Deliberate practice, or intentional practice, is the key to learning and improving at any skill, hobby or interest. Instead of going through the motions, having a plan with deliberate actions for improvement will be very beneficial.
Everyone has heard the old adage “Practice makes perfect”, but that’s not actually an accurate statement.
Actually, practice makes permanent.
If you practice spelling the word “business”, but actually memorize it incorrectly as “buziness”, it’s going to be much harder to correct that mistake in the future, because you’ve already built up the memory of the misspelled word.
The way you practice is just as important as setting aside the time to practice itself. And there’s a dynamic approach to practice that will help avoid practicing incorrectly. It’s called deliberate practice.
What is Deliberate Practice?
Deliberate practice isn’t just using repetition to craft a skill. Repetition, while important, can only get you so far.
Instead, deliberate practice is the practice of breaking down each aspect of what you’re trying to master and identifying the patterns and techniques that will propel you towards mastery and help you achieve confidence in the area you want to master.
The practice is systematic and purposeful. The goal is to increase intense focus and perfect the activity you’re practicing. You start with big picture ideas and break them down into bite sized chunks. Then you practice perfecting those smaller tasks, and eventually, you’ve mastered an entire skill set.
5 Steps to Use Deliberate Practice to Improve in Life
Using deliberate practice will help you unlock your full potential and start getting the life that you want. It takes your skills and brings them to the next level by consistent, systematic practice.
Below, I have laid out 5 steps you can take to use deliberate practice in you life to reach your goals:
- Identify Your Goals and Dreams
- Create a Game Plan for Deliberate Practice
- Be Intentional in Your Practice and Take Action
- Be Consistent with Your Actions
- Reassess and Tweak Your Plans Over Time
Let’s dive into each of these in more detail now.
1. Identify Your Goals and Dreams
You want to look at your future and ask yourself realistically, where do you see yourself and who do you want to be as a person?
Answering those two questions will give you a good idea of where to start.
You want to focus on things that you can develop, like career skills or maybe you want to learn a new language, or hit a home run during the company wide softball game. They should be skills you can develop or goals you want to achieve – rather than objectives, like making partner at your firm in two years.
Objectives are good to have as well, but we really want to hone in on the skills that might get you there. Like learning C++ or mastering Excel.
You want to make sure that you’re being clear about what you want.
You might even want to consider using the SMART goals guidelines when dreaming about who you want to be. SMART goals help you create specific, measurable, attainable, time-bound goals. I have a great tutorial about how to get started here.
If you’re more specific and calculated about what your goals and dreams are, then you’ll have a clearer picture to use to create a game plan.
2. Create a Game Plan for Deliberate Practice
You know your goals, now it’s time to come up with a game plan.
You have your dream. What do you have to do to MAKE it happen?
That’s where deliberate practice comes in. Deliberate practice is the science of devising a plan to help you get from where you are today to where you want to be. It allows you to stop self doubting because you’ve built a firm foundation.
Making your dream happen requires you creating a game plan for action. The 5 steps for creating a game plan for your life is as follows:
- Identify Experts to Emulate
- Start Slow and Practice Often
- Spend Time Self Critiquing and Evaluating Technique
- Celebrate Small Wins Along the Way
Let’s dive into each of these steps to create a practice plan for yourself below.
Researching is the most important step of making an action plan for your success.
You want to look at where you are, and figure out the best step going forward. The more informed your research is, the better your deliberate practice will be, because you’ve taken the time to make sure you’re understanding what you’re trying to perfect.
Say your goal is to learn yoga, you want to figure out what kind of yoga you’re interested in: karma, bhakti, jnana, or raja.
You also want to figure out the most basic poses for that specific type of yoga, and best practices in order to practice them.
Next, you’d want to build a more complicated sequence, and continue exploring methods and poses.
This gives you your guideposts and metrics to know what is correct posture, and what is not.
Identify Experts to Emulate
You also want to find experts to emulate. This could mean several things. Either attending a yoga class taught at your local community center, or following a yogi on YouTube and watching their videos.
Finding a class is the more preferred method. It gives you direct feedback on your form and posture. Along with some structure and method techniques that you might not get self teaching.
However, if a class is not accessible to you, finding videos on YouTube could prove a useful substitute. You can watch proper form.
Start Slow and Practice Often
This is the most important part of preparation. You want to make sure that you’ve set aside time every day (or several dedicated times a week) to practice your craft.
