How to Use Deliberate Practice to Be Good at Almost Anything

I first came across the principle of deliberate practice in the book, Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. According to Anders Ericsson in an interview with [Business Insider],

“deliberate practice involves stepping outside your comfort zone and trying activities beyond your current abilities.”

What that means is breaking down the skill you want to acquire into separate components and developing your skills, so you master each individual part of the skill. What deliberate practice is not is practising something over and over and not pushing yourself to improve your skill at doing it.

In this article, you will discover how you can make deliberate practice works in your everyday life and achieve your goals fast.

How Deliberate Practice Works in Everyday Life

Imagine you want to become a better presenter, using the principles of deliberate practice you would break down the presentation into different sections.

For example, you could break down the presentation into the beginning, the middle and the end. Then you would work only on the beginning one day. You would practice the tone, the pauses and even your movement at the beginning of the presentation. On another day, you might practice the transition from beginning to the middle etc.

The opposite approach would be to mindlessly run through the presentation over and over again until you memorize the script. This type of practice might help you to memorize your script, but you would not necessarily deliver a great presentation. It would likely sound wooden and over-practised instead of dynamic and natural.

In my teenage years, I was an aspiring middle distance runner. During the winter months, we ran a lot of long distances on the road as well as cross country. The purpose was to develop our overall stamina and basic strength. As the summer approached, we transitioned onto the track and did a lot of 10 X 600 metres with 60 seconds rest between runs. Here we were working on our speed endurance, a key factor in performing well at middle distance running.

Six hundred metres was not my racing distance. I ran 800 and 1,500 metres, but those 10 x 600-metre training sessions were a form of deliberate practice to develop the necessary skills to be able to perform at our best in a crucial part of the race—the middle. They were tough, but the training paid off when we were racing.

How to Use Deliberate Practice

1. Break it Down

Whatever skill you want to acquire, you need to break it down into different parts.

Imagine you want to become better at writing, you could break down the writing process into creating eye-catching beginnings, strong middles and inspiring endings. If you were to work on the beginning part of the writing process, you could practice different types of beginnings. For example, you could research how the most popular articles here on Lifehack begin. Then, you would practice creating beginnings in the same style.

2. Get a Coach

One key part of deliberate practice is to get feedback from a coach.

In our writing example, you could ask a friend or a person you know who reads a lot and ask them what they think of your beginning. Ask them how you could improve it. With the feedback in hand, you can then go back and rewrite the beginning to make it even more eye-catching.

If you were to develop your presentation skills, you could practice your opening with a colleague or friend you trust, and ask them for feedback. The key is to listen carefully to the feedback and then to go back and fine-tune your practice so you push your skills development further.

If you do not have access to anyone who can provide you with honest feedback, you can video yourself performing your presentation and self-critique yourself. It is hard to watch yourself at first, but after you get over the initial shock of watching yourself, you can watch dispassionately and see how you move, sound and perform. Do you find yourself interesting? Are you conveying your message clearly? Are you using too many filler words? All these questions will help you to improve your craft and skills.

Earlier this year, one of my communication clients asked me to review and coach his senior leadership team on a presentation they were to give to the CEO of the company, who was visiting Korea. After going through their individual presentations with them, I felt there was no passion, no emotion, no pride in what they had achieved over the previous twelve months.

Because they had rehearsed their presentation alone with no coaching or feedback, they had focused too much on the script and missed the important energy and passion.

I advised my clients to look at their scripts and think about what they were proud of and what they were excited about in the coming year. That one, small shift in perspective quickly put the energy and passion into their presentations.

Getting feedback is an important part of getting the most out of deliberate practice.

3. Use the Internet to Get Anonymous Feedback

Another way you can get feedback is to put your writing skills online in the form of a blog post and ask people to give you feedback on your writing style. Or you could record yourself and upload the video to YouTube. I began a YouTube channel three years ago, and this allowed me to improve my presentation skills through self-analysis.

I have also received a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, which I reviewed and corrected where I felt the criticisms were justified. An example of this was my introductions to my videos. When I first began, my introductions were long and rambling. I received a lot of ‘feedback’ about this and I soon shortened them and learned to get straight to the point. It has helped me to sharpen my message.

Final Thoughts

Using deliberate practice can help you to accelerate your learning skills. With learning languages, for example, traditionally we would buy ourselves a textbook and learn grammar principles and long lists of vocabulary. Once we had some basics learned, we would then practice speaking and writing sentences.

If you were to apply deliberate practice to your language learning process, you would find someone—preferably a native speaker of your target language—and talk to them. They would correct you and advise you where you can improve your pronunciation and intonation. Chris Lonsdale talked about this when he delivered his [TEDx Talk] on how to learn a language in six months. All the advice he gave in that talk was based on the principles of deliberate practice.

Whatever it is you want to master and improve your skills at, when you use the power of deliberate practice, you can quickly become better than the average.

Developing your skills in the area of communication can give you huge advantages in your workplace. Learning and mastering anything new can give you the skills to stay relevant in your industry.

As we go through the disruptive changes of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, the onus is on your to develop yourself and deliberate practice is one way you can give yourself the advantage.

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