How does it take to Master something? Less than I thought.....

I read an article in Inc. this week and apparently Malcolm Gladwell’s well-worn theory that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master is no more!

Apparently, there are some who say it takes much less time,

As little as 20 hours!

Well, this is awesome news for anyone like me who has decided to throw in 20 plus years of career to explore new territory and who is on an eye-watering learning curve.

However, as someone who learned to fly a plane in the last 5 years, I’m somewhat sceptical of this new 20 hour theory.

I think it took me 19 hours to go solo (flying by myself for the first time).

If you are a pilot and you’re laughing behind your hand thinking 19 hours is a lot, I learned only in a tailwheel aircraft.

The point is, that after 120 hours I am still by no means a master!

Anyway, the Inc. article did have merit so I want to share with you what the unusually named author, Peter Economy, had to say about how to master anything in 20 hours.

He draws on the work of bestselling author Josh Kaufman who wrote The First 20 hours: How to Learn Anything Fast which describes 4 steps to streamline the learning process.

The basic premise is Quality over Quantity.

Step 1. Break it down.

No matter how big, scary or hairy a goal or new skill is, the first thing to do is to break it down into bite-sized chunks that you can more easily manage. For each chunk, you then need to work out the tools, people and resources you need in place.

Step 2. Learn how to correct yourself.

"Get three to five resources about what it is you're trying to learn," says Kaufman. "It could be books, it could be DVDs, it could be anything, but don't use those as a way to procrastinate." Here Kaufman is simply suggesting you jump in and learn. And learn enough to know when you need to improve on something.

It’s about testing and measuring. Take action and try it out. If it doesn’t work out, scrap it, review what didn’t work, change it up and try again.

You can’t learn to swim just by watching YouTube, you have to get into the pool.

Step 3. Remove distractions.

What are you letting get in the way of quality practice or study?

There may be aspects of your new thing that are not so fun for you. Willpower will not be enough. It will come down to how much you want it. And the momentum you’re building through trial and error and the little successes you have along the way.

By removing the distraction of more enjoyable things and focussing on your BIG WHY you can do anything.

Behavioural scientist Katherine Milkman discusses "temptation bundling," a technique where you pair something you're trying to get yourself to do with an action you know you already enjoy. While you tackle learning a new skill or hobby, avoid distracting things like your phone or even your work email, and instead put more enjoyment into the process.

Step 4. Make a commitment.

There will always be a time at the start of every learning journey where you will become frustrated at how incompetent you are. Despite these feelings, stick it out. Feeling stupid is a real barrier to progress, but, as Kaufman assures, by "pre-committing to practising whatever it is that you want to do for at least 20 hours, you will be able to overcome that initial frustration barrier and stick with the practice long enough to actually reap the rewards."

I’m not convinced about the 20 hour thing but I do like the steps shared in this article.

Mastery, whether it’s in 20 hours or 10,000 hours comes down to commitment, focus, quality practice and a BIG WHY.

The one other key to mastery and success I would add is one from my own experience and that is modelling.

Not the strutting down the runway type modelling,

The type of modelling I mean is where you find someone who has the skill you want and you study their mindset, their beliefs about the thing, how they think, how they take action, maybe even what they have for breakfast.

Then you do what they do.

Exactly how they do it.

Including the breakfast

Modelling is one of the best ways to improve your performance in anything or to learn a new skill.


Emma Taberner is a qualified Leadership and Executive Coach, Speaker, Facilitator, author and self-confessed Human Behaviour nerd. With over 20 years Supply Chain industry experience and 10 years coaching and mentoring frontline leaders, she is passionate about helping small business owners and their teams to understand how their behaviours determine their leadership and effectiveness in business, relationships and in life. Emma works One to One, with groups, both face 2 face and online.

When she’s not building future leaders you can find her flying small planes, being in the outdoors, growing her own food and hanging out with her husband of over 20 years.

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