Deliberate Practice: 5 Steps to Become a Top Performer

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    Deliberate practice can and will change your life.

    It did for me.

    I was frustrated with the way everything in my life was turning out. I was dedicated to trying to make my life better by improving my work skills, but I was going nowhere.

    My work was ineffective, and the results unnoticeable.

    Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

    Practice that is simple repetition is just that, repeating the same mistakes and believing that you are getting better at the task.

    Your work must be focused and deliberate, and it must push you to the next level. Only then can you master a task and achieve your goals.

    Deliberate Practice

    What Is Deliberate or Focused Practice?

    Deliberate practice requires that you focus on the different parts of a task so that you can master each part.

    It’s a type of practice that is purposeful and has meaning so that the person can master a task by breaking it down into smaller tasks.

    There are several theories on who developed this type of practice. Some people say that golfer Ben Hogan started this type of practice, which turned him into one of the greatest golfers of the 20th century. Other people attribute deliberate practicing to psychologist K. Anders Ericsson from books he published starting in 1994.

    Why Is It Important?

    When you concentrate on a task and review feedback on your performance, you can master the task.

    Repeating a task over and over without evaluation just becomes repetitive work.

    The focus and attention given to a task that you are deliberately doing will help you improve your skills because you will discover your weaknesses as well as your strong points so that you can master the skill overall.

    How Deliberate Practice Works

    Much like the practice itself, if you break down deliberate practicing into sections, it is much easier to master.

    Knowing what each step is and how to make it work leads to the successful practicing of any task.

    1. Know Your Current Limits

    The first thing that you do when you set out to master a task is to know your current limits.

    What is it that is holding you back from achieving the goals that you have set? What would you like to improve?

    If you are not sure what is holding you back, you may need to take some time to evaluate the entire situation.

    For example, when Benjamin Franklin was a young man, he was told by his father that his writing skills lacked power and that this would prevent him from being as successful as he desired. Franklin took this comment very seriously and tried to discover why his skills were looked at so poorly.

    Franklin started to read more and write critiques of what he read. He then would have what he wrote critiqued and compared to the original writing. What he soon discovered from the feedback that he received is that he had a very limited vocabulary, and this limited his expression when we wrote.

    He then decided that he must focus on improving his vocabulary so that he could better express his thoughts to the public.

    The rest, as they say, is history.

    Benjamin Franklin is seen as one of the most important founders of the United States.

    When you can see what your limits are, you can make the necessary changes to improve your skills. Knowing your limits requires that you remain honest with yourself about what you can do and what you want to be able to do in the future.

    2. Set Realistic Goals

    Everyone has an idea of what they want to achieve when it comes to self-improvement. However, most of us set that goal very high and become frustrated when we don’t achieve that goal quickly or to the extent that we had hoped.

    Breaking your main goal into smaller, more focused areas of practice, however, can help you achieve your overall goal. By setting a smaller realistic goal, you will gain the expertise and practice you need for your larger end goal.

    For example, you really love the thought of painting as a hobby. The thought of creating something on a canvas is not only fulfilling to you, but it is also relaxing. But in all honesty, you are just not happy with the way your paintings turn out.

    You could set a goal of “mastering a landscape painting” and continue to paint the landscape over and over again until you like the end result or give up your dream. Or, you could break the task into parts and master painting.

    You would start by learning how to master the different strokes that each type of brush produces. Next, you would learn how different types of pain work to achieve your desired look. Next, you would learn how to successfully blend colors to achieve the right look for your painting. Finally, you would move to the canvas and apply these techniques to create your paintings.

    When you set small, realistic goals, they are easier to achieve. Once you master one part of the end goal, it will only feel natural to move on to the next part and continue to move through the process until your end goal has been reached.

    3. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

    We all have our comfort zones—that comfortable area where we push ourselves just so far, and then we stop. But if we never leave our comfort zone, we will never truly know what we can achieve.

    Leaving your comfort zone does not mean doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable. It does not mean pushing yourself so far physically or mentally that you are drained. What it does mean is that you should do something, such as practice a task, in a different way.

    The only way to grow in any area of your life is to push yourself to try things in a new way. You do not have to push harder or longer at something; you just need to be able to approach the task with an open mind and a willingness to experience the task in a new way.

    You may, for example, want to run a marathon. It may seem logical that you should continue to push yourself running each day until you reach your distance goal. While this is the ultimate plan, you may not reach the goal by just pushing harder.

    To reach your end goal, you may have to address your endurance by strength training and cardio exercises. To be able to run all 26 miles, you may need to focus on stretching your muscles better so that they will not cramp while running. Just running further each day may not help you achieve your goal.

    4. Be Outrageously Consistent

    When you decide to incorporate deliberate practicing of a task into your daily routine, you must be consistent. You must be deliberate. You must commit to the practice and make it a very important part of your life. This is the only way that you can be successful with this practice.

    However, you cannot let it become routine. You must make the mental effort to set the goal, and you must concentrate while you are doing the task. Evaluate every step, every time. You must be deliberate in your practice so that you can evaluate your performance and see where you excelled and what needs help.

