Deliberate Practice
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Acing Deliberate Practice in Your 20s (What It Is and Why It Matters)

You’re frustrated. You just want to… break something.

You’ve been trying to get better at a skill. Repetition.

You’ve been putting in hours but you’ve…plateaued. You want to give up. You just want to stop feeling like you’re going to punch the wall.

Let me let you in on a little “secret”.

Some hours are better than others.

What?!?!.?

Welcome to the world of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is what separates the amateurs from the pros.

It’s VERY important, but more so while you’re young – namely in your 20s.

Nothing good happens after midnight (except deliberate practice).

Some hours are better than others. The hours you dedicate towards deliberate practice, that is.

It’s simply this: concentrated effort to strengthen weak areas of a certain skill.

That’s what I’d tell someone if they asked me in a conversation.

This definition is very deceptive however…because when people think of “skills”, they think of something like basketball or playing the violin. In actuality, a skill is just the ability to do something.

You can be skilled at chopping wood or chopping air… it’s all the same.

A skill can be something as simple as brushing your teeth… or driving, which is more complex. When the definition of “skill” is widened, to the small little things we do that makes up our day, to the big overarching parts – we can start to see why deliberate practice is so important.

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Deliberate Practice and the 20-something brain (why should I care about it?)

The brain of an average adult doesn’t stop growing until sometime in the mid-20s.

The prefrontal cortex (the area where decisions are made) is still solidifying up until you’re 25. The twentysomething brain is still firing off all sorts of neural connections, strengthening the most used ones and pruning away the unused ones. This process takes place quite rapidly in the teenage years…but it’s still going on in the 20s, making it a prime time for growth. Meg Jay talks about this very passionately in her book The Defining Decade, a book I’d urge all people in their 20s to check out.

We all know that habits are a real bitch to break. Well guess what?

As you get older, it gets even harder.

When it comes to a bad habit, you’ll hear people say “It’s just the way I am”. In a sense – they’re right.

The synaptic pathways that govern a certain habit have are coated in a substance called “myelin”. Myelin makes the particular pathway governing that habit fire faster, requiring less conscious thought. It has literally become part of the person.

These habits CAN be broken…but it takes a lot of pain to unlearn decades of solidified habits.

We can skip all this pain and go straight to the best way to set in good habits: deliberate practice.

And the best time to engage in deliberate practice is NOW.

But first, I’d like to clear the air a bit:

Inborn Talent Is a Myth

In Talent is OverratedGeoff Colvin dispells the myth that talent is inborn or inherent in highly acclaimed individuals in a field.

“Mozart’s first work regarded today as a masterpiece, with its status confirmed by the number of recordings available, is his Piano Concerto No. 9, composed when he was twenty-one. That’s certainly an early age, but we must remember that by then Wolfgang had been through eighteen years of extremely hard, expert training.”

Mozart was talented, yes. But he started early. REAL early. He also had a father that was a musician himself. Did he get his “10,000 hours” or deliberate practice in? Definitely.

What if he didn’t didn’t practice in a deliberate manner? Would he be Mozart? Definitely not.

Someone can have a natural inclination towards something, but if they don’t practice that talent – it dies. No one is born with amazing abilities.

Sorry to veer off track  – let’s get right to the main course.

How to practice deliberate practice

If you want to change how you execute a certain skill (change the habit pattern), you change your routine. Approach the skill in a different way.

“With deliberate practice, however, the goal is not just to reach your potential but to build it, to make things possible that were not possible before. This requires challenging homeostasis – getting out of your comfort zone – and forcing your brain or body to adapt. But once you do this, learning is no longer just a way of fulfilling some genetic destiny; it becomes a way of taking control of your destiny and shaping your potential in ways that you choose.” – Anders Ericsson, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

1. Get a good teacher

A teacher will be able to give you feedback in real time on areas that you need improvement in. If you take their suggestions, you will certainly improve in that skill.

What if you don’t have a teacher? Become your own teacher. Start by making a conscious effort to be, well…conscious. Work on things that you know challenge you. Everyone loves to go on auto-pilot, but that’s not how you improve. It will take you a lot of discipline to become self-taught (autodidactic) but it can certainly be done.

My suggestion? Write out a plan on your self-improvement for that skill. Don’t bullshit yourself. Be honest with yourself and pinpoint your weaknesses like someone else would. Make it more challenging as time goes on. You can definitely improve with deliberate practice in any skill.

2. Deliberate criticism

Your work means nothing if it doesn’t stand up to the outside. A good teacher or audience will give you feedback in areas that you need to improve. This is a main reason why artists show their work to people, to see what resonates and what doesn’t.

There will be people who will attempt to tear you down without any “constructive criticism” whatsoever. As you go through life and gain more experience, you’ll learn to distinguish authentic voices from people just want to see you fail.

3. Mental Representations

In Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, Anders Ericsson and Dan Pool have a term for organizing information into logical pieces: mental representations.

This is the cornerstone of deliberate practice.

Mental representations are just easy ways for your brain to hold on to information. Certain cues, movements, tension in the muscles, etc. If you know how to shoot a free throw and make it every time, it’s because you’ve built the correct mental representations through deliberate practice. You have developed confidence on how to shoot and hold the ball.

The stronger your mental representations are, the better you’ll be able to perform that skill.

The Upside of the Downside

Initially… you’ll encounter some “tension” when you’re doing deliberate practice. Mental strain is the biggie. But deliberate practice works on a slight edge. The things you do are difficult initially…but they become MASSIVELY easier over time.

So you’ll encounter some strain at first, but let me ask you this: “In 10 years, what/where will you be?” The time is going to pass regardless, so you might as well go for the gusto. Remember that synaptic wiring I mentioned earlier? With deliberate practice, you’ll make the RIGHT type of synaptic wiring.

Deliberate practice is what separates the people who talk a big game but can’t back it up. Don’t be one of those people. Decide what you want to practice on and put your entire effort into getting better at it.

This is in my opinion, one of the best ways to find happiness in life.

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