Lately I’ve been geeking out on the subject of deliberate practice, reading book after book about how people improve at anything and everything.
My inner idealist is captivated by how people get really good at what they do; my pragmatic self knows all this theory has huge implications for my ordinary life.
We get better by practicing, but not all practice is created equal. Deep practice drives improvement, while half-hearted practice is a waste of time.
Deliberate practice is intense, focused, tough. I’m engaged in deliberate practice when I’m pushing the limits of what I can do, when I’m at the edge of my game (and my head is hurting a little). Deliberate practice is hard, but it’s the only way to get good.
People aren’t born good at what they do: practice is the only way to improve, at anything, and skill is a direct result of time put in. (Surprised? I was.) Yet different people can devote exactly the same amount of time to practicing their crafts and end up with radically different results, because the important variable isn’t the total number of hours, it’s the amount of quality time invested.
This is simultaneously liberating and terrifying.
Liberating, because my life is full. I don’t have countless hours to devote to writing, which is what I really want to improve in. But deliberate practice theory tells me that I don’t need countless hours to devote to my craft. I just need to make the hours I do have count.
(Our brains can’t handle more than 4 or 5 hours a day of deliberate practice, which does level the playing field a bit.)
But the idea that my skills depend entirely on how I spend my practice time scares me: if I don’t make time for quality practice, I’m not going to get better. Since I don’t have a ton of practice time, I need to make the most of the hours I have. When I sit down with my laptop (or my legal pad), I need to write. If I waste that time on twitter instead (ahem), I’m never going to get those hours back. And I won’t get better.
Scary, yes. But motivating? Absolutely.
I’m still thinking through what I want my own deliberate practice to look like. In the meantime, here are the books I’ve been reading on my deliberate practice bender:
If you can only read one book on the theory of deliberate practice, make it this engaging round-up of its science, history, and practical applications.
I chose this pithy little guidebook as one of my best books of the year (to date) in the latest monthly newsletter. I avoided reading it for a long time because the little gold seal on the cover made it look like a gift book to me. Don’t make that mistake! If you want to skip the theory and get right to the how-tos, this is the book for you.
This one covers a lot of the same ground as The Talent Code, but isn’t nearly as interesting. However, it did have excellent concrete advice for writers: if that appeals to you, give this one a skim.
This follow-up to Teach Like a Champion was written by teachers and many of the applications apply to the classroom. This wasn’t my favorite, but the exceptional chapters on giving and getting feedback are not to be missed. (I put these into practice on my poor husband while he was practicing a business pitch last week. But you know what? I was there to hear his presentation, and it was awesome. (Not just because of my feedback, but I do get a little credit.) Score one for Practice Perfect.
My wife is torching my pitch…
— Will Bogel (@WillBogel) July 31, 2013
This book was so refreshing. Cal Newport systematically debunks the frequent advice to “follow your passion,” and replaces it with a more realistic (and ultimately more satisfying) plan. If you’re in your twenties, make this one a priority.
Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell
I haven’t re-read this game-changing book since last year, but it deserves its place here for bringing the concept of deliberate practice and the 10,000 hour rule into the public consciousness. It’s still a great read and as fresh as the day it came out. it’s a function of time management. Time is at a premium for me in this stage of life. It’s about managing my energy–because deep practice is exhausting.
What are you practicing deliberately? Or what would you like to? (And if you’ve got any more good book recommendations on the topic, please leave them in comments!)
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