But almost more importantly, you want to make sure that you’re progressing slowly. Dedicated practice is systematic. And these systems only work if you’ve designed them to give yourself enough time to master the basics before moving onto intermediate work.
This is how Joe DiMaggio got so good at baseball. He started with the basics. He practiced them often and he built on existing skills. But he couldn’t do that without making sure he was dedicating enough time to the craft.
So make sure that you’re taking the time you actually need to practice. Instead of trying to get good insanely fast, as this often leads to bad technique and burnout.
Spend Time Self Critiquing and Evaluating Technique
Another crucial aspect of planning is to make sure you’re allowing space and time in your process to self critique and evaluate your own technique. As mentioned above, the best way to do this is to have an instructor advise you, but there are other ways to prepare for this.
If you’re practicing child’s pose, record yourself following along to a yoga session from YouTube. Then watch both videos simultaneously. Make sure to note where your form doesn’t mimic the instructors, and then critique your learning plan to spend time perfecting that specific pose.
Celebrate the Small Wins Along the Way
And make sure you’re planning to celebrate the small wins along the way. Part of deliberate practice is learning to self motivate.
Choosing specific milestones in your practice plan to celebrate will help keep you going and pushing towards that goal.
Maybe that’s holding a pose for 45 seconds for the first time, or mastering a specific salutation. What the milestones are don’t matter as much as taking the time to map them out.
This final step really helps solidify your action plan and gets you psyched for deliberate practice.
3. Be Intentional in Your Practice and Take Action
Now that you’ve spent a considerable amount of time planning your goals and routine and the milestones you celebrate.
What does being intentional mean?
First, it means showing up. You’ve spent all this time crafting the perfect set of steps to get you from point A to point B, but they’re absolutely useless if you don’t spend the time practicing.
Second, it means showing up wholeheartedly. You’re here, you’ve put in the time and you’re ready to go, but you still need to make sure that you’re leaving everything at the door.
Take a moment to write down what thoughts are popping into your head about whatever distraction might make you pause and wonder if practicing is important. Then, put your phone away, turn off your notifications, do whatever you have to do to pause distractions.
Finally, take action. Review your deliberate practice plan. Set up whatever things you need to help you succeed. I find that it’s helpful to set a timer, so that I don’t have to continue to watch the clock to know how long I’ve been practicing. And just practice.
Use the guidelines you’ve given yourself from your deliberate practice plan to guide the session, but ultimately, putting in the time and working on the craft is going to be what makes you better. As long as you’re continually critiquing yourself and striving for more perfect repetitions.
4. Be Consistent With Your Actions
Consistency is key throughout this process. Spending a consistent amount of time every week is going to help you master your skill.
This is due to several factors.
First, muscle memory is built by repetition.
You want to make sure that you’re spending enough time on each action to get it ingrained into the body. But make sure that you’re integrating more experience techniques and making sure you’re practicing the technique correctly and critiquing yourself when you need to be.
And second, habits are built over time.
If you only work at something sporadically, you might get better. But you won’t be building a habit. And so much of mastery comes from habit making.
If you want to get better at yoga, setting the habit of practicing yoga is half the battle. The habit is how you maintain consistency.
That’s why deliberate practice focuses so much on the planning phase. We want to set you up for habitual success by taking as much decision making out of the process as possible.
5. Reassess and Tweak Your Game Plan Over Time
This step cannot be stressed enough. It’s the key to deliberate practice and what sets deliberate practice apart from repetitive practice. It takes time and patience. It definitely won’t happen overnight.
Reassessing your practice plan allows you to look back on progress and look forward to skills you’re hoping to acquire. It also makes sure that you’re giving yourself enough time to make sure you’re practicing to perfection.
And if, for some reason, you’re not perfecting something, it allows you to step back and make sure all your steps are aligned with your goals.
Practice makes permanent, and this allows practice to morph into something perfect, not just permanent.
Stop Going Through the Motions and Employ Deliberate Practice
Deliberate practice is a great way to learn mastery of something.
Instead of going through the motions, use deliberate actions for improvement and put your deliberate practice plan in place.
I hope that this article has given you some great tips and food for thought on how you can use deliberate practice to reach your goals and dreams, and I’ll look forward to hearing how you are doing in your life as you make a game plan and put it into action!
Readers: what’s your goal? Are you going to use deliberate practice to reach your goal? What’s your plan?
Thanks for reading!