10,000 maniacs

If you want to become expert at something, ten thousand hours' practice will do the trick. Or so they say, anyway. This is one of those affirmations that somebody makes in a book or on TV one day and if they're wearing a white coat or glasses or both, people just presume it must be true, especially if there's no research or evidence to the contrary readily available.

One day, I might just put a pair of spectacles on and do a series of television interviews claiming that eating two raw Brussels sprouts with chopsticks every day for five years improves your IQ.

By the time everyone discovers that this is utter tosh, I'll have sold five million copies of my book Sprouting Neurons and will have retired happily to Bognor Regis, which is presumably what everybody who's lived most of their adult life in Spain does in the end.

Back to the ten thousand hours thing, though. This is the equivalent of practising something for two and a half hours a day for ten years, or an hour and a bit for twenty.

At first glance it makes sense - that's probably what Paul McCartney did before he wrote Yesterday and what Justin Bieber most certainly didn't prior to unleashing his records on an unsuspecting world.

Look a little closer, however, and the theory begins to look a lot more shaky. According to my calculations, cooking for forty-five minutes a day over the last thirty years should have made me Jamie Oliver in the kitchen, rather than Oliver Hardy. Alas, the latter is far nearer the mark, I'm afraid.

An even better example of this is to be found on our roads. All those drivers who, having invested their ten thousand hours behind the wheel, far from becoming experts, are still struggling to understand that checking your Twitface feed at fifty miles per hour in heavy traffic is the work of a lunatic.

Likewise cyclists - all that practice and no concept of what a pavement or a zebra crossing is actually for.

No, you may rest easy. Becoming an expert at something is not a question of hothousing yourself to within an inch of your life, rather having an innate talent and dedicating a reasonable amount of time to developing it.

Right, I'm off. It's time for my sprouts.