10 thousand hours, child rearing, children, effort, intelligence, IQ, parenting, problem solving, self esteem, success, work
My new boss made us all go to a sort of business seminar thingy, which was a little weird because it was run by Scientologists. But I heard something there that really struck home with me:
The coach said that you need to put in 10,000 hours of work before you become truly expert at something.
Now, I’m sure there’s nothing magic about that particular number. I Googled it and the author of Outliers, who made this claim, bases this on examples of people who got famous after doing something a LOT, including the Beatles who logged 10,000 hours of playing time between 1960 and 1964, and Bill Gates, who logged around 10,000 hours of programming time as a kid. What the number does do is give a general bookmark, a rule-of-thumb, which helps to define “A WHOLE LOTTA TIME”.
10,000 hours. That’s 9 hours a day for 3 years, or 3 hours a day for 10 years, or 1 hour a day for TWENTY SEVEN YEARS.
Not just to become good at something. To become GREAT at something.
It sounds impossible, but that also explains why there are so few true experts in any particular given field.
Then again, Mozart probably hit 10,000 hours of music playing before age 10, and Sidney Crosby, who used to shoot pucks at the washing machine in his parents’ basement before he even learned to skate, probably hit 10,000 hours of hockey before his teens.
I haven’t logged that many hours in dog training, yet, but I’ve probably logged about 5,000 if my estimates are close to accurate. So I’m half expert. I’ve certainly done enough to become competent.
The 10,000 hour rule makes sense to me and is actually quite liberating. Obviously, one needs an aptitude to do really well, but even if you do have an aptitude, you still need to practice.
The problem is that we don’t tend to grow up with this mindset, especially if we were considered “smart” as kids.
The western world places a lot of weight on innate ability. We think that either we have a gift for music, or writing, or art, or math… or we don’t. We test our pre-schoolers for genius, and weed out the “gifted” from the average kids long before their brains are even close to mature.
In fact, many kids who test as gifted at age 3 average out by the time they’re 6, and many kids who test as normal at age 3 end up re-testing as gifted later on.
But by then it’s too late – the gifted programs are already filled.
Why do they spend so much time talking about how to challenge the smart kids, instead of teaching kids how to meet a challenge?
More and more research is coming out showing that telling our kids that they are smart may actually be damaging their self-esteem and chances in life.
While that sounds ridiculous to start, those of you who DID grow up being “smart” may already be nodding your heads.
When you are a “smart” child, school is easy. You are told that it is easy because you are so “smart”. So what happens when something is suddenly challenging?
Research is beginning to show that those of us who believed that our success in school was due to our innate intelligence actually give up faster and feel worse about ourselves than people who believed that life is something you have to work at.
Researchers gave a class of average children an easy aptitude test. In private, they told half of the kids “You did really well, you must be very smart”. They told the other half, “You did really well, you must have worked very hard.”
Then they offered the kids to take another, more challenging test.
Interestingly, the “smart” kids almost always turned down the opportunity. Having already achieved a “smart” label they didn’t want to risk failing and no longer looking smart.
The “hard working” kids, on the other hand, almost always accepted the challenge, because they wanted to keep looking like hard workers.
Even more interestingly, the “hard working” kids persisted at difficult questions longer than the “smart” kids, and when asked later on which was their favourite puzzle, usually chose the most difficult one.
“Smart” kids gave up very easily, saying “I guess I’m not good at this one” and when asked which puzzle was the best, chose the one they found easiest.
If any of you “smart” kids out there weren’t nodding your heads in recognition at the beginning, I bet you are now.
I recognize myself in these studies, so does my friend The Farm Fairy, and PH is a perfect example of the “smart” effect.
PH is a genius.
He was accepted by Mensa when we were still in University and they told him that he was probably the 16th smartest person in the province.
But he did not get good grades in University.
He had never had to work before.
Even though his parents held him to very high standards, PH coasted through the public school system.
He never had to exert himself in order to achieve a good grade.
