Deliberate Practice – The Gold Standard of Practice

JT - An ounce of practice, is worth more than tons of preaching

One thing I know for sure is to improve, get better or unlearn a skill we need to practice. Whether that something be a skill in sport, learning a musical instrument, self-compassion or mindfulness we need to practice. However, what is important to remember, not all practice is equal.

Subsequently, today I wanted to share more about the 3 different types of practice, including deliberate practice – the gold standard of practice.

What is Deliberate Practice?

The term “deliberate practice” was coined by Dr K. Anders Ericsson who focused most on his research on expert performers. According to Ericsson and Lehmann, Deliberate Practice consists of –

“individualised training activities, specifically designed by a coach or teacher to improve specific aspects of an individuals’s performance through repetition and successful refinement.” (p.278-279).

The 3 Types of Practice – Naive, Purposeful and Deliberate Practice

Before I elaborate further on deliberate practise, I wanted to share more about Naive and Purposeful practice. These two types of practice are generally how people practice.

Naive Practice –

This is generally the type of practice most people do. In their book Peak, Ericsson and Paul identify Naive practice as –

“essentially just doing something repeatedly, and expecting that repetition alone will improve one’s performance.” (p. 442). 

Some examples of naive practice include –

  • I just swung the racquet and tried to hit the ball, or
  • I just listened to the musical notes and tried t remember them.

After a certain level, most people do not improve and may try purposeful practice.

Purposeful Practice –

Purposeful practice is a step ahead of and more superior than naive practice. In their book Peak, Ericsson and Paul identify Purposeful Practice as –

“… the term implies. much more purposeful, thoughtful and focused that this sort of naive practice.” (p.451).

Purposeful Practice has the Following Characteristics…
1. Well Defined, Specific Goals –

It is about putting together a range of small steps to reach a longer-term goal. This is an area where SMART goals come in handy. For example –

  • Today I am going to run 10 x 100m sprints in under 20 seconds,
  • On Friday, I will write 3 heartfelt cards/notes to people I am grateful for, or
  • By the  end of each month, my expense tracker up to date and income / expenses are entered.
2. Focused –

In Naive practise, there may be times when you are distracted, however in purposeful practice you are focused as it’s rare to improve without your full attention on the task at hand.

3. Involves Feedback –

When we are learning there are many times that we need and/or require feedback. This feedback can come from yourself (i.e. internally) or from a teacher, mentor, coach or parent (i.e externally). Without feedback it becomes more difficult to figure out what you need to improve upon.

4. Requires Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone –

Yes, going beyond your comfort zone is important for improving your performance and growing beyond what is familiar. Ericsson and Paul identify getting out of you comfort zone as meaning –

“…trying to do something that you couldn’t do before.” (p.523). 

An example of getting out of you comfort zone is to “try differently” not “try harder”.

So they are the four areas of purpose practice if you want to improve something, however this is just the start. The Gold Standard of Practice is called Deliberate Practice.

Deliberate Practice – The Gold Standard of Practice

In Peak, Ericsson and Paul indicate say that deliberate practice is the most effective method of all –

“It is the gold standard, the ideal to which anyone learning a skill should aspire.” (p.1547). 

Deliberate Practice is similar to purposeful practice, however has two differences. They two differences are –

  1. It is in a field that is reasonable developed, and
  2. Requires a teacher who can provide activities to help improve performance.
1. Deliberate Practice is in a Well-Developed Field

A well-developed field is identified as a field where performers have reached a certain level of performance and separates them from other people in the field. For example – musical performance, sports, dance or chess. Specific fields that don’t qualify are ones that have little or no direct competition (i.e. hobbies such as gardening and professions such as electricians, consultants etc.).

 2. Deliberate Practice Requires a Teacher Who Can Provide Practice Activities

Ericsson and Paul indicate –

“…we are drawing a clear distinction between purposeful practice – in which a person tries very hard to push himself or herself to improve – and practice that is both purposeful and informed. In particular, deliberate practice is informed and guided by the best performers’ accomplishments and by an understanding of what these expert performers do to excel.” (p. 1759). 

To summarise the traits of deliberate practice from Ericsson and Paul, deliberate practice –

  1. Develops skills that other people have already figured our how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established,
  2. Take place outside one’s comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond their current abilities,
  3. Involves well-defined specific goals and often involves some aspect of the targeted performance,
  4. Is deliberate and requires a person’s full attention and conscious actions,
  5. Involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to that feedback,
  6. Both produces and depends on effective mental representations,
  7. Nearly always involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically.

Over to You…

I hope this post has given you some insight in to practice and you can see that not all practice is the same. If you have any questions, please leave them below or join the toolkit here.

References –

Ericsson, K.A., & Paul, R. (2017). Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Boston, USA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Ericsson, A., & Lehmann, A. (1996). Expert and exceptional performance: evidence of maximal adaptation to task constraints. Annual review of psychology, 47, 273-305 .

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