Lately we’ve been talking with the kids on Deliberate Practice. Focussing on specific parts of skills and making sure that every attempt of a skill has a deliberate focus.
We found this and thought we’d share.
What is Deliberate Practice
Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.
The greatest challenge of deliberate practice is to remain focused. In the beginning, showing up and putting in your reps is the most important thing. But after a while we begin to carelessly overlook small errors and miss daily opportunities for improvement.
This is because the natural tendency of the human brain is to transform repeated behaviors into automatic habits. For example, when you first learned to tie your shoes you had to think carefully about each step of the process. Today, after many repetitions, your brain can perform this sequence automatically. The more we repeat a task the more mindless it becomes.
Mindless activity is the enemy of deliberate practice. The danger of practicing the same thing again and again is that progress becomes assumed. Too often, we assume we are getting better simply because we are gaining experience. In reality, we are merely reinforcing our current habits—not improving them.
Deliberate practice in 6 steps
1. Get motivated
Like most worthwhile pursuits, developing proficiency in any skill — whether sewing, software design, or surfing — isn’t easy. If you want to push past the hard parts of skills growth — the frustration, the failures, the periods of slow progress — you’re going to need to be motivated.
Without the motivation to push past obstacles, when improvement stalls, the natural inclination will be to give up. So if you’re picking a skill to improve with deliberate practice, make sure it’s something you care about and are willing to devote considerable time and effort to.
2. Set specific, realistic goals
Motivation also requires keeping your eyes on the prize. And vague aspirations like “getting better” at a certain skill aren’t going to cut it. Generic goals for improvement don’t give you any motivation to excel past your current abilities or help you measure your progress.
Deliberate practice relies on small, achievable, well-defined steps that help you work your way towards meaningful improvement. These steps should take into account your current knowledge and skill level and push those boundaries little by little, consistently expanding your abilities.
With deliberate practice, goal-setting isn’t like making a New Year’s resolution and hoping you’ll stick with it. It involves thoughtful planning, identifying areas for improvement and creating a specific game plan for building on top of your current abilities.
3. Break out of your comfort zone
“This is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.”
― Anders Ericsson, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
For goals to spur improvement, they need to constantly challenge your current abilities. Simply repeating skills you already know how to do — an unproductive cycle that’s easy to get stuck in with traditional approaches to practice — won’t actually enhance your skill level or improve performance.
Stretching yourself is the key to growth. But Ericsson emphasizes that when it comes to skills development, breaking out of your comfort zone isn’t about “trying harder,” but about “trying differently.” Your goals should teeter on the edge of what you are and aren’t capable of doing. If you can’t move forward with one technique or approach, try another and keep experimenting until you break through the barrier that’s blocking your path to improvement.
4. Be consistent and persistent
This kind of prolonged effort will be frustrating and uncomfortable at times. But pushing through those tough spots often leads to significant improvement. One of the foundational aspects of deliberate practice — what makes it so effective — is its regularity.
In the research paper “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” Ericsson and his colleagues share their discovery that top performers, no matter their area of expertise, kept a similar practice regimen: brief (but intense), daily or semi-weekly solo practice sessions.
One of Ericsson’s studies tracked adult violinists studying at elite music academies and found that the musicians averaged one to one-and-a-half hours a day of high-intensity solo practice. The study found that the accumulated amount of this regular, focused practice had a direct impact on the musicians’ level of performance.
These consistent, intense bursts of effort are key to maintaining momentum in building expertise.
5. Seek feedback
“Without feedback,” Ericsson says, “either from yourself or from outside observers — you cannot figure out what you need to improve on or how close you are to achieving your goals.”
Feedback is essential for identifying areas for improvement and gaining a realistic view of your progress. Whether one-on-one coaching with a teacher, mentor, or peer, or some form of self-assessment, you need a means of pinpointing your strengths and weaknesses. This is the only way to identify and work through trouble spots and advance from “just ok” to true mastery of a skill.
6. Take time to recover
Because deliberate practice requires your full attention, with maximal mental and/or physical effort, it can only be sustained for a short period of time. Laboratory studies of extended practice have capped the optimal time at one hour per day, three to five days a week, and real-life studies have seen reduced benefits when practice sessions exceed two hours.
This level of intensity and concentration makes recovery time important. Ericsson has observed that many of the top performers he studied benefited from napping. Whatever type of leisure activity or relaxation you choose, it’s important to offset the intense effort of deliberate practice to avoid mental or physical fatigue.
Deliberate practice is a long-term investment in improving yourself and your capabilities. While we may not all have the makings of a professional athlete, elite musician, or business mogul, we can follow in the experts’ footsteps to learn more effectively, work smarter, and build or improve our skills.
As Ericsson told The New York Times, “a lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with. But there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it.”
So no matter your pre-existing skill level, if you put in the time and effort to tap into the proven principles of deliberate practice, you’re sure to see some progress. Like Susanne Bargmann and Bob Fisher — who put deliberate practice to the test and achieved some extraordinary results — you may even surprise yourself with what you’re capable of.
*** Credit Janie Kliever
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