10000 hours-golf-dan plan-expert performance

Dan McLaughlin did what many dream about doing but few have the fortitude to do. He quit his job and made plans to join the world’s most elite golfers on the PGA Tour. Without so much as completing one full round of golf in his life, he put the resources together to start a rigorous 10000 hours of training. And so The Dan Plan began.

10000 Hours

Prior to the launch of The Dan Plan, a debate of talent vs. training was waging in popular culture in the U.S. Several books had hit the bestseller list and reframed the age old debate of nature vs. nurture. Outliers, Talent is Overrated, and The Talent Code all built upon research of expert performance. What does it take to excel at anything? How does one develop the skill to master something?

One particular concept caught fire. K. Anders Ericsson, an avid researcher on expert performance, had conducted a study of top violinists, noting the average practice time of the highest performers. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell reviewed the study. From it, Gladwell introduced the concept of 10000 hours to master anything, dubbing it “The 10000 Hour Rule.” Capitalizing on a perceived formula for success, the media loved the idea, as did a lot of aspiring high performers.

Few took it as serious as McLaughlin.

The Dan Plan

A conversation with his brother a year earlier had planted a seed. “We

[talked] about the idea of quitting everything to pursue something single-mindedly and whole-heartedly. Did you need talent or was it all about hard work?” McLaughlin shared. He wanted to find out. And so did a lot of other people.

Once McLaughlin published his blog and set about capturing his journey, media outlets grabbed it and ran with the story. Eager to see a real life test of the theory, McLaughlin drew interest from researchers, including K. Anders Ericsson himself. A host of other dreamers followed McLaughlin, captivated by the audacity of his endeavor.

10000 hours equates to about 10 years of deliberate practice. Make it a fulltime job, and you could reach expert level in nearly half that time. That became McLaughlin’s aspiration. And with the help of Ericsson and numerous other specialists, he starting logging over 30 hours a week of practice.

It worked remarkably well. Following Ericsson’s stringent guidelines for deliberate practice, he progressed relatively quickly. After four years, McLaughlin moved from hardly knowing how to hold a club to lowering his handicap to 2.6. This all-time low meant he could count himself among the top 6% of golfers in the country. Good but not elite – yet.

The End of the Saga

Unfortunately we won’t know the outcome of 10000 hours of deliberate practice. Soon after hitting an all-time best, the Dan Plan started unraveling. The intensity of the training and hours of repetition put McLaughlin’s body to the test. During a routine swing on the course, his back gave out and he found himself on the ground in pain. He wouldn’t swing another club for six months.

His injury might make for the kind of comeback story many professional athletes recount. For McLaughlin, it didn’t happen. He made some attempts at rehab, which he captured on his blog. Then he went silent for two years, leaving his fans to wonder what became of Dan and his plan.

Finally, just a few days ago, McLaughlin broke his silence with an interview and post on his blog. The conclusion? He’s moving on. Although disappointing to his fans and the researchers who looked forward to a live case study, his experiment still provides insight. As John Maxwell points out, “Sometimes you win; sometimes you learn.” And learn we do.

In one interview, McLaughlin describes his commitment to golf as follows: “I was very serious about it, but it never became an obsession. At the end of the day, I could always walk away and say, ‘What’s next?’”

The Missing Criterion

And therein lies the moral to the story. To reach highest level of anything, you must commit yourself to an inordinate amount of effort. You can only sustain the amount of effort needed through an emotional investment second to none. Can you do it without obsession? And how do you manufacture it if you don’t feel it?

Interested in learning how to achieve expert performance? Get access to an exclusive treatise on the subject with research from the world’s leading expert, K. Anders Ericsson.

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Resources Referenced:

The Dan Plan, USGA Handicaps, The Average Guy Who Spent 6,003 Hours Trying to Be a Professional Golfer,