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10,000 Hours Debunked: What Are the True Limitations of Practice?

What's the Latest?

The impact of practice on people's musical, athletic, and professional abilities is much more limited than previously thought, according to a meta-analysis of 88 studies on the topic. While practice does help, researchers found that it certainly wasn't everything: "it explained about 21 percent of the difference in subjects’ musical skills, 18 percent of the difference in sports and less than 1 percent of the difference in professions." Another study which looked exclusively at music-playing twins, therefore isolating out genetic differences, found that individuals who practiced more were not necessarily at an advantage over their less determined twin. 

What's the Big Idea?

The most famous proponent of practice-makes-perfect, Malcolm Gladwell, has been under siege from researchers for some time now, since having published a book which argues that 10,000 hours of practice makes a crucial difference in ability. So what explains our love affair with practice? "Its appeal makes a certain amount of sense — it’s heartening to believe we can excel in any field if we just work hard enough." But accepting our limitations can also be freeing and keep us from hours of tedious toil. If we quit and try something new, we may find a natural aptitude in another field--of course we'll have to practice at it.

Read more at the New York Times

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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