Home Science Education Josh Kaufman – How To Learn Anything: The First 20 Hours

Josh Kaufman – How To Learn Anything: The First 20 Hours


If consistent improvement is a fundamental goal to our everyday life, how to effectively and efficiently learn ought to be approached scientifically. This process is a lot less intimidating when you know a specific methodology. After extensive research and field testing, Josh Kaufman claims that he’s found the answer: 20 hours of deliberate, focused, and intelligent practice.

But that’s not what he first found — at first, he found that to be an expert at something, it took “10,000 hours” — an idea popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”. To put it into perspective, Kaufman elaborated that 10,000 hours is a full-time job for 5 years. But in these studies of a 10,000 hour rule, they were capturing “the top of an ultra competitive field” — and then a game of telephone became widespread.

From “10,000 hours to get to the top of an ultra competitive field, it became 10,000 hours to become an expert, then it became 10,000 to become good at something, which became 10,000 hours to learn something. But this last part is not true.”

What The Research Says:

Kaufman’s TedTalk: “When people first start it took them a long time to learn something. With a little practice they get better and better. And that early part practice is really efficient — people get good at things with just a little bit of practice.”

Performance Time Relabelled “How Good You Are”

Kaufman Tedtalk: The Learning Curve. “When you first start, you are grossly incompetent and you know it. With practice, you get really good really quick. Then you reach a plateau and subsequent gains become much harder to get.”

His research — of “how long it takes” to get close to plateau — 20 hours of deliberate practice, “thats about 45 minutes a day for a month.” But it’s not just practice and you become good at something, it must be practiced intelligently and efficiently to “make sure that you invest those 20 hours in the most effective way possible.” To assist the efficiency and effectiveness of learning — he says there’s 4 general steps to follow.

4-Step Method:

1. Deconstruct The Skill:

“Decide what exactly what you want to be able to do when you’re done, look into the skill and break it down into smaller pieces. Most of the things we think of as skills are actually big bundles of skills… the more you can break apart this skill, the more you’re able to decide ‘what are parts of the skills that will actually get me to where I want.’ If you practice the most important things first you’ll be able to improve your performance in the least amount of time possible.”

In martial arts contexts: 

Martial Arts: what level are you right now and realistically, what level do you want to be at? Is it grappling or striking arts that you’d like to become good at. Or is it all of them? In striking, there’s kicking, punching, elbows, knees, clinching, and defence for all of them mixed together. Are you a puncher who wants to disengage the clinch?

Even the elite have their expertise in specific areas — you must choose yours. If you’re a puncher being dominated in the clinch, it doesn’t mean you’re bad at punching and need to work on that more — learn how to punch as your opponent engages and you disengage. Which set of moves are the most high percentage, and which positions in the clinch are you most vulnerable? Practice those carefully and deliberately, and in a months time you’ll have a new skill.

2. Learn Enough To Self-Correct:

“Get 3-5 resources about what you want to learn… Learn just enough so you can self-correct and self-edit as you practice. So the learning becomes a way of getting better at noticing when you’re making a mistake and then doing something a little different.”

In Martial Art Contexts: 

You can’t expect to self-invent how to counter something — unless you already have expert level knowledge. Look for instructional dvds (or clips), ask your teacher, clinch with an expert clincher, grab a book, watch great clinchers clinch.

You must learn to feel that something feels incorrect, and you must experiment — “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison on inventing the light bulb.

3. Remove Practice Barriers: 

“Distractions, television, internet — all the things that get in the ways of you actually sitting down and doing the work. The more you’re able to use will power to remove the distractions, the more likely you are to sit down and actually practice.”

Martial arts context:

What’s going to stop you from getting those hours in for clinching? When sparring, you may feel the need to revert to what you’re good at — perhaps the outside game. Learn to get yourself caught in the clinch and learn how to get out of it. Learn how to be consistent in going to the gym — make time for it whenever possible.

4. Practice for at least 20 hours:

“Most skills have a frustration barrier – the grossly incompetent “knowing it” part — we don’t like to feel stupid and it’s a barrier for us to sit down and doing the work. So pre-committing 20 hours to the task, you will over-come the initial frustration barrier and stick with the practice long enough to reap the rewards.

Martial arts context:

You may feel incompetent at taking up a new skill — even long time martial artists feel this way. Joe Rogan started grappling after being a high-level Taekwondo athlete for years — feeling helpless on the ground led him to keep learning. Rogan kept his will to learn something when many would feel untalented or “grossly incompetent”. Know that to get better, you have to overcome this feeling. Bite down the mouthguard be be gritty.