Sep 23, 2016

What goes behind deliberate practice?



Twitter is my go-to source when I need some inspiration/learn new things/access interesting articles/stay up-to-date on what's happening in my areas of interest. On one such twitter browsing session this morning, I came across a story "the science of practice" from Hardbound. It is an excellent compilation on what goes behind the achievement of world-class performers. We have all heard about the 10,000-hour rule that was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers". 

The quantity of time spent in "deliberate practice" of a skill matters. But what is equally important is the quality of time spent towards building a skill or expertise. I have been curious to understand how one builds expertise/mastery over a subject/skill. Mastering a skill is not possible by just reading books/articles, taking courses, listening to podcasts etc. 

This story link talks about a research by Dr.Ericsson that went into discovering the 4 elements of deliberate practice. 
  1. Goals - well-defined, specific. Acquire micro-skills
  2. Focus - full attention, block out all distractions
  3. Feedback - take the help of a coach
  4. Discomfort - push yourself out of your comfort zone. Set more difficult targets to achieve.
Sounds simple but made a lot of sense to me. It gave me a useful framework to work with. 

Many of knowledge-oriented skills are vague in the sense there is no clear destination or milestones defined. So it is a challenging task to define specific goals and identify micro-skills to be built in the journey of mastery. Say, you want to be a world-class digital marketer, what are the intermediate micro-skills you need to build? what goals you need to achieve?

In today's world of constant distraction, focus is a precious commodity. If we are constantly checking our phones/devices for FOMO, where's the attention needed to focus on a specific task at hand? When we were in school/college, studying for 2 hours at a stretch without any distractions was easily possible. Is this achievable in today's times? Do read this brilliant piece by Joshua Becker on why you should disconnect.

Without the right feedback, we wouldn't know which areas we have improved and which areas need more practice. Taking feedback from a coach/mentor will help us course-correct and plan our mastery journey better.

Just like how our bodies get used to certain fitness activity and has to be progressively stretched, our minds also need to be pushed out of our comfort zones. Extrinsic motivation through publicly announced goals to a friend/partner would help. Even if you don't announce your goals to the outside world, writing them down in a journal can motivate you to stay committed. The Goldilocks principle of "not too much, not too less, just right" holds true for progressively increasing the challenge levels of the skill that we are building. 

Take some time and write down the list of skills you are trying to become a master at. For each of these skills, think about these 4 elements of deliberate practice and how you plan to address each of them. I'll share my experiences once I put down this framework for the skills that I want to build.


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