Even when his own mother was his English teacher, and marking him as strictly as she could, she was forced to give him the English award, after taking his work to her fellow teachers and saying “my son has the top grade in the class…” they looked through his work and agreed – she had to do what no teacher ever wants to have to do with their child – put him at the top of the class.
PH is smarter than 99.9% of the people he walks past on the street, and when you’re that smart, you don’t have to try very hard to do better than the others.
The problem is that when you are told again and again that you are innately more gifted than other people, and your success is put down to that (even if it’s true), it changes how you approach problems.
When you suddenly come up against something that is difficult, you think, “uh oh. My innate abilities don’t seem to be helping me with this one,” and you give up because you don’t have any other tools in your mental toolbox. Either you’re brilliant at something, or you aren’t.
So PH holds himself to ridiculously high standards.
He loves curling and did very well in junior leagues as a kid. But when he rejoined a curling league a couple of years ago he came home every Tuesday night in a foul mood, because he hadn’t thrown as well as he expected.
He hasn’t played softball in years, but if he joins a charity softball event, he curses himself for every missed hit.
When he finds himself in the vicinity of a piano, he lays his hands on the keys and beautiful music floats into the air. After a few minutes he hits a wrong note and curses, and stops – he used to be able to play that piece perfectly.
I got off a little luckier in life than PH did.
…First of all, I’m not as smart.
I was a bright kid with an aptitude for English – I remember that in the IOWA exams I scored well into the 90th percentile for language, and people are still impressed that I can spell chrysanthemum off the top of my head. But I’m no genius.
Secondly, I was in private schooling up until grade 8. Every year my teacher would be impressed with me for a week or two, and then would start raising his/her standards. It wasn’t good enough for me to be better than the other kids. I had to be better than myself if I wanted a good grade.
I remember getting a D (the lowest grade I had EVER received by a country mile) on a test that I hadn’t bothered to study for, because I knew the book inside out. I am willing to bet you money that it was still better average, but my teacher knew that I hadn’t put a drop of effort into it, and she wasn’t afraid to give me a D to shake me up a bit.
So I did have to work at school, up until we moved back to Canada and I got put into the public school system. The teachers there were too busy, too jaded, and had too many kids who couldn’t read at all to bother with trying to demand higher excellence from me. They were just pleased that they didn’t have to worry about me.
I coasted the rest of the way.
Nevertheless, before I moved North, my demanding private school teachers taught me how to take notes, how to study, how to write a difficult test, and how to meet deadlines.
I did fine in University… with a lot of hard work.
But generally, I have always given up easily. When I try something, and fail, I think “I can’t do it” and that is it. I place a lot of my value as a person on my intelligence, and when I start feeling stupid, I get really depressed. I fear failure. Failure is my enemy.
…just like those “smart” kids who declined the more challenging test.
I should have the 10,000 hour rule stapled to my brain.
I have always wanted to be an author, but when I sit down to write, I start thinking about how much my writing sucks (if you think I’m hard on Stephenie Meyer, you should hear me critique myself…) and the page stays blank.
The Domesticated Nerd Girl recently made a post about her love of drawing, and how she gets discouraged when genius doesn’t flow instantly from her pencil.
We had to wait until our thirties to discover it, but we’re learning – that (shock and surprise) talent takes effort and time.
So PH and I don’t want Owl to be “smart”. We want him to be “hard working”.
So far, it could go either way. Owl IS hardworking. He loves a challenge, whether it’s the daily failure of trying to put on his own shoes (on the wrong foot and backwards) or the challenge of climbing every piece of furniture, every chair, and every rock he can find.
But people are already starting to tell us that he’s smart.
Mind you, parents are always told that.
But Daycare Lady says he focuses longer than the other kids his age (19 months), and is starting to outdo the two year olds on counting, identifying objects and so on.
Maybe he is smart, but his chance of success in life is much more closely tied to his love of the challenge.
So we try really hard to not tell Owl that he’s smart.
Oh, it happens occasionally, because somehow “congratulations, you did it through hard work and determination and not through innate ability!” doesn’t slide off the tongue as easily. But we’re really trying not to overdo it.
We’ll raise him on the 10,000 hour rule, instead.
