In my last piece, “The Real Reason Why – I Work Out”, I wrote the following:
“In my opinion, the best way to get decent at your craft is to practice it a lot.”
And today, I thought I would shed some seriously awesome info with you as to why—and how—practice actually effects your proficiency at any given subject. Whether that be writing as I am now, solving complex mathematical equations, singing, or playing a sport—practice does scientifically help you get better at a skill.
Practice may never lead us to be perfect—we’re never going to reach that bar objectively—but it sure will help us in another big way.
Making us a beast at what we do.
The two types of practice
You should all by now have at least tried to practice something at some time in your life. Maybe it was the free throws in the driveway for basketball. It could have been the speech you were memorizing for that class you took. You know, if we go far back enough—maybe it was that time you were a wee baby trying to say “mama”. Practice has been a staple in your life since you were born.
But you’re older now, right? You have interests and skills that you practice to apply to something seriously, besides recreational basketball or school. So you say, “I’ve gotta get on the grind, seriously,” now more than ever.
But I bet you didn’t know there are two different types of practice. And I will double down in saying that, unknowingly or not, you might be exercising the wrong one. It’s all about practice vs. deliberate practice.
A quick breakdown goes like this. When we think of highly trained athletes and the world’s best performers—people who represent what they do on a national and/or international stage—we think of them practicing day in and day out. We imagine them hitting the weights every day and only making room for sleep in between. Naturally then, a lot of us focus on the amount of practice that these people do, and assume that it’s the number of hours logged in that equates to attaining a high level of dominance in our particular field. “If I get in the studio every day, and practice the same move every day, I will be great.” That’s practice.
A long number of hours dedicated to something—and repetition—does to a degree, help.
It’s not what makes the greats, great, though. That’s something called deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is, as defined in a 2007 article by the Harvard Business Review:
“Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.”
One practice, normal practice, is repetition of known things to get them to be more consistent. Let’s say, shooting free throws 500 times in a gym so when the time comes you can knock them down. The other, deliberate practice, is specifically trying to sharpen the skills you suck at, to purposefully advance it and not only be consistent, but gain more skills to improve. Instead of just taking 500 free throws, now you use your non-dominant hand and do it with a crowd to pressure you.
So how do I get good?
Well, apart from what I described above (deliberate practice), there are a few simple things you need to keep in mind if you want to be the next “great” in your area of expertise:
Space out your practices
As opposed to say, trying to cram for a test the next morning and getting no sleep, spacing out your training is best. According to a study done by researchers led by a Brown University scientist on gamers, “That analysis showed that, over their first 200 matches, those who played four to eight matches [a] week gained the most skill per match, followed by those who played eight to 16 matches,” it goes on to say,
“’What this suggests is that if you want to improve the most efficiently, it’s not about playing the most matches per week,’ Huang said. ‘You actually want to space out your activity a little bit and not play so intensively.’”
Develop habits that work for you
I’ve written about it before, but I stand by it: habits make goals easier to achieve. When you form habits that work uniquely for you, it makes it that much harder to get rattled; that much harder to succumb to pressure; and that much easier to stay on task. The same study on gamers also had this to say about habits,
“But the important thing wasn’t just the fact that elite players use the hotkeys more, it’s that they form unique and consistent habits in how they use them…It’s likely, the researchers say, that those habits become almost second nature, enabling players to keep cool and issue commands when the pressure of the game ratchets up.”
No, seriously. The more you fail, the more you’re expanding your mind to learn new skills. You’ve probably heard that Michael Jordan quote,
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” -Michael Jordan
It speaks volumes about our capacity to learn, just by sheer numbers—he failed in the thousands! And yet he won 6 championships and is considered the pinnacle of basketball greatness by many.
Why? Because he adjusted to what shortcomings he had and embraced them. He took those same weaknesses in his game and made them that much better. And that circles back to deliberate practice.
Does practice actually make perfect? It’s hard to say. We can definitely, with evidence, say that deliberately putting our efforts into our practice—and into bettering our weakest skills—does propel us forward in a lot of ways.
In all, at the end of the day, it comes down to you and what you make of the time that you have in front of you.
Written by: Michael “Bboy Roach1” Roach