Neuro-biz-ology: Shortcutting the 10,000-Hour Rule

The 10,000-hour rule: It takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything.

Originally espoused by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, the 10,000 hour rule has been more recently popularized by Malcom Gladwell in his awesome book Outliers and Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code. And, it’s a great, short soundbyte, that has just one problem:

It’s not quite true.

Becoming an expert takes more than just putting in 10,000 rote hours – by making use of these tips and tricks you can truly become an expert in 10,000 hours or less. (Ericsson, Gladwell, and Coyle all do a great job of discussing how those 10,000 hours must be used, it’s just that in our soundbyte society those details tend to get left out.)

Shortcutting the 10,000-Hour Rule

  1. You must employ Deliberate Practice. The art of deliberate practice is doing whatever it takes to make something cognitive – so you are actually paying attention to what you are doing rather than just doing it to get it done. If you take your time so you learn from it, the extra time it takes now will come back to you in spades later.
  2. Study before you sleep. Studies tell us that when we study right before sleeping, our brain processes whatever we were thinking about immediately before sleep. So whether you are trying to come up with that one-in-a-million headline, solve that coding dilemma, or figure out who the best candidate for the job is – sleep on it.
  3. Study the masters. No matter how clever and innovative we think we are, pretty much everything has already been done, somewhere. Study the masters inside your industry and out, as well as what they did right – and wrong. By learning from their successes and mistakes you’ll shortcut your own route to expertise.
  4. Talent and luck still matter. I’m 5’5” and have a propensity to hit myself in the back of the head every time I attempt an overhead pass with a basketball – which means that I do not have a future in the WNBA. But, synthesizing information and analyzing systems I’m really good at – by focusing my time and energy on what I’m good at (and not on the free throw line) I’m going to definitely accelerate my path to expertise.
  5. Work with your brain, not against it. In my Neuro-biz-ology 101 column I laid out some of the foundational tenets for how the brain processes information and learns. Use prediction, novelty, and variety to your advantage to soak up information even faster.

How is your journey to mastery going? Which pieces of this shortcutting process are you going to adopt?

Photo Credit: emanuele spies

About Jen Waak

Jen Waak is a health, wellness, and fitness coach that works with entrepreneurs and other crazy-busy professionals to help them have the bodies they want without having to give up their lives. Also the author of the Keyboard Athletes Guide to Pain Relief & Prevention, Jen lives, trains, and coaches in Seattle, WA. Sign up for her no-cost course How to Have the Body You Want (Without Giving Up Your Life) at

  • Megan Elizabeth Morris

    I’m really fascinated by this whole concept, and I love the neuro-biz-ology series altogether. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  • JenWaak

    Glad you enjoyed. The studying before sleep trick I particularly like – it’s weirdly annoying at how much better I learn stuff.