It Takes 20 Hours To Learn A New Skill

It takes 20 hours of practice to become skilled enough to enjoy a new activity

Chicks Ouray, Ice Climbing 3-Day clinic participant progressing on steep ice in the Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, Colorado. ©Angela Hawse.

It takes 20 hours, not 10,000 hours to learn a skill.

Last week I stood on the beach in Kauai and jealously watched kids catch small waves on their surfboards.

Even as they fell off their boards they laughed. But, I hesitated.

Why start now?” I asked. Surfing has a slow learning curve and requires regular practice. I only get to do this once a year.

My friends beckoned from the waves and called, “The conditions are perfect!”

“Okay,” I thought, “I have to work up to this. I can’t be afraid.”  I had no illusions that I’d figure out how to catch and ride a wave in the hour before sunset.

Kneeling on my board, I let a few waves pass under me. Then I paddled as hard as I could, my friends yelling, “Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!”

“Holy S—!” I rode the wave into shore like a big kid.

Musing over my surfing misgivings, I came across an interesting interview, Josh Kaufmen: It Takes 20 hours, Not 10,000 Hours To Learn a Skill, by Dan Schawbel.

Most of us are deeply disturbed at the prospect of being horrible at something, even temporarily. When you try something new, you’re usually very bad, and you know it. The easiest way to eliminate that feeling of angst is to quit practicing and go do something else, so that’s what most of us do.

The early hours of trying something new are always challenging, but a little persistence can result in huge increases in skill. The human brain is optimized to pick up new skills extremely quickly.”

It turns out it takes 10,000 hours to reach the top of competitive fields. However, for most of us, the aim is not the top of a field but to be skilled enough or proficient enough to enjoy an activity.

Kaufmen’s research suggests people can usually reach a level where they can have fun in just 20 hours of “deliberate practice.” Deliberate practice is marked by targeting performance levels, breaking skills down into smaller parts and practicing the most important, or “base” skills first.

At Chicks, our gold standard is the 3-day (24 hours of climbing) course.

Learn where you are in your progression of skills on our Ice Climbing Levels page.

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