Bob Tamasy: Want To Be Great At Something? Can You Spare 10,000 Hours?

  • Thursday, June 20, 2024
  • Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy

Rules. Most of us don’t like them, except when we can use them to our advantage. I’m thinking of the cynic who defined the Golden Rule as “he who has the gold rules.” He had a point – doesn’t it seem the folks with lots of money are wielding the greatest influence these days?

But getting back to rules, we see evidence at how much people abhor rules (or laws) almost every day. The persons who not only defy the highway speed limit, but also weave recklessly from lane to lane just to get a few feet ahead of the next driver. I observed several of those just the other day. (No, I wasn’t one of them.)

Kids are notorious for disliking rules. Tell them something reasonable, like ‘Don’t touch the stove,’ and that only makes the stove top touch even more enticing. Rules like, ‘You have to clean up your room before you watch TV’ or, “You can’t have dessert until you finish your dinner’ are sure to ignite their rebellious streak. No parent in the world ever said, “I’m going to raise a little rule-breaker,” but that’s what typically happens.

We might blame such behavior on childish innocence or naivete, but as we grow up, we maintain our propensity for breaking rules. Often, with experience we get more skilled at concealing our ‘un-ruley’ behavior.

This thing about rules goes all the way back to the Old Testament, when God was giving the no-longer-enslaved Israelites literal marching orders. When the Lord presented the Ten Commandments to Moses, as recounted in Exodus 20, the Israelites initially welcomed them and promised to keep them. ‘Sure, Yahweh, whatever You say!’

However, they soon found the commandments – only 10 – much too restrictive. So, in very short order they succeeded in breaking every one of those divine rules. Not once or twice, but so many times they lost count. You could say the remainder of the Old Testament is the story of God’s chosen people’s insistence on enthusiastically breaking all of His rules.

Then, after a prophetic silence of hundreds of years, Jesus Christ arrived to become the ultimate remedy for chronic rules-breaking. At one point, someone asked Jesus to identify the greatest commandment. Perhaps thinking about how 10 commandments had proved too burdensome for most folks, He boiled them down to two: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Pretty simple, huh? Love God with everything we’ve got, and love others just the way we would want them to love and treat us. What’s so difficult about that? I suppose it gets back to our propensity for breaking rules – we can’t even consistently keep two of them.

Years ago, I discovered an interesting rule that God didn’t originate, at least not explicitly. In his book, Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell explored what he termed the “10-000-Hour Rule.” He cited neurologist Daniel Levitin who concluded after exhaustive research that, “The emerging picture…is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything.”

Levitin said this applied to any discipline: “Composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again.” His studies showed that amount of time spent in practice and preparation didn’t guarantee success, but “no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time.”

I’ve thought about this a lot. When I took personal typing as an elective class during my junior year of high school, I had no idea I’d spend my entire professional career with my fingers flying around a keyboard. I’ve far exceeded the 10,000-hour rule – to the point where if you were to ask me where a specific key is located, I couldn’t tell you. But thanks to countless hours of practice and muscle memory, my fingers know.

That’s why accomplished pianists devote so much time to practicing the scales, and outstanding basketball players spend so many hours practicing free throws. Aware of it or not, they were applying the 10,000-hour rule.

But how does that relate to things like the Ten Commandments and growing spiritually? I believe there’s a direct correlation.

More than 40 years ago, when I first became involved in parachurch ministry, I’d attend Bible studies and marvel when the “veterans” would spontaneously refer to relevant Scripture passages. ‘How do they do that?’ I wondered.

Then I determined to read the Bible daily, even setting goals to read through the entire Word of God over the course of a year. At the same time, I resolved not only to read and study the Scriptures but also to memorize specific verses, meditate on them, strive to apply them, and endeavor to share them with others whenever opportunities presented themselves.

Now I understand how those godly business and professional leaders of years past could be so adept at knowing and teaching the Scriptures. Intentional or not, they’d been applying the 10,000-hour rule to their spiritual lives.

In effect, Deuteronomy 6:6-9 affirms this principle. Moses told the Israelites he was leading, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts…. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up…. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

If one were to practice this faithfully over the course of a lifetime, the 10,000-hour rule would be long surpassed – and spiritual maturity would be a very likely byproduct. Are you willing to put in the time?

* * *

Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is His email address is

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