Deliberate Practice And How It Affects Your Performance

‘Women can’t succeed and become an expert in practices that require spatial thinking’. That was the assumption made back in 1976 before two Hungarian educators, László and Klara Polgár decided to challenge the worlds’ stance. They wanted to prove that through power of education, anybody can succeed and become an expert in all dimensions of thinking. The Polgars’ homeschooled their three daughters and taught them how to play chess. Being taught at a young age, their systematic approach to deliberate practice paid off. By the year 2000, all three daughters were ranked in the top 10 of female chess players in the world. Judit, the youngest daughter, was a champion by fifteen years of age- the youngest ever to do it. 


deliberate practice_blake de vos
Photo by Heidi Walley on Unsplash


Experts Are Made, Not Born


While problem solving was originally thought to be successful only in the gender differences, It wasn’t the only assumption that was shattered. In 1985, Benjamin Bloom examined the critical factors that contributed to talent. Bloom looked at 120 elite performers who had won competitions, awards and gained international recognition. The fields investigated were math, arts, sports and neurology. Research found no early indicators that could have predicted the success of the performers. Further analysis showed that there is no correlation between IQ and expert performance in areas such as music, chess, and sports. The only changes that proved significant were height and body shape, primarily used in sports (just think basketball).

If the correlation of gender difference and non-identical IQ levels doesn’t affect being an expert in your field, then what does? It’s Deliberate Practice. Bloom’s research found that the amount of quality in the performers’ practice were crucial factors in how they became experts. All performers he investigated practiced with intent, studied with teachers, and had consistent support throughout their developing years. 


What Is Deliberate Practice?


Deliberate practice is a purposeful and systematic approach that requires focus. In deliberate practice, you show up proactively, looking to improve your craft. It’s the ability to recognize mindless repetitions and engage in mindful practice. Regardless of where we choose to direct our attention focus to, deliberate practice can help maximize our potential. 

Want to write more? Focus on how many words you are writing.

Want to increase muscle mass? Show up to the gym and lift weights targeting specific areas.

In order to focus your attention and reach maximum potential, you not only need to show up- you need to be deliberate.


Examples of Deliberate Practice 


Kobe Bryant: Making 800 jump shots became just a day’s work for Kobe. He deliberately focused on shooting the ball into the basket, where the time he spent practicing was a mere afterthought. Kobe wasn’t showing up to shoot around. Kobe showed up to shoot with purpose.

Combat Sports: Often, in combat sports, professionals schedule different training sessions with other coaches. For example, they may have a striking coach, a conditioning coach, and in some cases- a nutritionist. The athlete would work with each coach where they would deliberately practice to improve different aspects of their game to become an expert. 

Writing: A writer who wants to become an expert in speed typing would not practice by writing a book to improve their speed. Similar to a 100-meter sprinter, they would not run a marathon to become the fastest runner. A writer would time themselves in short, sharp blocks of time to increase their speed.


Practice Vs. Performance 


Throughout the years, standardized performance has improved overall, where become broken in the Olympic Games every four years. Some of these improvements are due to equipment and rule changes. For example, footwear that sprinters wear now is considerably more advanced than fifty years ago. The shift in shoe technology allows for better running performance. 

-In 1904 at the World Championships of typing, the fastest words per minute was 82. The speed rose to 147 words per minute in 1923—an 80% increase in performance. 

-The quickest time at the 1986 Olympic Games marathon was just one minute faster than today’s required entry-level into big event races like the Boston Marathon. 

-When Russian composer Tchaikovsky asked two of the greatest violinists to play his violin concerto, they refused, deeming it unplayable. Today, elite violinists consider the concerto a standard performance practice. 

In virtually all areas of performance, knowledge, technology and insights are continually advancing. The criteria for maximal performance forever requires deliberate practice. To master excellence in our chosen field and to fully understand the continual advancements, we need feedback. Without feedback, we reach a plateau in performance. Just like coaching staff provides feedback to their championship, we should all strive for feedback in the field we have focus. 


Your Motivation


You don’t need a significant amount of motivation to apply deliberate practice. You need to know what you care about, and where you are willing to put your time and energy. Once your vision is clear, you then begin to understand all the practices around you that are currently useless. The shift in perspective changes, motivation begins to creep in. The deliberate practice will keep you on track and continually motivated. 

It’s not about how much you practice. It’s how you practice.