10 000 hour rule debunked again

This 5-minute article suggests a few simple but powerful mental tools for getting more out of life and investment research efforts, avoiding waste and suboptimization


Some become world champions in just 1 000 hours, some never

First you must realize, there is no spoon 10 000 hour rule

Please e-mail me at mikael.syding@gmail.com if you don’t recognize the picture

The 10 000 hour rule was debunked a long time ago, specifically when Donald Thomas, who commenced high-jumping in 2006, won the world championship in Osaka just a year later in 2007 (clearing 2.35m), without proper high-jumping shoes. The first time he ever tried high-jumping, on a bet, in January 2006, he cleared 2.13m in ordinary tennis shoes.

Actually, the 10 000 hour rule was a deliberate misinterpretation of data. The original research only showed the following:

  • if you have the genes
  • and the ambition
  • you may become a master in your area of expertise
  • if you practice between 3 000 and 30 000 hours
  • and then there are outliers, like Donald, who shows you could train even less, given a certain set of genes

i.e. a completely meaningless and useless result.

The Donald


Don’t be that guy throwing the 10k hour rule around as if it meant something.

If Donald had, he might not even have bothered with the high jump, and this little man would have been world champion instead:

Stefan Holm next to Patrik Sjöberg

Stefan Holm (181cm, 5″11  1/4) trained more and better than any other high jumper in the noughties and jumped 2.30m or more 119 times, but, e.g., never 2.42m like Patrik Sjöberg in the middle of the photo above did.

Sure, you’ll get better, the more you practice, but there is nothing guaranteeing becoming a master, no matter how much you practice. And, if lucky, you could get there much faster.

There is no 10 000 hour rule


The opposite of spending your life on just one endeavour

-I’m a trysexual, I’ll try anything once

The singularity is near

Okay, I wouldn’t go that far, not in horizontal hip-hop, and not as a general rule either.

However, there is a 20-hour ‘rule’ that is immensely more useful than both the 1-hour and the 10 000-hour dogmas:

If you focus and practice intelligently for 20 hours on learning a new skill, you will become “quite proficient”

In 20 hours you can become good enough to enjoy your new skill, good enough to keep learning more on your own and good enough to know if it’s something you have a talent for and would enjoy developing even more.

If you’re interested in how to acquire a new skill in 20 hours, check out Josh Kaufman’s TED talk from March 2013. 


Studio 50:1


1% effort for 50% of the outcome



Sport jocks sometimes claim to “give it 110%”. Now that’s just retarded.

And it’s not due to a lack of education. They typically got the expression from their (gym) teachers. Anyway, never aim for 110%. You will be disappointed if you do.



Google famously (used to) let it’s employees spend one day a week on any project they like. That’s 20% goofing around to let creativity flow, and maybe come up with significant improvements and business ideas.

I think Google has restricted the extent of its experimentation hours lately. They are still hanging on to the principle though. And so should you. Just because you’re grown up, doesn’t mean you have nothing more to learn. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The older you get, the more you need to make a deliberate effort, to keep novelty and personal growth in your life.


1% effort for 50% of the outcome

Whereas 1 hour probably is more than enough for most of broadening your bedside horizons, and 20 hours is good for trying out what skills match up with your preferences and talent… I’d say, if you put in 100 hours (just 1% of the infamous 10 000 hours) you will leave most of mankind behind in that area, often achieving about half the level of a professional.

Call it the 1% effort system. People will keep referring to Gladwell’s 10khr, and so can you. But rather than go for the full Monty, aim for just 1% of the 10k, i.e. 100 hours of focused and deliberate effort to kind of “master” a new discipline.

You won’t win any championships but you’ll become pretty good at most things you try; typically much, much better than any beginner. Languages, sports, programming, design, sales, psychology, you name it. 

Since you have a lot of 100 hour chunks at your disposal, you can become an instant expert in hundreds of useful or entertaining skills. If nothing else, you can find out where your talents are and what satisfies you the most, rather than arbitrarily choosing chess, golf or tennis and end up wasting 10 000 hours on something you don’t really enjoy and won’t win at anyway.

In 100 hours you’ll acquire most useful skills regarding long term value investing, but you’ll still not be done by 10 000 hours

A sell-side analyst spends 10 000 hours per large cap company he covers during the course of his career. You could catch up on the essentials in just 5, and become somewhat of an expert in 20, not to mention a 100

Even more importantly, trying new things, practicing them wholeheartedly will increase your brain plasticity; hence future learning of other skills will be easier.

It’s fun too. Being a beginner is fun. There are no expectations, no anxiety, just a steep learning curve and a lot of hilarious failed attempts.

Commit and quit. Give it your all (yes, 100%, or close to it, but not for long, not for 100% of your life). Focus! Be serious. Give it one hour, just one hour. Then one more, just one more.

If you’re not completely hooked after 20 hours, try something else. The brilliant thing with the 20-hour system is that you can try so many things before deciding what should stick. If it’s useful and enjoyable enough, keep going until you get to a 100 hours.

The 1:50 rule in practice

Last summer I read the unabridged 2400 page book The Count of Monte-Cristo in French to improve my French.