    To be deliberate means that every action has a specific meaning and is meant to obtain a specific goal. It is more than just repeating the same steps over and over. It is about teaching yourself more about the task each time you try.

    You must also be willing to commit to mastering the task. This means practicing every day. You do not have to practice for extended periods of time; you just have to make sure that the time you do practice is deliberate.

    Many researchers that have studied deliberate practicing have found that between one and two hours of daily practice of a task in this matter provides the most success. Anything over two hours becomes repetitive, and your brain will stop focusing so intently on the task. Anything less than an hour is just not enough.

    5. Get The Feedback that You Need

    One of the most important aspects of practicing deliberately is using feedback on your performance to help improve your next practice. Feedback is essential to success because if you cannot see where the problems are, you cannot fix them.

    Feedback can be gained in many ways. You may keep a written log of your practice, you may video your practice for later review, or you may use the help of another person to track your progress so that the data can be reviewed when you are done.

    The data that you collect about your practice must have meaning. You cannot just say, “I had a good practice” or “better luck tomorrow.” You must gather data that is relevant and useful to your success. This is the only way that you can improve your abilities. And yes, even the smallest things matter,

    If you are trying to master a skill, any skill, you must be able to take it apart and see what actually makes that a skill. For example, if you are a golfer, the goal of the game is to get the ball in the hole with the least amount of shots. However, there is so much more to the skill.

    To be a skilled golfer, you must learn how to stand correctly when you swing. You must know how to hold your arms correctly to take different shots. You must know how each golf club performs. You must also practice with each club so that you can control your shots based on where your ball lands. In fact, this sport can be broken down even further if you really want to get technical.

    Mastering each of those parts of how to play golf is what will allow you to improve your overall game and reach your end goal of winning with the least number of strokes.

    True mastery comes when you can see where you need improvement in the little things so that you can achieve the larger goals. Feedback is necessary so that you can document your skills and create a path to improvement.

    Examples Of Deliberate Practice

    I have cited several small examples of how being deliberate with your practice can enhance your skills. Many people only apply this type of thinking to master a sport or physical activity. The truth is, when you apply deliberate tactics to any type of practice, you can master the task.

    One very personal example of this type of practice is on how to become organized. I will not lie; I am a very busy person who has trouble saying “no” to anyone who asks me to help with a project or join in on an event. Because of this, I had become very disorganized. I was always on the go, and everything in my life became chaotic.

    I was unwilling to give up my busy schedule, I actually enjoy being this active, but I could not stand the disorganization in my personal life. It hit me one day when I could not find an important document that ended up costing me hundreds of dollars to replace.

    I needed to make a deliberate plan to become more organized while still retaining my busy schedule.

    I realize that being organized does not sound like something that needs to be practiced, but I can assure you, in my case, it was. It was not unusual to walk in the door, throw everything into a nearby chair, look for where I dumped the stuff that I needed now, and rush out the door again.

    With practice, I taught myself to become organized. I searched for flaws in my thinking, such as “well, it’s on the chair and will be there when I get back” and put stuff away immediately when I was finished. Yes, it took conscious practice to make this happen, and yes, it did take time to master. However, the outcome was an organized life.

    I could continue with many other examples that show that deliberate practicing is beneficial to every area of your life. Whether you are an athlete that wishes to be the best in their field or an aspiring writer that wants to see their work published someday, you can achieve your goals by breaking them down into smaller tasks and mastering each one.

    It is important to remember that once you have started deliberately practicing a task that you do not give stop at the first sign of success. Mastery of any skill or task takes time and takes continual reinforcement through practice.

    Athletes that are at the top of their field do not sit home each day and wait for the next game night. Each day they get up, plan their practice, evaluate their performance, and then do it again the next day. Getting to the top is just part of the process; remaining at the top requires dedication.

    In Conclusion

    • Following the five basic steps of practicing a task deliberately will help you master any task you wish to undertake:

      • Know Your Current Limits
      • Set Realistic Goals
      • Leave Your Comfort Zone
      • Be Outrageously Consistent
      • Review Your Feedback

    I cannot stress enough how important the feedback part is to your success.

    If you do not review your performance, you cannot improve. You must be very open and honest when you are reviewing feedback so that you know what steps to take to enhance your performance.

    On a very personal note, I encourage you not to become discouraged when you are reviewing your performance, especially at first. It is so easy to look at the feedback information for your performance and become discouraged. It is easy to throw up your hands and scream “why bother” when you do not perform as expected.

    The truth is, the areas where your performance lacked is exactly why you should bother. Honesty with yourself is not always easy, but it is always beneficial. It will always be in your best interest to see the weak spots so you can make improvements.

    Ignoring areas of your life or performance that are not up to your own personal standards will not make things any better. In fact, this can cause more overall harm to you than good.

    But taking these issues head-on with a plan to make them better, that empowers you to be your best at any task and in any area of your life.

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