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The Five-Hour Rule

This catchy rule pops up in the lives of famous and successful learners everywhere (Bill Gates and Elon Musk have both talked about it). First recognised based on the routines of Benjamin Franklin, the five-hour rule is the active devotion of one hour per weekday to reflection, goal-setting, or meditation (five hours per week).

Meditation can be anything from taking a spa, going for a walk, cleaning the house, reading a book, planning your day, or doing some drawing. The most important part is to be mindful – focused, centred, relaxed, and patient.

The benefits of this active hour-per-day of peaceful reflection are numerous.

Emotionally it helps to:

  • build resilience against mood and affective disorders like depression and anxiety,
  • increase creativity, and
  • reduce stress.

In regards to learning and productivity it translates to:

  • more time spent on personal development,
  • more practice at things you wish to improve at,
  • engagement in activities that increase your learning (including social learning such as observation of others or having meaningful conversations),
  • freedom to solve problems as they arise daily,
  • and importantly (as we have just learned from Kolb) more time for experimenting!

I have built a life around having empty space for the development of my ideas for the creative process. And for the cultivation of a physiological state which is receptive enough to tune in very, very deeply to people I work with … In the creative process, it’s so easy to drive for efficiency and take for granted the really subtle internal work that it takes to play on that razor’s edge.

Josh Waitzkin, author of “The Art of Learning”

If we abstract this five-hour rule, we can hypothesise that by shifting the perspective from an “activity” and “results” focus to a “learning” focus, this leads to significantly faster self-development. A simple hypothetical experiment can verify that this hypothesis is likely to be true.

In our first-year pre-medical tutoring service, we assist hundreds of students every year with their interview preparations. Despite the strong recommendation, evidence, and perceivable benefit of recording themselves at home during practice, the overwhelming majority will not do so! This is not due to a lack of motivation, but rather the focus from the student on “getting practice done” and “answering more questions”, rather than the focus on evaluation and reflection.

Let’s say you are a salesperson. An activity/results focus might cause the person to centre their attention around speaking to the client, making their notes, and closing the deal. On the other hand, a learning focus might incentivise the person to invite a colleague to the meeting also to observe and provide feedback on their pitch. Even when we put the context directly into learning, most people do not have a learning focus.

In other words, the flaw is a disconnect in Kolb’s cycle in that students often place more importance on the experience and experimentation, without acknowledging the reflection and abstraction. In practice, we see a clear difference in students who record themselves or place equal importance on the reflection, compared to those who do not.

What are some things that you can do in this critical hour per day?


If you like this kind of self-improvement, you’ll love our mentoring and skills development program.

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