I spent about 100 hours on learning the basics of Portuguese on DuoLingo last spring.

For no other reason than exercising my brain.

However, if you want it to really stick, it’s advisable to have a specific use for any skill you set out learning.

Commit and quit. Restart.

Fair disclosure: I quit both this year’s handstanding and side split efforts after just a few hours, due to lack of interest and slight injuries. Perhaps next year. 

I spent somewhere between 20 and 100 hours on Khan Academy’s math section, but now I’m taking a pause. I’m not sure how much time I put into Python and Javascript on Codecademy and Khan but probably around 25.

What I really should focus my next 20-100 hours on is online marketing skills, such as web design, SEO and writing copy. There are always new things to learn, new skills to attempt.


Working out, the 1% turned into 2%

I’ve tried several martial arts, tennis, volley ball, football etc. Martial arts is the only thing that managed to keep me interested long term, but my work schedule forced me to quit.

I took up weight lifting (again) in 1996 to keep in shape “until I could get back to martial arts” but I never did, and now I’m hooked by the iron instead.

I’ve typically always spent 1-2% of my time working out (more before I turned 22), and since I retired I’ve stabilized at around 2%.

I work out 4 hours a week, in practice 2% of the available time, doing mostly heavy compound exercises with free weights. In fact, most of that time is resting between sets, which I spend reading and writing.

I don’t do any specific cardio, except for a quick warm-up on the tread mill before working out.

I’m by no means a bodybuilder as such, but I am quite fit, despite sitting at an office desk for 20 years and eating whatever I like, including a lot of french fries, ice cream and drinking my fair share or more of alcohol.

Cooling down after a sauna:

The picture above is the result of a 1% effort that got me hooked and expanded to 2%. By focusing on the most effective exercises, I look and feel athletic at 43, despite only going to the gym for about 90 minutes every second day (including 5-10 minutes of mobility exercises every fourth day).

There are no 110%, 100% or such efforts in my diet either. I fast (16:8) and I drink fish oil. That’s it. I still bench 300+ lbs, I haven’t had a cold in 9 years and my Omega 6:3 balance is exceptionally low at 2.0. 


Summary – Hard made easy:

  • Forget about the 10 000 hour myth. There is no spoon.
  • Try just one more skill, then one more, for a limited amount of time
  • Commit and quit. Don’t get stuck, don’t force feed yourself skills you don’t like or need
  • Give it 1% and enjoy half of the master level – the Sprezzaturian way
  • Even if you don’t use the skill per se, your learning ability is improved or maintained


Did you like the article? Share it with a friend or your social network. Tweet about it. And if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter and eBook, please do. There is a new eBook in the works – with hundreds of tips and tricks like the “1:50” and “Just one more” rules.

21 Replies to “10 000 hour rule debunked again”

  1. This has got to be one of the best pieces of content, I’ve read in my life. Seriously.

    I’ve been stressing a lot lately, thinking about which innate “talents” I have and I’ve been struggling to find a system to explore all of the possibilities. I feel as if I’m wasting my time and energy on persisting with some activities that don’t provide me much pleasure and excitement anymore.

    Now I think I finally got a way to rapid-test a bunch of things and see what I like best :)

    Thanks Mikael!

  2. Thank you for this article, it reminds me that I’m on track.

    The best trick I’ve found to learn anything is to dedicate 30 minutes to 1 hour in the morning, before anything else, to a specific skill. I’ve improved my hand and digital drawing skills this way, picked up French (then shifted my effort to spoken conversation groups instead of staying only book smart), some Russian, etc.

    Physical efforts seem to be a lot easier to learn when there’s a gap between days, probably due to both the muscles and nervous system needing time to recover. That’s what it seems like, although I am not an expert. That, and putting everything in to that hour. My boxing coach would push me, and keep pushing me by coming over and shouting at me because he knew that I put in more effort during my hour than the other people in the class.

    Windsurfing was the physically most challenging effort I have tried. It took me a couple months of falling down, over and over, 3-4 times a week, before I could get up and go. Then, I could start grabbing new rigs. The first time you nail a solid gybe with a good sail is a moment of beauty.

    Interesting about Le Compte de Monte Cristo. I tried reading an abridged English version of that over a decade ago and couldn’t stand it. After I was intermediate with French, I grabbed the first volume of the unabridged, and read it the whole novel in a couple of months. That’s a wonderful book.

    1. Seems like you’re quite the learning machine. Getting things done right out of bed works for me to, even if I haven’t made a system of it (I’m too lazy, have too little incentives and too much time on my hands)

  3. There is a difference between physical talents (this jumper is just taller than the other one) and talents based on mindset and learning (which isn’t talent just knowledge and the mindset to improve).

    You actually described the first here: jumper A is taller than jumper B. Jumper B has improved a lot but jumper A will always be “theoretically” better than jumper B. Isn’t it fair for jumper B to compare himself with other people who are at his length and see what his level of skill is and how much he improved? This is like comparing apples to pears.