And meanwhile, if I want to become the famous author I’ve always wanted to be, I’ve got to log more writing time, otherwise I’ll be eighty before it happens, if I live that long.
I’m going to disagree with you somewhat. I don’t think the 10,000 hour rule is something I’m going to even pay attention to in childhood. Because I think it takes us a long time to decide what it is we want to devote ourselves to to the extent that we’d want to develop expertise. There are exceptions, of course, but I don’t know that I’d be up for letting my kid be a child prodigy at anything.
I spent a long time working as a child on music and thought singing was my thing. I got plenty of humiliation along the way because I did have to work for it. And it was good for me. But then I got a detailed test done and it turns out I don’t have a good enough ear to be the kind of expert I wanted to be. It’s taken me years to accept that, but it was important information. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I could really see it.
I do agree with most of what you say. I was a “gifted” kid. E was a “gifted” kid. He is a naturally hard worker, a built-in perfectionist. I am a slacker just as you describe. Perhaps I could’ve been trained to work hard. I was comfortable with my own intelligence and didn’t try much, even if it meant I didn’t get good grades. Grades meant nothing to me. They were an arbitrary measure. Whereas for E, it was validation, which was why he worked so hard.
Both of us have a lot of pros and cons to our approaches. I want our kids to be somewhere in the middle. I want them to strive to do well without taking themselves to task if they aren’t perfect. I want them to learn what they’re good at, but I also want them to learn what they enjoy.
It’s a complicated issue, you know? Until I know if our kids are more like me or more like E, I’m going to wait it out. As for E and I, he’s going to try and care less about how our kids do in school and I’m going to try and care more and hopefully we’ll discover a middle ground that works for our whole family.
I think you misunderstood me. I don’t mean I’m going to try and make Owl practice something for 10,000 hours. I am just going to let him know that if you want to be good at something you have to work very hard for a very long time. I’ll tell him the 10,000 hour rule to help him understand that it takes hard work to be great at something.
And as I say, you still need to have an aptitude for something to be really good at it, but I think that most people are drawn naturally to the things they have an aptitude for. Mozart WANTED to work on music as hard as he did – contrary to popular myth, he wasn’t forced into it. Ditto for Sidney Crosby.
I’ve seen that so often with people far smarter than me who didn’t achieve as much as I thought they could. I never realized that by telling my sons that they are smart might be conflicting them. I’ve noticed difficulty getting them to work hard, repeat, repeat, which is the important part!
My grandfather, who lived next door and was my father-figure after my mother was widowed, was a total hardass in this area. He respected intelligence, but he *demanded* effort. We consistently got the message “All the brains in the world won’t get you anywhere if you don’t APPLY YOURSELF.” He’d point out supposedly smart people who weren’t living up to their potential. (In his politically incorrect estimation “because they were too lazy to put in the effort.”)
At the time I resented it: How come he wasn’t impressed by my marks, my awards, and my intelligence like everyone else?? Now I realize it was far better than going on and on about my IQ, which is nothing more than the luck of the genetic draw. Helpful, but not the be-all and end-all. And of course, he was right: It’s effort that gets you places.
Yup. You had a smart grandfather. Er, I mean, hardworking.
Karyn @ kloppenmum said:
Completely, completely and utterly agree! I taught so many smart kids who went on to do nothing after school because they weren’t used to working hard and dealing with challenges. This is also why I insist our kids do very few after school activities, but have to play with things like blocks, mud and hut building – they learn problem solving and that they don’t have to have the answers before they begin something. Great post!!!
Thanks for reposting!
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Laura Weldon said:
Agree, we all need to learn the growth mindset rather than smart versus not-so-smart. I have a somewhat different take on the 10,000 hour thing. I know that it’s largely applied to one set of skills—-music or golf or computers—but my take on it is that what we devote ourselves to (say pursuit of wild curiosity or responding to people around us with empathy) brings us to that 10,000 hours in ways we may not imagine. Frightfully, we expect schooled kids to sit still and stifle their interests for more than 10,000 hours by the time they grow up, so basically we’re making them experts in doing what authority tells them while suppressing the passions that make them come alive. Here’s a bit explaining on that: http://lauragraceweldon.com/2012/01/10/how-the-10000-hour-rule-can-benefit-any-child/
Oooh, good point.
