Deliberate Practice — The Fastest Way to Improve Your Skills

Design your practice deliberately, to improve faster.

What is deliberate practice?

Deliberate practice is the most effective method to rapidly improve any skill, and consists of intense, structured practice on essential aspects of the task being mastered.

Characteristics of deliberate practice

Deliberate practice is characterised by the following traits:

  • The practice involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some specific aspect of the target performance. It is not aimed at some vague overall improvement.
  • The practice requires your full attention and conscious actions. It is not enough to be at practice and simply follow the instructions of a coach. You must concentrate on the specific goal of the practice and make conscious adjustments to try and achieve it.
  • The practice involves feedback and modifications of efforts in response to that feedback. In the beginning, most of the feedback will come from a coach, but as you progress, learners must learn to monitor themselves, spot mistakes, and adjust accordingly.
  • The practice usually involves building or modifying previously acquired skill by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working on improving a very specific part.
  1. The design of the task should take into account your pre-existing knowledge so that the task can be correctly understood after a brief period of instruction. The activities are at an appropriate, challenging level of difficulty.
  2. You should receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of results of your performance.
  3. You should repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks.
Ericsson explains deliberate practice in detail in his excellent book: Peak: How to Master Almost Anything. Here is a short video-summary of the main points.

There is nothing magical about 10 000 hours

The real goal isn’t practice, it’s progress. As legendary basketball coach John Wooden put it, ‘Never mistake mere activity for accomplishment.’

A typical LeBron James practice session, illustrates how focused and intense practice can be.

Find the joy in working hard

If you can find the joy in working hard to improve, you have a big advantage when developing your skills.

Amateurs work till they get it right. Masters work till they can’t get it wrong. -Harald Craxton, professor at the Royal Academy of Music.

For anyone who reach world-class performance, it becomes part of their identity to practice in this way.

Anything worthwhile in life, takes time and effort to achieve.

If you want to become very good, excellent or world-class at a skill it therefore requires commitment on improving a little bit, every day, for a long time.

Repeating what you already know, but better

Deliberate practice doesn’t have to be learning something completely new. It can be the polishing of something you already know ‘quite’ well.

Doing things you already know, but better, is still very good practice.

After a while, many activities start to become sort of automatic, like brushing your teeth, tying your shoes or driving a car. At this time you are most likely not improving (and in many activities there is no need to improve).

Designing Deliberate Practice

When learning any skill; you would optimally have an experienced coach who can guide you, and help you tailor practice activities.

  1. Figure out what they do that makes them so good.
  2. Design purposeful practice around learning to do that yourself.

Ask yourself questions!

Deliberate practice is the opposite of mindless practice.

Take Home Message

  • Deliberate practice is the most effective way to improve any skill.
  • It involves activities designed to effectively improve specific parts of your performance.
  • It requires your full attention, motivation to learn, feedback on how you are doing, high effort and many repetitions.
  • Doing deliberate practice is hard and difficult, and it’s not always possible to fulfil all the criterias.
  • The closer you can design your practice to look like deliberate practice, the faster you will improve at the skill you are learning.
  • The way high level performers practice shows ways that we could all improve our practice. Use them as inspiration for how you can learn and grow faster.

Learning skills — 100Hours at a time — the100hourchallenge.com

Get the Medium app