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The Dan Plan: 10,000 hours to achieve perfection

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Posted by Dan McLaughlin of The Dan Plan under Golf on 3 June 2013 at 11:00 PM

Dan McLaughlin is on a quest to achieve perfection and test human potential - 10,000 hours is, in theory, all that stands between him and his goal to become a professional golfer! Read more about The Dan Plan!

The Dan Plan HatI  didn't need to venture far from home to lose myself in an adventure. After months of contemplation and years of saving I took the plunge and began my quest to test my abilities and limits in one specific field.  I've always thought (or been under the delusion) that if you put your mind to it you could honestly and truly become anything that you wanted.  I have told people this for years, but there is a wide schism between talk and action, so it was time to put my money where my mouth was and test my personal philosophy.

On April 5, 2010, I began my quest to perfect a skill set, to get as good as my non, at the time, athletic person could be.  I had decided to pursue golf full-time for 10,000 hours of training.  That seemed to be the buzz number and the magical number of practice hours it took to reach your potential.  The number was researched by Dr. K Anders Ericsson, among many others, and brought to the limelight in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers as well as Geoff Colvin's Talent is Overrated.  

It seemed to be a legitimate goal and the mark to set out for.  At the time, and perhaps still now, I could not comprehend exactly what 10,000 hours of standing over a golf ball meant.  It seemed in some ways to be approachable and in others not unlike the odds of winning the lottery.  People did it and you knew it was a possibility, but perhaps it was something that would never happen to you.

The kicker was that I had never played 18 holes of golf in my life when I started on this journey.  I think that was the hardest concept to grasp for my coworkers when I told them I was quitting to become a professional golfer.  "That's great, I didn't know you even golfed," was the general response when I said I was leaving.  "I don't, well, not yet," I would reply to an understandably confused associate.

Regardless, I scheduled it out to be 60 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, for roughly 3.5 years.  I had worked many 60 hour weeks and the thought of doing 3.5 years of them in a row practicing golf didn't seem out of the question.  I would do it, become it, and make a documentary about the process, hopefully demonstrating to everyone that anything is possible.

The Dan Plan - 10,000 hours

Boy, was I off with that idea!  First off, after learning exactly what "Deliberate Practice" was, I realized that there is no way that you could actually learn something 10 hours a day six days a week.  It just isn't possible to keep highly focussed for that amount of time.  Just like cramming for a test, your brain gets saturated after about 4-5 hours of intake.  The most important aspect of learning is quality, not quantity.  After talking with Dr. Ericsson I decided to break the practice down to 30 hours a week of high performance engaged learning.  Already, my 3.5 year project had grown into a beast of 6 years.

After swallowing this news, I realized that the purse would need to be tightened a bit more and there would have to be a bit of good fortune at some point during The Dan Plan, but that it was still my goal and what I was going to do with my energy.  The plan was on the table, I had quit my job and was ready to go.

The future was bright, optimism abound.

It was a grey and chilly afternoon at Broadmoor Golf Course in Portland, OR when I set out on my new path. I decided to begin on April 5, 2010 instead of when I had originally wanted to start on April 1 because I didn't like the thought of starting on April Fool's day, as appropriate or not.  The course was relatively empty due to the time of year and rains, so I had the putting green to myself.  After talking with the shop keep for a few minutes to make sure it was okay to use the facility, I set out with a two dollar putter that I had picked up in Omaha, NE.

Golfer Dan Mclaughlin

The first day lasted three hours.  My goal was to learn how to putt from one foot away from the cup and after standing over a ball for two hours on a windy rainy 38 degree day my fingers and lower back had enough for one day.  It was, in every manner of speaking, a successful first day out.  I had gotten my feet wet both literally and figuratively and clocked off 2 of the eventual 10,000 hours.  I had quit my job and found myself alone on a putting green trying to figure out how to hit a tiny white ball into a hole in the ground.  It seemed like a simple enough task and one that practice could perfect.  The future was bright.

In my notes from the first day, I wrote that I was excited to be there, happy in general and how time flew by.  I also noted that my back was sore towards the end of the day and that I made an average of 95 percent of my one foot putts. Towards the end of the day, I felt fairly exhausted, more so than after a 10 hour day of doing commercial photography.

I was on my way.  One day down, 9,998 hours remaining.  I could do this.

For the next two weeks, I went out to courses around my NE Portland home.  Practicing 6 hours a day, five days a week, I logged the first 70 hours by the end of April.  I didn't putt from farther than 3 feet away and over that stretch improved my average from 66 percent to near 80 percent.  I was working out kinks in my body and learning how to address a putt properly.  I was learning how to hold the club, how to attempt consistency, how to stand and what to wear on a golf course.  I had a lot to learn, not just how to putt, but what it meant to concentrate for long periods of time and the frustrations that come with constantly trying to improve yet not necessarily always showing improvement.  Golf was going to teach me things about myself and the world, this much I knew.

Today, that all seems like it happened ages ago.  I have now put in nearly 4,200 hours of practice, am a 6 handicap and every fiber of my body has transformed from an experimentalist into a golfer.  I am more golf than I ever was photographer (the job that I quit was as a commercial photographer) and grow in the sport daily.  The entire journey has and is documented on thedanplan.com where you can read about the day to day, support the project and leave some feedback if interested.

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    Comments

    20140811112945-cags

    Absolutely love this! Good luck on the rest of your 10,000 hours

    20131016141129-neil_bro

    Such a good story....unbelievable that you're already playing off six...just shows me that if i put the hours in, I can get past the plateau I've hit with my golf....

    Adrian K encouraged this.

    20140109222130-d1haj

    Fascinating. Interesting to see the Malcolm Gladwell hypothesis being trialled. I look forward to seeing you win the Open sometime in the next decade. No question that Tiger is a great golfer because of the age he started and the hours he's put in practising.

    Adrian K encouraged this.

    20130807080211-steve

    Love this - good luck Dan, and congrats on what you've already achieved and proven!

    20130528161730-thedanplan

    Thank you everyone. Such a supportive community on here, it's wonderful. Heather J, the theory is actually based on Dr. K Anders Ericsson's work, Malcolm just wrote a book about the research. Thanks again!

    Adrian K encouraged this.

    20131016141129-neil_bro

    Already taken @zachbarongolf 's tips on board....just need to find the time to hit the range to put them into practice now!

    Adrian K encouraged this.

    20130717124558-jennispa

    Awesome! Go Dan! Time to pick my sport of choice, and get practicing! :)

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