Just clocking in enough hours does not make anyone an expert on anything
Whatever type of work, or whichever industry you may have chosen to be in, you will always want to be the best in your field. And as with everyone else, you surely have at least one role model that you look up to—that person who seemed to have perfected all aspects of his or her craft. But looking at the people who are on top of your field, how do you suppose they got there?
Whether it’s arts, sports, literature, or being sales savvy—some seem to have that innate quality that separates them from the rest. Something that they were born with. And the rest of us mere mortals will just have to work extra harder to achieve what seems to come so easily to them.
Feeling bad for yourself yet? Good. Now take that previous paragraph, and visualise it as a piece of gum that you’ve been chewing on for quite a while.
Now, spit it out, and throw it away. Why? Because you really shouldn’t be swallowing gum, and people having any expertise on anything by default, in their DNA, is just plain baloney.
Deliberate Practise vs. ‘Just Practise’
Being superior in your line of work does not stem from a lucky draw in the gene pool—though some may argue that there are certain individuals who are just plain “gifted.” Not only is this very discouraging to those who feel otherwise (and quite frankly, psychologically scarring), it is also inaccurate.
In The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance (published in____) by celebrated psychologists and authors K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer, studies show that while there are genetic factors that may put a person at an advantage (like, say, height for basketball players), “the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of a deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”
In short, it’s all pretty much an even field when it comes to the opportunity of being the top dog in, well, anything. That’s when deliberate practice comes in.
Sad to say, the technology or methodology to eliminate that period of purposeful hard work and relentless effort in between novice to expert level in anything has yet to be invented, so expect to clock in your hours to get to the top 10,000 hours, or a decade, that is, according to Ericsson and his colleagues.
Carnegie Mellon University’s Cognitive Psychology expert, John Hayes, studied the musical and art greats to put this particular time frame in perspective. Throughout his studies of hundreds of years’ worth of musical and art development, including the legendary Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and even Pablo Picasso, one common denominator was present: the greatest pieces from the greatest creators of arts took at least ten years in the making (Hayes coined this decade-long period it as “Ten Years of Silence” in his studies).
This coincides with Ericsson, et. al.’s statement in their studies that it takes around that period of time to reach expertise level on your chosen field.
But more than just repetitive execution of a mechanical task, deliberate practise involves a lot of factors and a clear-cut end goal for each session:
- Motivation – this is probably the hardest to keep up over a long period of time, but finding your push to go on and keep practising is essential to reaching that level of expertise that you so desire. Deliberate practise is all about leaving your comfort zone and devising ways to improve on your weak points, one by one—which means it most likely won’t be a pleasant walk in the park.
- Establishing Your Knowledge Level – This is all about determining your starting point—your Point A. Point B should be your target, not Point L, and there’s no reason for you to target getting to Point A if you’re already there.
In order to formulate an effective improvement program for your practice sessions, you’ll have to do an initial evaluation and determine your pre-existing know-how in your chosen field. You’ll spend hours going in circles if you start at a level too advanced for you, and it would be an equally complete waste of time if you underestimate your skills and start at the very beginning when you’ve already mastered that part.
- Getting Immediate Feedback on Your Practise Session – Deliberate practise is all about having a specific goal in every session, and making sure you reach that goal. Getting tangible, qualitative and quantitative results is important so you know how far along you are in that journey to reaching Point B. Completion of a physical task is not enough—remember, improvement is key here. And how will you know you’ve improved if there’s no way to tell how you did with your practice?
- Consistency and Repetition – Again, muscle memory and mechanical tasks aren’t the end-all of practising, but it’s still very much a huge part of the process. In a post on reddit.com, one of the USA Basketball Team’s trainers (named Robert in the entry) was witness to Kobe Bryant’s habit of deliberate practice, in conjunction to the team’s already gruelling workout program:
“Kobe isn’t merely showing up and practising a lot. He is practising with purpose. Kobe had a very clear goal at practice: 800 made jump shots. He was deliberately focused on developing the skill of making baskets. The time he spent doing it was almost an afterthought. That sounds simple, but it’s very different from how most of us approach our work each day.”
How you approach the very process of practising will determine how well you’ll be placed on the ladder of your chosen industry in the long run. So whether it’s shooting 800 made jump shots, or composing the next big thing in classical music, or getting that Best Seller title on your latest book, keep in mind that deliberate practice is the proven way to go about it.
Find that motivation to keep you going, even if you feel like you fail more than succeed each time you practise. Be smart about your starting point by educating yourself and determining what you know, what you need to know, and what you need to improve on. Make sure that you get appropriate feedback. Tally your success. Keep a log on your progress. Wash, Rinse, Dry, and Repeat. And who knows? Before you know it, you may very well be one of the future examples of scientists’ studies on reaching expertise via Deliberate Practise.
Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. Th., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363–406