6 Weeks and 10,000 Hours
I recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, wherein he takes on the task of delineating where exactly success comes from. You might be tempted to ask what success exactly is before you would even begin such a project, but Gladwell leaves the definition relatively open. There is, perhaps, a bit of weight on the “American dream” style of success, but he allows one to be a success in whatever field, whether or not it necessarily equates with wealth.
One of the conclusions that he comes to very early in the book was something I’d encountered elsewhere, though I’ve forgotten where now. It’s the idea of 10,000 hours. In order to become a true master of anything from chess to computer programming to tailoring, it requires about 10,000 hours of practice.
As I pondered this a bit, I was reminded of things like the 40 Days of Purpose or 30 Days of Prayer. While I don’t want to downplay what people have received from such things, I can’t help but feel like there’s something a bit deceitful about them. I don’t think they’re intentionally lying to us as much as they’re following the curve of our American culture and thereby beginning with a misguided philosophy. A program like 40 Days of Purpose, assuming you spend about an hour each day, produces 40 hours of practice. Even if you spend all your waking hours on the program in that 40 days, the best you can rack up is around 720 hours. It’s simply not feasible for the majority of people to dedicate 18 hours a day like this, but even if you do, you’re still not even 10% of the way along Gladwell’s path towards mastery.
Now, granted, nobody produces a program for spiritual development that’s actually 10,000 hours. Nobody produces a program of anything that’s 10,000 hours. Much of any development consists of personal practice that you will have to decide for yourself – sitting at the piano or guitar, coding away, playing another hand of Hold ‘Em, and so on. The issue, however, is that short programs for spiritual growth aren’t enough. 6 weeks aren’t likely to produce significant change. In fact, patterns of small group dynamics might even imply that 6 weeks is just enough time to begin to peel back the top layer and see what’s underneath, but that’s when things stop.
Time is crucial. Henry Cloud holds it up, along with grace and truth, as the three critical components of growth and change. We need something that lasts longer than 6 weeks, and we have to resist the urge to think that something so short is likely to have a significant impact on us. Sometimes change seems instantaneous, but more often, change and growth is a slow process, and we need to acknowledge that and come to be okay with it. God certainly is; He’s got all the time in the world.
For the record, the Evangelical Center for Spiritual Wisdom is developing a curriculum for churches and small groups that goes beyond the 6 week paradigm. If you’re wanting more, you might take a look.