After I wrote Friday’s post about the magic number, I really did crack open the French book. I did a few grammar exercises over lunch, and I did a few more last night in an exhausted stupor before I went to bed. On my bike ride yesterday, I passed the time calling out verb conjugations and simple sentences along deserted country roads. I even reviewed the crazy French number system until I could recite my parents’ and my addresses with ease. I didn’t put in 10,000 hours, but I can already feel my comfort level starting to improve.

As I wrote down the answers to the grammar exercises, I would figure out the pattern by about the third one each time. As soon as I realized I had cracked the code, I’d be ready to move on to the next set.

Fortunately, I resisted the urge.

Even as much as I wanted to move on, somewhere down deep I knew I had to finish each set of exercises completely, repetitiveness notwithstanding. In fact, it was that very repetitiveness that I needed. I realized that simply learning the rule wasn’t enough; I needed to practice it over and over in order to drive it home. It’s the practice that makes it second nature. People don’t think about grammar rules and conjugations when they speak; they just do it.

So I’d like to add a caveat to the 10,000 [or pick your own number] hour rule. Your 10,000 hours have to be focused and meaningful. Those hours need to follow a plan, and a plan means practice. Make sure your 10,000 include taking the time to get it right, not just learning the rules but absorbing them, internalizing them. Use your 10,000 hours to practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect.

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