Winning comes down to the daily choices we make. 

It’s not something that happens in a single day.  It happens as

the result of weeks, month, years – even

decades of hard work, focus, and dedication.

Whoever chooses to put in more hours of deliberate practice

is going to have the edge!

I hope you had a great week and had some time to digest last week’s newsletter.  I spent much of this week reading about and watching people practice.  Three of our readers contacted me and all named the same person as an excellent example of someone who utilizes purposeful practice as a means of improving performance.  His name is Chip Lutz, and he is the Four-Time Senior British Open Champion.  How purposeful is his practice?  Well let’s just say that our club’s learning center has a room named for him, The Chip Lutz Swing Room.  However, it would be inaccurate to categorize his approach to practice as simply purposeful, you see he has taken it to the next level.  Chip’s practice is deliberate.

In his book, Peak:  Secrets From the New Science of Expertise, psychologist Anders Ericsson identifies “Deliberate Practice” as the gold standard to which anyone learning a skill should aspire.  If you will recall, last week we defined “Purposeful Practice” as that which requires us to get outside our comfort zone in a focused way with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor our progress. Deliberate Practice is different in two important ways, first, it requires a field that is reasonably developed and one in which the best performers have attained a level of performance that clearly sets them apart from most of those in the field.  Secondly, Deliberate Practice requires a teacher who can provide practice activities designed to help the individual improve their performance.  This definition draws the distinction between Purposeful Practice – when a person tries very hard to push himself or herself to improve and Deliberate Practice – which is both purposeful and informed.  It is guided by the best performers accomplishments and an understanding of what they do to excel.  In a nutshell, deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there.

Ericsson’s research found that Deliberate Practice is characterized by seven (7) traits:

  1. Deliberate Practice develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do at an expert level and for which effective training techniques have been established.  Practice is designed and overseen by a teacher/coach familiar with the abilities of experts and skilled in developing these abilities in others.
  2. Deliberate Practice takes place outside one’s comfort zone.  It demands near-maximal effort, which is not generally enjoyable.
  3. Deliberate Practice involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of the target performance.
  4. Deliberate practice is deliberate and requires a person’s full attention and deliberate actions.
  5. Deliberate Practice involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to that feedback.  Early feedback will be external (from the coach/teacher) and will address problems and ways to address them.  With time and experience the individual will take responsibility for self-monitoring, spotting mistakes and adjusting performance. 
  6. Deliberate Practice both produces and depends on effective mental representations.  Mental representations make it possible to monitor how you are doing in both practice and performance.  They show the right way to do something and allow one to note errors and make self-correction.
  7. Deliberate Practice almost always requires building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on them and working toward specific improvement.  It becomes a building process enabling step by step improvement.  Over time this incremental improvement will result in performance at an expert level.

Without question, Deliberate Practice is a very specialized form of practice and many would argue that it takes the rare individual who can make this type of commitment.  Additionally many believe that this type of practice certainly lends itself to athletics, musical performance, chess, ballet and the other usual suspects, but has little application to work and everyday life.  Not true!  With modification Deliberate Practice can be incorporated into the workplace and our daily  activities.

In 2008, Art Turock a masters-level track and field competitor and a corporate leadership coach  began working with Ericsson and studying the application of Deliberate Practice to the business environment.  It begins with mindset!  The first step toward enhancing performance is realized only when one abandons the business-as-usual mindset. Doing this requires rejecting three myths:

  • One’s abilities are limited – Research has demonstrated that with the right approach to practice anyone can improve performance. We can shape our own potential
  • Repeated practice leads to improvement – Doing the same thing the same way again and again is not a recipe for improvement, it is a recipe for stagnation and gradual decline.
  • All it takes to improve is effort – The reality is unless you are using practice techniques specifically designed to improve particular skills, trying hard won’t get you far. 

Once we have the correct mindset we can then incorporate a Deliberate Practice approach; that Turock calls, “ Learning While Work Gets Done”.  This approach enables the busy professional to incorporate elements of Deliberate Practice into their daily work and life.  You can lift your game, he says, by turning normal business/life activities into continuous improvement tasks through the use of “The Five P’s

  1. Prepare – Get rigorous about basics. Choose some leadership/work-related/life skills to work on each month; (Ex. – What best practice decision-making looks like, How to give feedback, How to give a PowerPoint presentation that won’t make the audience doze off). In a nutshell, take time to identify a skill that can be improved.
  2. Practice – Design many opportunities every day for skills practice. Set goals. In presentations, choose a focus such as being persuasive and ask colleagues to give feedback afterwards. Good feedback is not enough – get everyone out of their comfort zones, explore what can be improved and suggesting how. Ask for crisp examples.
    Take notes!
  3. Perform – Game-on situations are high-stakes meetings with customers or employees, or a strategic planning session for a senior management team. These require high-performance levels to be second nature.  Don’t simply go for mere competence, take it to the exceptional level; one which makes others now look at you as the expert.
  4. Perfect – Here is where debriefing and feedback come into their own. Reflection is vital. Build on what you learned last time. How could it be done better?  Set a new goal and adjust your practice.
  5. Publicize  Share learnings with anyone who may benefit, from cross-functional team members to trade association colleagues and customers. Additionally compile and report the learnings.  Ideally they can be shared with your learning buddy.

Alvin Toffler shares, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write,  but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”  Hence, the greatest gift we can give our children and each other is the confidence in their ability to continually remake themselves again and again and share with them the concept of Deliberate Practice as a means of attaining peak performance.

Enjoy your practice this week, and Embrace the Challenge.