I keep hearing this and need to keep hearing it. It can be hard to break the pattern of saying, “You’re smart.” Thanks for the reminder.
It comes so naturally, doesn’t it? We’ve started using “good job” instead.
devoTed to excellence said:
I’ve heard that “10,000 hours” thing before, but I don’t put much stock in it. IMHO, 10,000 is about enough to get to the point where you see how little you really know, and to fully appreciate the talent of those ahead of you. Then you spend the rest of your life trying to out-genius them 🙂
I agree on the message of your post, though. In Singapore we used to see lots of emphasis on hard work rather than intelligence, and it paid off in some ways (less so in others – see Laura’s post above).
Ah, yes, but once you reach that point, doesn’t that really make you an expert in the eyes of others? I bet most “experts” still feel that they have much to learn.
I think people (schools etc) misunderstand what real giftedness really is. It’s not about being smarter, but about having a brain which works differently. This is why real differentiation can help “gifted” students – because they are (ideally!) taught differently, according to their brain’s needs. (More connections between information, etc.) It’s a shame that children with different learning needs are labelled as “gifted” and burdened with all the false expectations of that.
I agree about the importance of 10,000 hours of learning – although I think it has to be directed practice, rather than just doing something for 10,000 hours, as you may be making a whole bunch of errors 🙂 But I’d add one thing – I know young people who do put in huge amounts of hours towards a goal, but those with an innate ability still do better. Perhaps it is simply because their natural facility supports their hard work? I could work for 10,000 hours and never be a good engineer, because my brain doesn’t process mathematical languages well. But yes, generally, it is an excellent principle 🙂
I think making errors and learning from them is a big part of becoming an expert, and I don’t think it needs to be guided. Experimentation is also a huge part of being good at something.
But I agree about aptitude – I did mention that in the post, that you need an aptitude. However, I think that we are naturally drawn to things we have aptitudes in. You would probably never spend 10,000 hours practicing engineering. I know I wouldn’t.
Case in point: My younger brother and I are five years apart. We share many personality traits and both of us are pretty intelligent (we tested gifted in elementary school). However, that’s about where our success comparisons end. I got a 3.9 GPA going through the International Baccalaureate program in high school (for the uninitiated, IB is a rigorous, advanced high school program taught in schools around the world) I was also on one of the best girls high school weightlifting teams in the US. However, my brother can barely keep a low B average in his regular classes. Why? He just won’t put in the effort. My mom says she sees him do homework about twice a semester. Smart only gets you so far.
Especially since our society, especially school, is set up not to test true understanding but our ability to learn by rote.
Couldn’t agree more. I did the math one time and found out I spent roughly 10,000 hours in grad school to attain expertise in my (microscopic) field. 🙂 I wish we valued hard work more in this country, I think it could solve a lot of ills. (Not work for the sake of work, but work for the sake of achievement.)
Curious about the seminar you did. Sounds like the Landmark Forum. If so, I will provide a personal guarantee that it’s not run by Scientologists – I lead courses there and all I know about Scientology can be summed up in ‘aliens’. 😉
It was part of my boss’s business course – it was, like, bring your staff to school day or something. And they were definitely Scientologists. When I mentioned that their L Ron Hubbard who designed their business strategies also invented Scientology, they handed out a bunch of Scientology promotional DVDs!
