How Long Does It Really Take To Learn A New Thing?

Sixteen days ago, I went out to dinner with some friends. One of them told me about a TED talk she’d seen about how long it takes to learn a skill. We were talking about the 10,000 hours to achieve mastery statistic, I think, and my friend disagreed.

“Twenty hours to proficiency,” she said.

Yeah, right, I thought.

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She went on to tell us about the TED talk, where the presenter discussed how he learned to play a song on a guitar in twenty hours. She seemed very impressed and it piqued my interest.

The next day, I took my son to the craft store in search of yarn he wanted for a project. As I stood in the yarn aisle, waiting for him to pick his colors, I saw a stock of crochet hooks. And it got me thinking.

Twenty hours. Hmmm.

My grandma tried to teach me how to crochet when I was a kid, but that was a long time ago. My skill set fifteen days ago involved only knowing what the hooks looked like. I figured, what the hell? Give it a shot and see what happens.

Upon returning home with my newly-acquired crochet hooks and the yarn my son picked out, I hit YouTube and searched “Crochet for beginners.”

I’m not kidding. I didn’t even know how to make the slip knot required to start a chain.

I paused and replayed the video, “mastering” each new step as I went along. Eventually, I reached a place where I practiced rows of single crochet stitches. About five hours after I’d searched on YouTube, I’d made a coaster-sized swatch.


Which my husband decided could be a legit coaster.

crochet coaster

I may or may not have laughed at that for five minutes.

The next day (thirteen days before writing this post), I set to work on another practice swatch. It was solely comprised of single crochet stitches. I didn’t follow a pattern. It was all about achieving muscle memory – I even stopped doing single rows and worked around and around (which I’m not sure is supposed to happen).


I’m too pragmatic for a lot of purposeless practice, though, so I turned it into a basket that’s useless for pretty much anything besides holding more yarn.


By this point, I figured I was about eleven hours into my practice. I decided my next step was to practice on something that would be a real thing, like a blanket. So, twelve days ago, I consulted the interwebs and found a pattern for a “beginner’s crochet blanket.” Perfect. I headed back to the craft store and procured the right type of yarn in my preferred colors.

Then, I went home and hit YouTube to learn what a “half-double crochet” is (this blanket would require a lot of them) and set to work.

The next day, I’d nearly finished the first of four panels.Β Sometime after this point I timed how long it took to finish one colored rectangle, and it was about an hour. So by this pic I had practiced about sixteen hours, I figure (it took a few tries to get the first rectangle started).


I was definitely “fine-tuning” as I went along. The first rectangle (closest to my feet) was more tightly stitched than later ones. I haven’t figured out why. Maybe I was anxious.

Eight days ago, I’d finished two panels and sewed them together. The cat wanted to help.


By the time I finished that, I was about twenty-four hours past YouTube searching “crochet for beginners,” meaning I’d passed the twenty-hour mark. Did that mean I was proficient?

Going back to work after Thanksgiving weekend meant fewer big blocks of time to work, but I’d made so much progress I wanted to see how quickly I could finish. I’m competitive with myself like that.


I was crocheting like a boss.


And last night, exactly two weeks after the coaster incident, I finished my blanket.


Which my kid promptly stole.


As of this morning, he still hasn’t given it back.


So, at least when it comes to crocheting, it seems there is something to the 20-hour to proficiency idea. I’m certainly not claiming to be an expert, but I wanted to see if I could learn “just enough” to achieve a specific, blanket-oriented goal. And I could.

I’ve posted the TED talk my friend referenced below (which I finally watched a few days ago). One point that I think is key to his claim is this:Β Learn just enough to self correct.Β I learned how to chain and two crochet stitches. That’s it. When I need to learn other stitches for other projects, I’ll head back to the University of YouTube and learn what I need. Over time, maybe I’ll get closer to “mastery.”

Until then, I’m fine with proficient.


20 thoughts on “How Long Does It Really Take To Learn A New Thing?

  1. Pingback: When Are We Officially Grown Up? | Allison Maruska

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  3. My grandmother also taught me to crochet when I was a child and I abandoned it until I was preggers with the kiddo and stuck on bed rest.
    I would argue that 20 hours to proficiency depends on the task. Sure crochet or tile laying or painting walls. 20 hours to proficiency is totally acceptable.
    But I’d like my heart surgeon to have a bit more than 20 hours under his belt. LOL

    Liked by 2 people

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