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Deliberate Practice: The Key To Practicing Everything

If you’ve ever quit learning something due to not improving despite trying, the answer is simple. It’s deliberate practice.

Before we dive into the term, let’s describe the problem a bit more. You’ve probably tried to learn something new recently, be it for school, for your job or for personal improvement. In the process of learning, you must have spent time practicing. But how effectively did you practice?

I myself am guilty of years of lazy practice (the opposite of deliberate practice) on any subject I set my sights on. That includes but is not limited to coding, Spanish and martial arts. I would spend the majority, if not all, of my practice time, doing things I had already learned over and over again, falsely expecting to improve. I would even get frustrated in the end, declaring the subjects as difficult or as ones I didn’t like. What I needed was to take ownership, and deeply restructure the way I practiced.

This is where the concept of deliberate practice comes in. The main idea behind this concept is:

The quality of practice matters as much, if not more, as the quantity.

Deliberate practice is about practicing intentionally in areas that will allow you to actually improve, which usually lies a little outside of your comfort zone.

Before diving in the 4 pillars that will allow you to utilize deliberate practice in your own life, let me share with you a thought by Barbara Oakley. Barbara Oakley is the teacher of the most popular online course, Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects, which is offered on Coursera. The thought is from the Becoming a SuperHuman podcast, where at some point she talks about deliberate vs. lazy practice. Her point is that, in order to be more effective in utilizing deliberate practice in your life, you should not aim to practice deliberately, but aim to avoid doing lazy practice. This is a good point because lazy practice is easier to remember and clearer to your mind to distinguish.

The 4 Pillars of Deliberate Practice

1) Growth Mindset and Motivation

As soon as you decide to practice in serious mode, it is obvious that things are going to be harder than before. Not only that, but there will be moments where you will feel stuck, hitting the ceiling of your original capacity.

It is in those moments that you will need to believe in yourself and in your potential in order to breakthrough. Along with that, it is very important that it is a subject you care about, so that inner confidence gets paired with the necessary motivation.

2) Practicing Out Of Your Comfort Zone

For your efforts to be called “deliberate practice” you need to operate on a level that challenges you and that almost forces you to improve. As in my case, practicing the same things over and over again gives the illusion of effort, but eventually serves no purpose.

It is important to note, that working outside of your comfort zone is not about working harder, but differently. You must not be afraid of changing your approach if your original choice leads you to a dead end. Keep experimenting until you break through your current limits.

There is, though, something like stretching too much. Right outside of your comfort zone lies the learning zone, but if you stretch further you enter what is called “the panic zone”. Keep your practice to things that allow you to grow from your existing skills, and not to things that are currently plainly impossible.

3) Consistency

One of the most foundational aspects of deliberate practice is consistency. If you work on something in irregular and wide-apart sessions, your brain won’t be able to form the appropriate patterns that will allow you to grow. Although consistency doesn’t necessarily mean daily practice, you should be practicing at regular intervals in order to maintain momentum and eventually develop expertise.

4) Feedback

Feedback is the most important pillar supporting deliberate practice. It is essential for identifying progress and areas that need improvement, as well as keeping yourself accountable.

There are a couple of different ways to receive feedback. My personal favorite is through milestones and tracking. As Peter Drucker has said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. This is originally a quote on business management, but with a small change it becomes an absolute truth in self-improvement:

If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it

So I personally track pages I’ve read, hours I’ve practiced and what I’ve done during these hours, as well as other things. This way I have specific metrics to measure my performance with. I also put specific milestones in my practice to have an idea about the bigger picture as well.

Another effective way to receive feedback is through coaching. That can mean either a teacher, who will guide you, correct you and track your progress as necessary, or a peer, where you will hold each other accountable and measure each other’s progress.

Summing up

Deliberate practice is the process of working on your capabilities intentionally, avoiding being lazy and just keeping yourself busy. It is about operating slightly outside your comfort zone, working with feedback to constantly improve your practice and eventually your skills.

So, no matter your starting point, if you put in the time and effort to transform your practice into a deliberate one, you will be surprised with what you’re capable of and how quickly you can get there.

Call to Action

As soon as you start implementing deliberate practice, you are quickly going to witness results. I’d love to hear from you about your achievements and/or struggles. Post on the Facebook group, or contact me directly!

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