Hi Carol, I loved this article and agree that for some things you really need to put in those 10,000 hours. And most importantly, agree to the discipline of practice and hardwork to reach a good level in whatever it is that you want to achieve. I have posted your link on my blog here http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=6020846390280697437#editor/target=post;postID=622833319187655670. Thanks, Vibha
I hope you’ll agree the behaviourist perspective has something to contribute to this topic. It’s to do with schedules of reinforcement. Apparently, you get the highest rates of response, most resistant to extinction when the subject is on what, if I recall correctly but can’t be bothered to check, is called a variable ratio schedule of reinforcement, meaning that the subject is rewarded only after, on average, a given number of responses. As opposed to being rewarded every time they do the behaviour (a fixed ratio schedule). If you think about it, this captures some of the differences we’re thinking about between the gifted child to whom everything comes naturally and the one who got there by hard work. A gifted child gets it right first time and is rewarded immediately without effort. So they become accustomed to a schedule of reinforcement where the rewards for their effort and activity comes thick and fast. If the rewards stop coming quickly, for whatever reason, the behaviour goes into extinction, and they stop doing it. Someone who doesn’t get it right first time, on the other hand, becomes accustomed to working hard for each reward. They don’t expect the rewards to come easily so they keep responding at higher rates for longer. They become tenacious people. The feelings of depression gifted people experience when they can’t do something are the concomitants of behaviour undergoing extinction.
Well, you know I’m a dog trainer so it’s easy for me to take the behaviorist perspective, and I completely agree that reinforcement schedules would play a strong part. However, this is where behaviorism falls down:
The experiment I cited cannot be explained by behaviorism alone. First of all, 100% of the children in the study were reinforced for their performance, regardless of actual outcome. The only variable was the TYPE of reinforcement, and even that was a very minor difference. Both groups were rewarded with verbal praise from an authority figure, and a self-perception of success. Only the wording of the praise differed, and yet the wording had a direct effect on the child’s willingness to attempt the task again, as well as the degree on persistence on the next task.
Skinner could not have explained that satisfactorily.
Behaviorism is elegant, and it is highly applicable to many situations, but it has been a long time since anyone has seriously considered it to be an all-encompassing theory.
That being said, I want to reiterate that I believe that variable reinforcement schedules are a factor.
OOH, although it has just come to me – the difference is not in the KIND of reinforcement, but WHAT is being reinforced.
In the first group, the results are reinforced. Thus, the child fears getting poor results and prefers questions which are easy to succeed at.
In the second group, the EFFORT is reinforced. Thus the child looks forward to expending effort again, and prefers questions which require more effort.
So while variable reinforcement schedules may play a part, I think a huge part of the parent’s role is to reinforce the effort more than the actual end result…
Yes that sounds right. Especially the part about the parent having to reinforce the child’s effort.
Oh sorry, I wasn’t thinking about the experiment as such when I mentioned the schedules of reinforcement. I was thinking about how gifted people seem to achieve things easily or more easily than others and that understanding this as a point about reinforcement schedules helps make sense of other behaviours (like the gifted person’s depression when it doesn’t come easily).
Maybe the experiment shows that contrary to appearances there was more than a minor difference in the type of reinforcement, and that whether you say ‘you did well because you’re smart’ or ‘you did well because you worked hard’ matters? I don’t understand ‘Verbal Behaviour’ well enough to think with confidence about how Skinner might explain the difference between the different reinforcement phrases, but I guess that he would say they’re reinforcing effect is tied to their serving as stimuli for further behaviour down the line. Somehow being told you’re smart continues to reinforce whereas being told you worked hard has a single use reinforcing effect or so.
I’m not trying to advocate behaviourism as an all encompassing theory. I’m simply trying to squeeze as much explanatory power out of it as I can. It’s simple frugality. At the moment, I don’t have an adequate idea of what the behaviourist explanation of the experiment would be, but that’s not to say there isn’t one.
More people SHOULD apply behaviorism to everyday life. It explains most things!
I wasn’t very clear in the last comment and I got the order of things all wrong. First I should say that I loved reading this post and it rang many bells for me. Dot is the smart one in our relationship and I think the had trouble challenging her at school. It’s not her fault and it’s not even the fault of her teachers because they could only do what they could do but the consequence was that she go used to doing well (being rewarded, accomplishing tasks etc) with little effort. So she got trained up on a fixed ratio schedule near enough where she was rewarded whenever she put her mind to the tasks she was given. If Owl is smart, I think the challenge for you will be finding challenges for him or he will fall into the same routine. Unless you get used to working hard for things, you aren’t able to work hard for things. I guess the tricky thing is getting children used to working hard by gradually increasing the difficulty, otherwise they’ll give up right at the start.
