Telling You a Thousand Times Wasn’t Enough – Part 1, by Orofino

Self Discipline: Principles in Practice

Trainers, educators and parents constantly contend with push back from professionals, students, and children when “the trainer” asks for consistent, repetitive attempts at otherwise banal tasks. What is the best germane rejoinder to such grousing?

Worse yet, those of us who don the mantle of Prepper or Sheepdog probably wrestle with the same demons that would have us believe that we are competent in our fitness level and proficient in our gardening, animal husbandry, bushcraft, food preservation skills, etc. The stark reality is that we probably need to settle into the idea that we need to do more, and better.

In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell, in his best-selling book, Outliers: The Story of Success, brought to the rank and file, the 10,000 – Hour Rule. Wherein, the author nicely develops the position, using an array of salient anecdotes, establishing that to become an expert in anything, one must fulfill the necessary, but not sufficient, requirement of at least 10,000 hours spent in that endeavor.

The professor expounds the experiences of Bill Joy, who essentially wrote the software that drives the Internet, Mozart, chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer, professional hockey players, The Beatles, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and a host of other eminent people in the world. What was the secret sauce common to their success?

As Gladwell (2008) reminds us, that according to the research, “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role of innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play” (p. 38).

The P10 Paradigm

Mentors, training officers, mid-level managers, police captains, moms, and dads tritely remind the tadpoles under their purview of the Passionate Participation in Prior Proper Planning Prevents Pitifully Poor Performance Paradigm; and probably, quite frequently. So then, how much quantifiable training is necessary to become proficient?

The sage professor comes to the rescue:

The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.   (p. 40)

Levitin suggests (as cited in Gladwell, 2008, p. 40) “…the emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything. 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…no one has 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” (p. 40).

Martial Arts legend, Bruce Lee, earlier arrived at a similar number as he opined, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

The time required to perform 10,000 kicks does not even approximate 10,000 hours, but it is a feeble goodwill concession and worthwhile starting point. In other words, one could suggest that, 10,000 iterations perhaps smacks of mastery.

Who Is Exempt?

This begs the question, are soldiers, firefighters, preppers, or rescue workers immune or exempt from this rule? I suggest that those of us in the prepping or sheepdog communities that hover around highway-speed I.Q.’s would do well to be inclined to agree with the Yale Professor and say emphatically, indeed no.

What are those responsible for training peers and subordinates, to take from this? Foremost, preppers should be inspired to greatness; even expertise. Perfection is the goal; but excellence is acceptable.

One frequently hears the adage that a good leader should inspire. Agreed. Consider what inspire means in a medical context; it is the antithesis of expire, or to die. In other words, leaders have the rich opportunity to figuratively and literally breathe life into those they motivate.

Exploration and diversion with the application of the 10,000-Hour Rule to the most primal activities suggests that: it is impossible to be an expert at breathing until one reaches at least 14 months of age; sleeping, about 3.5 years; walking, about 4.5 years; and eating, about 9 years of age. Once one gets the reality-check it becomes rather daunting.

How then, should a leader answer those trainees, including our own children, who complain when required to repeat the tasks that they claim to have performed millions of times in the academy or on last weeks’ chores?

In David J. Lieberman’s (2000) bestselling book, Get Anyone To Do Anything, he urges the reader to “…provide more than just the desired destination; also give her a map for getting there” (p. 62). And he admonishes the more assiduous student to “…focus on what he will be saving himself from (i.e., the heartache,…etc.) rather than what he has to gain from listening to you” (p. 63).

Applying Gladwell’s Findings

Consequently, how can instructors, leaders, and parents take the lucid findings of Professor Gladwell and apply them to the prepping community or other situations/organizations?

First, humbly admit that, owing to the diverse charter that comprises the job description of a prepper; a true expert in any facet of our craft is probably rare indeed and should frankly be conceded. In his book, What Makes a Leader? Psychologist Daniel Goleman (2017) contends that “Self-awareness is the first component of emotional intelligence….it shows itself… in an ability to assess oneself realistically” (p. 19). Applying this standard, any claim by a person in the profession who claims to be an expert in anything, cadre included, should peg the bovine excrement meter in each of our cerebral cortexes.

Second, submit to them the 10,000-Hour Rule, wherein, they can be assuaged with the promise that they may cease donning protective clothing, dry firing, honing domestic skills, decreasing a run time, increasing pull-ups, or whatever blows their hair back; after the minimum of 10,000 iterations or hours is spent training in each of those skills, whichever comes first. Further, one should be encouraged to stay in their lane, as it were, before more advanced skills are practiced with any regularity. The flippant response would resemble, “Come back and report to me once you are an expert.” Such a response is not recommended.

