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What's "Deliberate Practice" & Why Should You Care?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Have you ever heard of the 10,000 hour rule? The 10,000 hour rule is an idea from a Malcolm Gladwell book that theorizes that it takes that amount of practice in order to become really good at something. That idea was based on a 1993 study from Anders Ericsson that followed 40 professional violinists to learn what differentiated them from mediocre musicians. I read an article about this research yesterday and thought that the findings were relevant to a variety of goals including health and fitness.

Unsurprisingly, Ericsson's conclusion was that the violinists who excelled engaged in consistent, deliberate practice over a long period of time. This seems like one of those studies that reinforces common sense. Excelling at any activity obviously takes practice. The key takeaway here is that it needs to be "deliberate practice". So what constitutes deliberate practice?

Deliberate practice is goal-oriented. Setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time based) goals gives those practices a sense of direction. Many people will say that they want to "get healthy". Vague, subjective goals like "getting healthy" aren't enough to guide deliberate practice. What specific things are you hoping to accomplish?

Deliberate practice is focused. Those regular practices need to be related to achieving those goals. All practice time is not created equal; to make the most of time, it should be used to work towards a specific objective. For someone like me working towards a low body fat percentage, resistance training and meal prep is more efficient use of time than gentle yoga or walking.

People engaged in deliberate practice regularly seek feedback. For most goals there are several different ways to get feedback. Personally, I gather feedback from my measurements and fitness performance. Others may seek input from a trainer or track their cholesterol. The important takeaway is that successful people continuously monitor their progress and find opportunities to make improvements.

Probably the most significant factor of deliberate practice is that it involves discomfort. Successful people regularly push past their comfort zones. Being comfortable with a routine is a good sign that it probably isn't appropriately challenging. I hate high intensity workouts but keep doing them a few times a week because they push me to advance my fitness level.

Are you engaging in deliberate practice? How can you use these principles to make your "practice" time more goal-oriented, focused, responsive to feedback or challenging?
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