10,000 Hours

In Research by Emerson Jane BrowneLeave a Comment

955113_blog What does 10,000 hours get you?  It is an enormous amount of time.  It divides down to a little over 19 hours per week if you divide it evenly over 10 years. 

10,000 hours is the "magic number" of practice time to achieve mastery; mastery of anything. 

emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand of hours of
practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with
being a world-class expert – in anything" writes the neurologist,
Daniel Levitin.  "In study after study, of  composers, basketball
players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players,
master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and
again.  Of course, this doesn't address why some people get more out of
their practice sessions than others do.  But no one has yet found a
case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less
time.  It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all
that it needs to know to achieve true mastery."1

The above excerpt is from Outliers2 by Malcom Gladwell, however the part I quoted is actually Gladwell quoting Daniel Levitin from This is your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession3.

Gladwell goes on
to discuss "prodigies" such as Mozart, Bobby Fisher (chess), Bill Joy
(Java, etc.), Bill Gates, and others – all 10,000 hours!  And usually
the minimum time to accrue the 10,000 hours is 10 years.  Bobby Fisher
is the exception.  It took him only 9 years.

10,000 hours.  Even though that is a lot of time, it gives me hope. 

In the long run what we, the people with Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries, are hopefully doing is developing new pathways around damaged areas of the brain.  In the short run, we are developing compensatory strategies to manage our lives.  But if we work and work at something, for instance making detailed written plans to compensate for the lack of executive functions which include planning and sequencing, will we in time, in ten thousand hours, have developed mastery again?

I don't have the answer yet.  I recently sent an email to the nurse practitioner at the Harborview CORP-TBI clinic asking about about this very question.

… At my appointment on Wednesday with Dr. Zumsteg I asked about prognosis.  She told me that I have probably seen about as much improvement as I will see.  But on thinking about it later, that was not what I was asking.  I don’t think I clearly verbalized what my actual question was.  Therefore, I think my question still remains.  (At least when I do unclear things like this I know you people at CORP understand.) 

I think Dr. Zumsteg thought I was asking about actual healing of the brain tissue, but that is not what I meant.   I know and understand that the brain tissue that was injured is permanently damaged and that those specific areas that are still problematic will not heal. 

1193912_blogWhat I am trying to understand is what I can do to improve or grow other areas to compensate for or work around the damaged areas.  Or is there no way to do that?  For instance will my executive functions always be this handicapped or over time with working on them will they improve?  Will I forever be struggling this much with depression or over time can the brain chemistry become more normalized? 

I went on to explain how stubborn I am.  I gave an example of how, in my twenties, I
had regained the use of my right hand after being told I would lose 75%
of the use of it due to a major injury.  In the email I went on to say,

So that is where I am coming from in regards to these questions.  I am older this time around and I can feel that my body regenerates more slowly.  BUT I am still just as stubborn as I ever was!  I want to get more of me back.  I want to get my life to a more normal balance.  I desperately want to be able to work and earn a good wage so I can rebuild my retirement.

The idea of 10,000 hours to gain mastery is fascinating to me on many levels. This is the first of possibly a few posts on the topic.


  1. Daniel Levitin, as quoted by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, from This is your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession.
  2. Outliers is Malcom Gladwell's third book.  In my opinion it his best book yet.  It is a quick "listen to" on CDs and a joy since Gladwell does the reading himself.  However, it is best to read the book in addition since Gladwell adds in a lot of side notes that are not in the audio version.
  3. Daniel Levitin, This is your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (Plume/Penguin,2007) This book sounds fascinating but I have not yet read it.
Emerson Jane Browne
I am Emerson Jane Browne. I write about Brains, Apps, & Productivity, and many other aspects of Life. I speak to TBI support groups, speak and teach workshops at tech, music, and writer conferences. I consult with organizations on strategic planning and building a strong community.