Ever wonder why you didn’t go to the Olympics in your most favorite sport despite being one of the best skiers on your high school ski team? Or why you’re not performing on Comedy Central even though you love telling jokes and people tell you that you’re pretty good at telling them?
Ask Anders Ericsson, a psychology professor at Florida State University and co-author of Peak, Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, and he’ll tell you that the sole reason you aren’t a World Cup alpine ski racing champion like Lindsey Vonn or a Jon Stewart or an anything else you dreamed of becoming is that “… you haven’t engaged in a process called ‘deliberate practice’.”
Deliberate practice is different than the kind of regular practice most of us do. Regular practice might involve doing mindless repetitions in something we may already know how to do. Deliberate practice requires focused attention on one aspect of doing what it is that you do until you master that one aspect, regardless of how long it takes you to master it. Whereas regular practice is usually done “just to keep up” or to maintain a certain skill level, deliberate practice is done for the specific purpose of improving performance.
Let’s point out here that some experts such as D. Zachary Hambrick, a psychology professor at Michigan State University, do not agree with Ericsson that deliberate practice is the sole reason for anything. Hambrick mentions that such things as intelligence, genetics, natural affinities, and abilities, etc. also factor into improving performance. “I do think there is a possible downside to think anyone can accomplish anything with no limits but”…and this is big but “…practice is important if not essential…” in achieving excellence.
Key elements involving deliberate practice include
1. Stay “just above” your abilities. Raise the bar, practice to reach that bar and then, raise the bar again…repeatedly.
2. Stay goal oriented. Know what it is you want to do/accomplish. Watch a master do what it is you want to do because the master’s level of expertise is what you want to reach.
3. Break it down. Every task, every goal, every dream is composed of small parts. Practice every small part, one by one, before going on to more difficult, complex parts. Master the Basics,
4. Find a good teacher. A good teacher teaches us how to do things. She/he also points out flaws or gaps we need to fill if and/or when we move forward to improve. Some things may be difficult to hear but do your best to take criticism constructively.
Key elements that enable us to practice deliberately include
1. Having a specific goal.
2. Not worrying about the time and effort spent.
3. Having patience.
4. Being perseverant.
No doubt about it, deliberate practice may be grueling and lonely, may involve doing things we may not want to do, and/or may involve failing…a lot. Is deliberate practice worth it? Only you can decide.