Review

“A deftly crafted and thoroughly fun read … especially and unreservedly recommended for elementary school, middle school, and community library Fantasy Fiction collections.” —MBR Midwest Book Review

Supercharge Your Performance With Deliberate Practice

The text reads supercharge your performance with deliberate practice

In the 1990’s, a professor at Florida State University released a groundbreaking paper in performance psychology. In it, he denied that the differences separating high performers and normal adults was due simply to talent or innate genius. He argued that the “differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a … period of deliberate effort in a specific domain.” He gave this deliberate effort a snappy name: deliberate practice.

When you’re engaged in deliberate practice you use time more efficiently and effectively. Smaller efforts produce exponential results.

It’s not easy. It requires sustained intense focus, concentration and a willingness to focus on your weaknesses. From making the perfect souffle to performing complicated brain surgery, a commitment to life-long learning and doing the work of deliberate practice will dramatically improve your performance. It doesn’t matter if you are learning a new skill or mastering a new idea.

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

Benjamin Franklin

What is deliberate practice:

When you’re engaged in deliberate practice, “Your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master,” writes Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work (2016).

The overall process is broken down into parts:

  • weaknesses identified,
  • new strategies devised,
  • tested, and
  • integrated into the next iteration.

Targeted effort can 10x learning velocity

One of my favourite stories illustrating the use of deliberate practice features Benjamin Franklin, “America’s first great man of letters”, found in Geoff Colvin’s book, Talent is Overrated (and edited for length).

When he was 16, Benjamin Franklin was criticized by his father for the quality of his writing. His father gave him a critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of a letter Franklin had written. Determined to improve, he picked few pieces of writing obviously superior to anything he could produce from one of his favorite magazines, The Spectator.

He first made concise notes the meaning of the article. Then, he set his notes aside and came back to them after few days (this prevented him from being influenced by the style of the original article). He then went sentence by sentence through the article trying to use his own words to replicate the meaning. He then compared his work with the original to determine where he was lacking. This resulted in him working on his vocabulary and the structure of his articles. He pursued this practice diligently over a long period of time.  

You receive consistent feedback and continuously push your limits

There are two ways of receiving feedback and they work best if combined.

The first way is through quantitative (facts and figures) measurement. Develop your improvement plan and record your progress.  For example, the author James Clear keeps a record of every workout he does with data such as how many reps of each exercise and at what weights.

The second way is to find a teacher, coach or mentor. Sometimes we are lucky enough to be started off with such a person as a parent as Mozart, Franklin, and Tiger Woods were. More often, we have to find them for ourselves. They don’t have to be a master coach to start. They just have to be several levels above you in the relevant subject and be willing and able to give constructive feedback.

It’s hard to know where our specific weaknesses are in a particular practice and how to improve them. Often, we just don’t know what we don’t know. A good teacher helps to identify weaknesses and give concrete strategies to fix them. When your teacher gives you corrections on your performance after every turn, you don’t spend time practicing the wrong thing.

We often have ‘blind spots’ about our performance and a coach can see us objectively and in the context of their greater knowledge. In addition, they will continually push the practice beyond your current comfort zone but one that remains within what you currently consider possible.

Struggling at the bleeding edge of your ability – where you make, and correct mistakes – makes you smarter. “You have positioned yourself at a place of leverage where you can capture failure and turn it into skill,” says Daniel Coyle in his book, The Talent Code (2009). He goes on to say, “Thrashing blindly doesn’t help. Reaching does.”

High, focused repetition is possible

The most effective deliberate practice activities are able to be done at high volume. However, simply repeating a specific activity over and over again isn’t particularly effective. For the repetition to be useful, it must rewire your brain for improvement. Therefore, it must be in the learning zone, discussed above, and repeated past the point where you are bored to sobs with it.

It is effortful and focused repetition. It means continually seeking the unsatisfactory elements of performance and trying your hardest to fix them. It’s cognitively tiring, and a beginner will only be able to manage about an hour a day while a professional might reach three and a half to four hours broken up into two sessions.

In short, deliberate practice is not for sissies, but it works!

The takeaway: Performance improvement requires:

  1. Concentrated focus to breaking down each task and identify mistakes.
  2. Lots of constructive feedback, so you focus on the right elements and fix the right things.
  3. High repetition of each activity identified
  4. Over time, deliberate practice rewires the brain and causes those neural pathways to work better in unison via myelination.
Four steps to upleveled performance

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