Deliberate Practice

Practicing is hard, and it’s time-consuming. So much so that even the thought of it is enough to put you off. We relish the thought of putting our practice into play. Playing a football game instead of going to training, playing your favourite song on piano instead of practicing something new, something more technical. Or even designing a lettering piece instead of practicing styles and shapes. Putting what you have practiced into play is much more satisfying than practicing how to put it into play.

This is because it’s easier do the things we already know instead of learning something new. This is why the drop-off rate for online courses is over 95%. When it gets hard we quit. By having a goal, something to aim for, like becoming a master at a particular skill. You have to practice the skill, not just participate in it. But specifically, you have to practice the hard parts in order to become an expert. Going about your regular work, is not practice. You have to be aware of, and knowledgable of the technical and theoretical aspects of your skill.

Becoming an expert is more about how you’re practicing, not how much you’re practicing.

When you enjoy your skill or hobby etc., you will know that you aren’t going to get better by doing the act of it. Loving the act is the first step. This is how you find your passion and what motivates you to keep showing up to it. Practice is the second step. In order to get better at it, to master it, practice is needed. But not just any kind of practice. You need to deliberately practice. Think of it in terms of a sport. Do you think the only time those players are on the field is on the day you are watching them play a match? It’s the same with you and your skill, hobby, or trade.

The normal work isn’t practice. Over time, you may get better haphazardly. But this takes a longer time, it’s not deliberate, if you want to get better faster you need to practice specific techniques and do it intentionally. The only way to get better at something is through deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is objective focussed. You have one area you need to focus on improving, and you practice specifically on getting better in that one area.

In order to get better faster, you need to deliberately practice, to do this you need to set a specific task to accomplish in a practice session and dedicate specific time to do it. Write down the task the night before so when you wake up you know what to tackle and when you have practiced and completed this task you will come away with both an increase in skill, and a sense of accomplishment for succeeding in your task.

The trap you don’t want to fall into is feeling accomplished from only practicing the skills you already know and thinking that you’re getting better. You won’t get better unless you practice the specific skills you’re not good at.

It’s important to understand what aspect you need to work on and improve. You need to be self-aware about your skills and have a willingness to improve. Not just maintain your current level. There is always something to learn, to become better at. Use your practice time wisely to focus on areas where you need to improve. Instead of practicing for the sake of practicing. By only participating in the act of the skill does not mean you are learning it, you are just becoming more familiar with what you already know in that skill. When we warm up, it’s natural to start with what we know and what we are good at already so we can get in the zone, mentally. This is a good way to start a practice session, but not a way to continue if you your aim is to get better at something you’re not good at.

Warm up with what you are good at, find your flow and get into a rhythm. Once you’re there, this is when you switch to deliberately practicing the area you want to improve.

With lettering for example, I might start with swashes and strokes that I am familiar with, but it’s by forcing yourself to try something new, a new direction with the stems or swash, a new shape of a letter, that you become more aware of the possibilities of the art piece. by practicing different styles you can become a more diverse and pronounced artist / creative with a greater problem solving ability. This is the benefit of 10,000 hours of practice which I talked about before.

You will only get better by doing. And you will only get better at specific techniques by practicing specifically at those techniques. It will be repetitive, but that’s what it takes. If you want to master something, expect to be doing the same actions over and over, perfecting those skills. Practice allows you to train your mind and your muscles until it’s natural and fluent.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the like game. Where that shot of dopamine kicks in for each new ‘like’, ‘heart’ or comment you get on a final piece of work. The behind the scenes practice that you don’t see from people is the reason why you do see the people you do. They are the ones putting in the hard work, showing up and getting better when it gets hard. It’s a mentality. Do you want to be the best there is at what you do? Then you have to practice behind the scenes with no promise of a reward.

Do the work you love for the love of the work. The saying is true; “Practice makes perfect”. But, doing so deliberately accelerates the learning process of the trade. How are you going to get better today?