Deliberate practice is the path to getting better results in any area of your life. It is a specific method that makes the difference between an ordinary performance and an outstanding or extraordinary achievement. Here are some guidelines for engaging in deliberate practice and specific applications for how to use it in your daily life.
Guidelines for Deliberate Practice
1. Be patient. Research confirms that it takes about ten years before most people develop into a virtuoso, whether you want to be a pianist or a titan of industry. Plus, that ten year figure seems to be a minimum rather than an average. See: The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, and Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell.
2. Aim for consistency. As you would expect, you must practice regularly. Just like kids forget their course work during summer vacation, you may squander your efforts if you take prolonged breaks. It takes about 66 consecutive hours to embed a new habit. See: 6 Ways to Make New Habits Stick (Backed by Science)
3. Understand your learning curve. It is natural to enjoy dramatic results when you first take up anything new. Then, you will hit a plateau where you need to become more strategic if you want to continue advancing.
4. Hone in on specific areas. Identify the areas where you want to improve and focus your practice there. For example, you may have acquired an extensive vocabulary in French, but you will need to spend time listening to native speakers to improve your pronunciation.
5. Be prepared for a lot of repetition. The willingness to endure repetitive drills is what distinguishes the best performers. Keep in mind that the most productive methods may not feel like a lot of fun.
6. Keep your sessions relatively brief. Researchers have found that three to five hours a day is the absolute maximum for most people, spread over individual sessions of ninety minutes or less. Pace yourself according to the amount of time during which you can maintain an intense level of concentration. If you are not concentrating, then you are not learning.
7. Set specific goals. Use a blend of goals related to both the outcomes and to the process itself. The important thing is to approach your usual tasks with the mindset of becoming better at them.
8. Expand your mental model. Try to identify all the factors that go into your chosen experience. Keep adding to the list and experimenting with new combinations. For example, keep a journal so you can spot what conditions support or sabotage your healthy diet. What background music helps our hinders getting your writing goal accomplished.
9. Seek feedback. Outside observers may spot weaknesses that you fail to see. Partner up with a more experienced friend or hire a coach.
10. Evaluate your progress. Check in regularly to review how you are doing. Ask yourself what is going well and where you need to make changes.
Applications for Deliberate Practice in Specific Areas of Your Daily Life
1. Enhance your exercise routine. Sports is one field where deliberate practice has been studied extensively. You can use the same techniques as professional athletes to get the most out of your yoga classes.
2. Get creative. Music and other arts are also areas where practice obviously matters. You may want to resume the piano lessons you started as a child.
3. Move ahead in your career. Any occupation can be broken down into tasks where you can make continual improvements. Brush up on your financial management skills or take a more systematic approach to making successful sales calls.
4. Enrich your relationships. Even interpersonal relationships have many aspects that respond to practice. Experiment with delivering constructive criticism more tactfully with your family and co-workers.
Deliberate practice requires time and hard work, but anyone can reap the benefits, regardless of whether you think you have any special innate talent for the activities you care about most. Focus on the areas where you want to improve and be patient. Over the long term, diligent repetition and targeted feedback will pay off.