In practice, a tribe might be inspired to become experts at a battery of essential skills or maneuvers, perhaps of their own choosing, to encourage buy in. Suppose an earnest learner drills on 10 days monthly and trains in ten of those months, she should practice each of the skills 1,000 times per year. Were she to perform it 10 times each training block, thus yielding 10,000 iterations in ten years, it would satisfy both Sensei Bruce Lee and Dr. Lieberman, and may begin to placate the minimum threshold purveyed by Dr. Gladwell (2008). Practically, the process renders a tribe or group with near expertise in the predetermined skills in about ten years, not accounting for attrition, relevance, or perishability of the skills. Of most significance is the issue of self-aggrandizement and promotion, whereby at the completion of the ten years training, the expert frequently knights himself, declares himself a savant, dons an officer’s habiliments and inherits a completely different, less pedestrian skillset requirement, sadly never to revisit the expert skills again. However, that is a discussion for another day.

The KISS Principle

To make the most difficult first step on this journey, use the keep it simple stupid (KISS) principle. Does each member of your family or group have a few feet of inexpensive cordage with which to practice knot tying? Do they tie each knot daily? Does each have a practice tourniquet? Do they practice in low light or weak-handed scenarios?

To avoid the professional from taking umbrage at the suggestion, a leader could remind the practitioner that doing so may very well save her children’s mother’s or her patient’s life and the attendant guilt per Lieberman (2000). which would obviate ineffable suffering on their own and their coworkers’ behalf.

Motivating students, professionals and more particularly, ourselves to train on essential skills is, and will continue to be an onerous aspect of leadership at all levels. It is incumbent on each leader to inculcate a desire in themselves and each team member to attain and preserve expertise in the maximum number of skills available. We should all be striving to be the quintessential Renaissance man. To do anything less is a vapid dereliction of duty to our families, communities, the people and professionals with whom we work and the constituents who we serve.

(To be concluded in Part 2.)


  1. Concur.

    I owned a restaurant for ten years. My first nine-years and nine-months were invested in repetitively learning to do the basics.

    I grew-up on a farmer surrounded by four grandparents and aunts and uncles and a passel of older cousins. With all that mentoring, plowing a straight row required a decade of loops and various wanderings.

    My dear friend Dee mastered Interior Decorating after a decade of comparatives (then immediately succumbed to dementia).

    My grandparents were exquisitely skilled at parenting. My parents took a while to develop the knack.

  2. Interesting note about the 10,000 hour rule. Traditionally, it took at least 5 years for an apprentice to make it to master in a classical trade. At full time work, 5 years is about 10,000 hours, with time off for a little R&R once in a while. Journeyman level could be achieved in 2 years if the apprentice had decent talent to begin with. The difference is a master could work independently (self-employed) in his trade, a journeyman could not, even though they could demonstrate basic competencies.

    But even at that, a new master still had a lot to learn in his trade (multiple techniques, styles, applications). Masters of significant reputation typically did not have less than 20,000 hours of experience/training, and those at the top of their trade had 40,000 hours or more (20 years), which is where across the board expertise (excellence) really kicks in.

    Nowadays, in the states, journeyman level is roughly equivalent to classical master, meaning you have to be journeyman certified to work on your own in most trades. That is roughly 9,000 hours of experience and training. But modern techniques have expedited the learning curve a tad.

    For most things, 10,000 hours really is a minimum for achieving any sort of successful proficiency in a way of life. Prepping is a way of life.

  3. A very apt topic, but in the Redoubt, we became familiar with the Suzuki method of music education.

    The salient point he taught was that quality of time spent learning was far, far, and away more important than time spent rehearsing. He used 10,000 hours of poor instruction would never achieve what quality could in 1,000 hours, and his objective was that a child should be an excellent musician within 1,000 hours.

    Quality means everything. Find the best instruction you can. Do not waste time and money on mediocre learning, but actively pursue good education and good instructors.

    Don’t be a ‘buy and store but never take classes’ gun owner or else you could be who Proverbs speaks of in 26:10:

    “Like an archer who wounds at random is he who hires a fool or any passer-by.”NIV

    Seek Wisdom. Prov. 2:10 “For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.”NIV

    God Bless and keep your snow shovel handy. Big snows are headed for the Sierra and Rocky mountains. We’ve received over three feet and now it’s settling and collapsing roofs here and there as the transition to wet rain is happening.

  4. One lesson from this is that those preppers who are practicing & learning skills, are much more likely to survive than preppers who stock up but don’t practice their skills.

  5. I won’t disagree with the general point. What I would add is that for some people no where near that amount of repetition is necessary to learn a skill. While for others no amount of repetition will teach them the skill. People are different and have different innate abilities. Some people will choose to be opposed to whatever is being taught until they starve or freeze to death. Also it isn’t necessary, in most cases, to be an expert. I like to cook, some of my meals are pretty good, some are not. All are edible and will keep me alive.

  6. Good article so far. Electrical apprenticeship, 800 classroom hours learning the math and engineering and science of the trade, 7200 work hours. You get your journeyman’s card. Now the apprenticeship really begins. After another two years, working with much more experienced people, journeyman’s card in hand, you finally start being one of those “more experienced” people. After another couple of years, and testing, and studying, and finding a sponsor, you can take the Master’s exam. Even then, you need ,
    continuing education, just to keep up.

    After 38 years when folks would ask me to describe my skill levels, my answer would always be “I’m the best there is at what I do, but I still don’t know enough”. No matter what you do, no matter what your goals, the learning never ever stops.

Comments are closed.