‘It’s not necessarily the amount of time you spend at practice that counts; it’s what you put into the practice.’ Eric Lindross
Creating legacy and the need to practice
Creating legacy rarely happens by accident (even when it looks that way). Usually, legacy creators have to abide by the ten-year rule and use this time to continuously improve their craft through practice.
But not any kind of practice will lead to improvement. Decades of psychological research suggests that for practice activities to yield continuous improvements, they have to fall into the category of what researchers have come to call ‘deliberate practice.’
What deliberate practice is and isn’t
As researchers have argued, what most of us think of as practice isn’t what researchers mean by deliberate practice. Let’s take a concrete example. Let’s say I’d like to create legacy through writing a series of essays that I intend to publish in book form. Therefore, my aim is to become the best essay-writer I can be; how do I do that?
Most of us would assume that the answer is to write essay after essay, hoping that this will increase the quality of the output. In fact, research suggests that this approach is wrong. Instead, what I have to do in order to become a better essay writer is to find out where my weaknesses lie with respect to essay writing; and then to engage in activities specifically designed to address those weaknesses.
So for example, I may find that one of my weaknesses with writing essays is my poor understanding of structure. This means that I need to find an activity that will focus on practicing structure.
An example of such an activity would be to read high-quality essays written by someone else; not look at the article for a few days; and then write out the structure of that essay if I were to write it. By continuously doing this with a wide range of essays, my understanding of structure would improve. Then I’d move on to another weakness and design an activity specifically designed to tackle that, and so on.
The 6 characteristics of deliberate practice
Okay, I know the concept of deliberate practice is quite complicated, so I’ve written a list of characteristics that I hope will help you decide whether an activity falls in the category of deliberate practice or not:
1. Deliberate practice is an activity designed specifically to improve performance. Deliberate practice requires that you identify sharply defined elements of performance that need to be improved, and then work intently on each of them separately. As soon as you record measurable improvement with one aspect, you can move on to the next.
2. Deliberate practice often requires a someone else’s (e.g. teacher/coach) help. There’s a reason why the world’s best golfers still go to teachers. One of the reasons goes beyond the teacher’s knowledge. It’s his or her ability to see you in ways that you cannot see yourself. Without a clear, unbiased view of your performance, choosing the best practice activity will be impossible.
3. Deliberate practice activities can be repeated a lot. High repetition is the most important difference between deliberate practice of a task and performing the task for real, when it counts.
4. Feedback on results is continuously available on deliberate practice activities. Practicing without feedback is like bowling through a curtain that hangs down to knee level. You can work on technique all you like, but if you can’t see the effects, two things will happen: you won’t get any better, and you’ll stop caring.
5. Deliberate practice activities are highly demanding mentally. This applies not only for activities that are intellectual, such as my essay-writing example, but also to activities that are heavily physical.
6. It isn’t much fun. Yep, that’s the bad part, and the main reason why there are so few top performers and legacy creators. The good news though is that if you stick with deliberate practice, you are bound to see a real improvement in your performance.
By the way, if you want a really in-depth explanation of deliberate practice, read Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. A terrific book with lots of examples of how deliberate practice has helped legacy creators and other top performers improve their work in a wide range of areas of endeavour.
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