    Also: Jumper B might be better in the future than jumper A because of the “always pushing the limits – concept” (I don’t think anyone claimed this concept but I read about it in Chess Books).
    If he can’t beat him now, he might focus on a better technique which will aid him in either JUMPING HIGHER or JUMPING more consistently. This theory can be applied to almost any field and hence why we as human always improve things. The newbies want to beat the CURRENT bests which needs a solid plan and thinking on how to beat the best! I like the example of chess because the way chess is played on a high level is completely different now than 50 years ago.

    1. Yes, just because you might not be THE best, the ‘master’, is no reason to stop trying. Especially if it’s an enjoyable activity.

      However, if you are constantly losing at chess, can’t compose a tune, the physics equations just never add up etc., and you in addition don’t even like doing those things, my advice is not to hope for a Nobel Prize once you’ve done your 10K hours…

  4. ” In fact, most of that time is resting between sets, which I spend reading and writing.”

    Wait!?! Did I get that right, you actually read and write while you rest between sets?!?

    So you do a bunch of squats, read and write, and then do bench presses?
    Surely you’re joking, Mr. Syding? :)

    You of course mean that you spend the non training days reading and writing, right?
    Then again, you might be the kind of guy to do the former. :)

    Does that have anything to do with your advice about information processing and physical motion?
    Basically combining thinking with physical activity, i.e. podwalks and the like?
    Or am I completely off base here?

    Let me guess, you also read standing? ;)

    1. No, I meant between sets. I write down notes for articles, books, tweets, the workout, podcasts and other ideas that come up. I also read (albeit mostly social media updates, but also e-mail and blogs).

      I do a set of presses, the read/write, do another set, read/write, another set, read/write and so on.

      I only do it because I know the ideas will disappear if I’don’t get them down immediately. The reason I get the ideas at all are probably connected with the “human thinking is intimately connected with physical motion”.

      1. Thanks for clarifying, Micke! :)
        Noticed the stream of ideas as well during the training.
        Makes sense to write them down, as I would forget some of them later.
        So it’s a good tip.
        Will experiment with it to see if it affects my recovery during the sets.

        Thanks for the idea. :)

  5. Good insights,
    Reading stuff on how you MUST find what you were “ment” to be doing with your life based on your genetic throw of the dice can be quite stressful if you are like me and still at 32 don´t know what you want to be doing when you grow up.
    At least I´ve taken some steps to try some new stuff and learn new things. Right now I´m learning Russian by listening to podcasts.


    1. Spartan men were not classed as full citizens until 30.
      Jesus didn’t start preaching until he was 30 (middle-aged in those days).
      Caesar wept upon seeing a statue of Alexander when he was Quaestor in Further Hispania at 32, realizing the futility of his life to that point.
      Hitler didn’t start in politics until 30.

  6. “In 100 hours you’ll acquire most useful skills regarding long term value investing, but you’ll still not be done by 10 000 hours.”

    I want to invest 100 hours into acquiring basic knowledge in this skill. Which resources would you recommend delving into?

  7. Two great videos about this:

    I’d like to see how many “genetically gifted” astronauts took a space walk after 2 years, or how many “naturally talented” artists honed their craft immediately.

    The 10k hr thing – to me – is not about learning a craft, but learning how to “break through”. All the best people create breakthroughs which can ONLY happen when you understand the spectrum of nuances in a range of fields. In short, it’s about having an idea about the future, and pursuing it rigorously. This takes a lifetime, or perhaps the lifetime of others (in Alexander’s case).


    Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.

    “It’s you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”

    So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.

    “It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”

    “Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.

    “But, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”

    To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”

    A technician is called in, checks everything out, and then taps on the back of the machine. The manager demands an invoice, so he writes:

    Tapping the computer: $1
    Knowing where to tap: $4999

    “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

    1. Great comment, and interesting videos and other links.

      The videos do leave an important aspect out though: All the guys who played the long game but never became masters anyway.

      Let’s just hope they enjoyed themselves, rather than pinning all their hope on a late overnight success.

  8. IMPORTANT for you:
    This is probably the best article I have read so far on your site both for me and for what you share with your big crowd of followers.

    You should please write a type of Follow-up article where you teach us how to use only 1% of time to gain a full overview (aeroplane perspective) over how to begin to filter information before analyzing

    I also listen to your podcast and think this could make for a good episode i would love to listen to there. Both you and Ludvig could say what your main things to look for are when you take on a new challenge in your life or when you are just normal (curious and exploring) new topics.

    And then as a follow-up to that (!!!) you can tell how you go about when you “deep-dive’ into something you already know.

    A very specific example of this would be for you in investing (albeit the episode does absolutely not have to be about investing) and someone gives you a new stock tip (which for whatever reason you decide to really take seriously). What are the first things you look at? I hope you understand.

    Maybe it is different for different parts of your life or tasks.

    Sorry for writing so much, I am usually very concise in my emails. I sure hope you read this and reply. Or better – act on it.

    John from Asia (but not from there originally)

    1. Hi John!

      Great ideas, albeit difficult to execute on in practice.

      Maybe the 1% article…

      The deep-dive in practice is a whole different thing. I usually get so caught up it’s difficult to document, but I just might give it a stab anyway


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