I thought the outliers book was interesting too by the way. Another thing he mentioned that was interesting was the fact that ice hockey players all tend to have birthdays at the same time of the year. The explanation was that if you’re born at that time of the year, you’re that little bit more coordinated, that little bit stronger than the younger kids at school, so you have a slight advantage, which means when they pick kids for extra attention etc, you get picked. And the effect ramifies at every level of school until before you know it, you’re in the NHL. After reading it, I almost thought it would be worth keeping a kid back a year just to make sure they’re one of the oldest in their class.
Yes, I was aware of the time-of-year effect. I have to wonder, though, how that applies to letting a child skip a year. Does it help even the score, or does it end up throwing the child into a cohort that is bigger and stronger than them, thus perpetuating the stereotype of the weakling nerd?
No, I meant not skipping the year, but waiting for the new intake the next year. So your child is the big one.
No, no, I understand that. I just mean that WHAT IF your child is already bright enough to be ahead of his class, and ends up getting skipped up a grade? Do you think the added challenge will help, or do you think the size difference would be too detrimental.
That’s difficult. If they skip the class, they’ll be challenged intellectually, but they’ll be underdeveloped physically. I guess you’d be making it highly likely that they become a nerd, which is not a bad thing. It depends what you want for your child, I guess. If you don’t put them up a year, it’d probably be really important to give them some extra curricular activity that you can praise their effort in, like piano lessons perhaps?
To say that you need to put in a lot of practice if you want to become good at something … well, duh? 🙂 Practice makes perfect, as they say. I guess we just tend to forget that we’re not born experts or wake up one day and suddenly we’re yoga instructors.
This post reminds me of an article someone posted to on Facebook a while back. Wonder if you’ve read the same one. Think it’s absolutely true that those who get told they’re so clever get a rough deal from it. I was always told that, and as a result, I have no idea how to study properly.
Growing up, my mum said I could’ve had better grades if only I applied myself, but how do you apply yourself? I showed up for lessons, did what was asked, and if the homework was “read chapter 2”, I would read chapter 2 … once. Well, they DID just say “read it” and so therefore I did. There was no mention of “read it multiple times so it really sticks”. No wonder I never did that great with piano lessons.
In recent years, when I once lamented my schooling, I said I would’ve been much better off in a Waldorf/Steiner school. Mum agreed, but sadly, there weren’t any in our town at the time. They have a different approach to learning, where you learn by doing and problem-solving rather than “repeat after me”. I love learning about new things, but school never struck me as being about learning. Funny that.
I was lucky to be in Montessori.
Oh Goodness. How did I get so far behind on these posts? What an awful friend am I.
My whole family has issues with the “smart vs hard-working” thing. My brother is worse than I am. I’m trying really hard not to pass it to my son, but once in a while you really can’t help it. I wonder if there’s a happy medium, where your kid is both smart AND hard working.
On a slightly unrelated topic, my employer told me she was happy my son was a happy kid, because she firmly believes that being overly smart makes you sad. Not saying my child is stupid, just saying he’s not so smart that he’s depressive.
I think that’s very true. My mother says it’s better to be a sad Socrates than a happy pig, but I’m not sure the pig would agree.
Also, that being said, so far research has not been able to back up intelligent people’s claims that they are less happy.
I think that intelligent people are less inclined to melodrama, more more inclined to existential angst. Perhaps it balances out?
This is opposite of what my mother now says. She used to agree with yours, but now sings a different tune. She often remarks on how my sister’s dog is happy because he’s dumb as mayonnaise.
Maybe it balances out? I don’t know. I’d consider myself to be reasonably intelligent but I’m decently happy, so I don’t support her hypothesis.
I did note one study which found a correlation between intelligence and neurosis. Perhaps it is the neurosis, more than the IQ, which makes us miserable?
Maybe. Or maybe it’s simply that we fear failure so much we never accomplish our dreams because we never try.
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