in the world at absolutely everything you do: quite the contrary. If you’re clear about what you want to achieve, you’ll discover that you can become good enough to obtain your desired result after only a few hours of practice.
It’s also common to underestimate just how good you can become at something in a short period of time. Learning something new is often quite intimidating, and when you don’t know what you’re doing, the skill can appear much more involved than it actually is. When you jump in and start learning, you’ll often find the skill much easier than it appeared at the beginning.
The process of acquiring new skills quickly is simple: make it easy to sit down and practice in a smart way. Decide what you want, then break complex skills down into smaller sub-skills. Do a bit of research to identify the sub-skills you’ll use most often, then practice those first. Remove unnecessary barriers to practice by changing your environment to make it easy to avoid distractions. Pre-commit to completing at least 20 hours of practice to push through early frustrations and avoid giving up before you see results.
Rapid skill acquisition is simply common sense and strategy applied to learning something that can enhance your career or your life. A few hours of intelligent, focused practice can help you become good enough to get the results you’re looking for. That’s why having a solid practice strategy before you begin is important. Anything you can do to optimize those critical early hours of practice will help you learn as quickly as you’re capable of learning.
- Josh Kaufman is the author of ‘The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything... Fast’ and "The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education in a Single Volume."
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