Have you ever wondered what enables people to become highly skilled; whether it be at spelling, cricket, soccer, maths or the guitar?
Early theories attribute ‘expertise’ to the biological disposition underpinning one’s make up. Innate and fixed superior qualities (e.g. intelligence & hand-eye coordination etc.), were seen to be the biggest contributing factor of ‘expert’ performance.
However, nowadays there is common consensus amongst scientists that expert-level performance is a result of expert-level practice, rather than just being due to innate talent.
A common theory is that 10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve mastery status in a chosen endeavour. However, performance is more than just a function of time quantity – it’s also dependent on the quality of practice!
Contemporary neuropsychological research points to ‘deliberate practice’ as a derivative factor underpinning ‘expert’ or ‘mastery’ skill levels. The beauty of deliberate practice is that it is applicable to a wide range of disciplines. The same approach produces the very best dentists, doctors and teachers as it does with those in sporting or musical fields!
In essence, deliberate practice articulates how people should practice to ensure that they achieve maximum return from their invested time.
Below I describe five key components of deliberate practice that you can apply to any endeavour that you’re trying to improve at.
Five components of deliberate practice
Improve upon your weaknesses – Although focussing on strengths has its merits, it will only get you so far. My drum teacher used to say your practice sessions should sound like you’re a beginner, because ideally you should be trying to play what you can`t quite play yet. However, for much of the time I was using most of my practice sessions to try and sound like a rock-god! It wasn’t until I changed my approach that I started seeing better results. Using goals to increase challenges is a key way you can remain accountable.
Resist the urge to feel comfortable – Growth rarely happens when comfort is present. Thus, we need to be willing to venture out of our comfort zone. Mentally, we need to be happy with toiling away at something that we have not yet mastered. Furthermore, although we shouldn`t actively seek it, welcoming discomfort will also mean we’re less likely to “cut corners” when it occurs.
Focus on little things – When we try to execute a skill or solve a problem we’ve never encountered before, a good strategy is to break it down into easily discernible and digestible parts. To do this, we need to understand the most important basics, and ensure we repeat and drill them in. In the long-run, progress will be more efficient – as well as expedient – given it’s much easier to master each part step by step, rather than in its entirety.
Spend time practising alone – Although there’s great benefit to be gained from involving others in your development, ultimately it is you that has to do the hard work. Others can push you and inspire you, but ultimately you need to spend the solitary time to concentrate, engrain and repeat! Devising a ‘non-negotiable’ practice schedule where you set clear ‘stretch goals’ is a good and honest way of keeping yourself accountable.
Seek regular feedback – Feedback is vital to ensure that you are on the right track. Ideally, you should be regularly checking that you’ve mastered each component before advancing. Otherwise, you may risk engraining the ‘wrong habits’. This will not only take you further away from your goals, but require a lot of time and effort to fix (it’s much harder correcting bad habits than forming new desirable ones). Using self-monitored feedback, as well as feedback from an accomplished expert, are ways you can check that you’re heading in the right direction.
So there it is… 5 tips that you can use to drastically improve your progress!
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