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January 4, 2021

Deliberate Practice - What is it and Why Does it Matter?

We’re only ever as good as the point at which we give up on deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice means purposeful practice.

It’s a type of practice that has systematic change on its roadmap. As opposed to ‘mindless’ or ‘aimless’ practice, intentional improvement is its unique identifier.

For example, if you’re playing tennis with your friend, are you simply playing? Or, are you dedicating some of your attention to how you can improve your stance, your agility or the power in your backhand?

If you don’t decide to intentionally improve during that game, it would be considered mindless practice (some will even call it play). By defaulting to the skills you already possess, you’re performing automatically and without intent.

There’s no change to your game because it’s not deliberate practice. Just because you’re gaining experience, doesn’t mean you’re getting better.

Why it’s Important.

man playing tennis

We’re only ever as good as the point at which we give up on deliberate practice.

We’ve all experienced the feeling of excitement to learn something new, the rush to get better at something and work towards beating our friends. But eventually, we reach an aspirational roadblock where we decide to call it quits.

Why? Because getting better at things makes us uncomfortable. Most have the strength to endure discomfort in the short term, but few have the grit to endure the long term. It's uncomfortable to constantly tell yourself that there’s room for improvement. It’s uncomfortable to have to systematically assess yourself and isolate your weaknesses.

It's uncomfortable because it’s deliberate, not mindless.

There are 3 main reasons why you should try to engage in deliberate practice:

  1. You get better.
    You can’t guarantee improvement with aimless practice or play, only deliberate  practice.
  2. You get better, faster.
    The better the degree of deliberate practice, the quicker you improve. Some practice to 2x their skill, others may be aiming for 10x in the same time.
  3. There’s less people at the top.
    Deliberate practice makes us uncomfortable, which is why few people choose to do it. When less people do it, you can join the very few at the top by simply, doing it.

You can witness this phenomenon at work or university. Why is it that some people are so far ahead of others in terms of skill and knowledge? We all have the same amount of time in a day, but those who consistently engage in deliberate practice are the ones that care enough to get better, the ones that take consistent, intentional action. The rest of us aren’t stupid or talentless, we just don’t practice in the same way.

“The Dip creates scarcity; scarcity creates value”
- Seth Godin

How to Engage in Deliberate Practice.

greyscale photography of a boxer inside reing

The cornerstone to deliberate practice is the drive to be better. Whether through internal or external motivation, there are 2 tools we can use on the path of deliberate and purposeful practice: Measurements and Feedback.

Measuring our progress is key to establishing a ‘start point’ and to monitor what changes working or not working. Gym goers might document their reps in a notebook whilst swimmers may time their laps. The more variables we measure and the more intentional we are behind why we are measuring them, the better our chances are at making incremental improvements. Measure yourself, or have someone keep tabs on you.

Feedback is key. Self-assessment can only take you so far and sooner or later, you’ll need an outsider to see to your blind spots. Hiring a coach or having colleagues provide constructive criticism reveals new streams of potential practice. When we fail to push ourselves towards further improvements, external feedback can provide a much needed second wind.

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