11 Steps Towards Deliberate Practice

Updated: July 25, 2012

Lukas Kyska

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This post is by Lukas Kyska of The Aspiring Guitarist.

Deliberate practice is your highway to becoming an expert. It is the fastest way to become really good at things. If you want to become great, you need to learn how to practice deliberately. But there is a problem...

Deliberate practice is not easy. It is not something you were born with. Deliberate practice is effortful activity that can be sustained only for a limited time each day and exhaustion must be avoided.

The goal of deliberate practice is not to be enjoyed, the only goal is to improve your performance.

Maximization of deliberate practice is also not simple - it takes time, energy and money.

Maybe you think that your practice regimen is good, but it's probably not. I had to find for myself that my practice sessions are far from perfect. I was missing many key concepts that make practice sessions really effective.

I realized that I need to revise my notion of how to practice in order to become the best that I can be. You are only as good as is the quality of your practice.

I have created a list of useful techniques, tips and tricks that helped me to improve my practice sessions. I've used them all and they all work.

Important thing is to choose one strategy at a time and stick with it. Don't take three or four, one is enough. The goal is to improve your practice sessions gradually.

Every time I feel like I need to improve my sessions, I go through the list and find one tip that resonates with me. Then I try to apply it as much as I can. Instead of reading them, I started to live them. I realized that there is no benefit if I know them but won't apply.

So pick one and live one (if you are not sure which one you should start with - start with the first one :)).

1. Slow Down

I know this is one of the most obvious tips, but for some reasons it is really hard for people to do it. From my experience I can say, that my guitar students are usually going the opposite direction. After every mistake they usually speed up the tempo. The reason is probably that they want to learn it faster but in fact they are doing the exact opposite.

Slowing down is really the key to get any skill under your belt. The goal is to get to the point where you can do something smoothly, not fast. By slowing down you get better control and higher precision.

2. Start with a Goal in Your Mind

You need to know what you are trying to accomplish. You need to have a destination. Before you start practicing anything, try to see, hear or feel what it's gonna be like when it's done. Watch somebody doing it perfectly and you are much closer to your goal than you might think. Create a vision and work towards it.

3. Chunking

Don't try to learn complex skill all at once. Chunk it up. Create shorter sequences, little movements and practice them in isolation. When you are ready, connect them.

4. Practice at the Edge of Your Abilities

Finding the sweet spot at the edge of your current competence is the key to learning skills fast. You don't aim too high or too low. You need to find that place where you don't feel comfortable but it is not so bad that you want to quit. Design every task to fit your current level.

5. Get Feedback

It is almost impossible to get valuable feedback from yourself while you are fully immersed in action. A good teacher can help you immensely. This is not the only option though. You can record your practice session to watch and evaluate it later. Or you can let somebody read your next bestseller and ask for feedback.

6. Repeat

In order to master any move or action you need to make a lot of repetitions. First you have to learn it perfectly and then you need to repeat it until you feel absolutely comfortable with it.

7. Vary Your Approach

Nothing is more destructive to learning than being bored with the task. Although I said that repetition is an important part of deliberate practice, it cannot be mindless repetition. You need to stay fresh and be really focused. By varying your approach it is possible to repeat the same move while still keeping it interesting to you.

8. Count Good Repetitions

Quite often we get trapped by thinking that putting more hours will produce better results. By now you probably know that it is not about time, but about quality of that time. Instead of focusing your attention on minutes, try to count good repetitions. Count anything that will tell you if you are moving forward or not.

9. Record the Data and Review

Keeping a daily journal can be very helpful when you are trying to become expert in any field. By tracking your progress you can see if you are moving ahead or not. You can also investigate how effective are your learning methods and strategies.

10. Make it Harder

Practicing and training under pressure might help you to gain skill faster. In your practice room everything is quite safe, but when you are on stage it is very different situation. Try to find opportunities that put some pressure on you and see how well you can adapt.

11. Find Someone Who is Better

Feeling like you are good enough? Find someone who is better and see what happens. Constantly try to surround yourself with people that are better in what you are doing. Your learning will accelerate many times.

Do you have any other tips or strategies that help you practice better? I would love to hear about them in the comments.

Photo by Colton Witt Photography

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