Has Your Improvement Plateaued? Try Deliberate Practice!

No matter what you want to do, from being a better mountain biker to learning how to code, you’ve gotta practice. Practice is what takes natural talent and amplifies it. But practice also takes a complete lack of natural talent and makes up for it! So when you feel like you’ve reached a plateau while you’re trying to improve, you should learn the art of deliberate practice! 

Anders Ericsson was a highly respected psychologist and an expert on human performance. Through his research, he found something pretty surprising. Excelling at anything isn’t determined by the frequency of practice but by the quality of the practice. In other words, the reason that you probably don’t know how to practice the right way! 

Deliberate practice is the art of practicing with intention. It’s extremely effective but it does take a lot of extra work. Instead of just doing the same thing over and over, deliberate practice makes you become intentional with your time, energy, and effort. Most people avoid practicing this way simply because it takes so much focus and effort. 

Another benefit is that deliberate practice is a great equalizer. To truly master something, you’ll need work hard for it. And real improvement comes when you’re getting dirty, crashing, failing, then getting back up and doing it again. By repeating this cycle over and over, you don’t need to be the best or the most talented. Instead, you’re the hardest working and that’s the biggest indicator of success! 

Okay, so now that you know all of the benefits of deliberate practice, here’s how to do it: 

  1. Set a small, specific goal for yourself to work on. 
  2. Spend time practicing that one skill with focus while trying to improve with each repetition
  3. Take notes about what you’ve learned and what to try next time.

In this article, I’m going to cover how to follow each of these steps so that you can start practicing deliberately today!

Get Specific

Instead of daydreaming and thinking about the giant goals we want for ourselves, to apply deliberate practice we need to get specific. Really, really specific. So specific that you have to pay attention to tiny movements or small changes. You should use deliberate practice to pick apart your performance so that you can reach a well rounded mastery. For example, let’s say you want to master jumping mountain bikes. Well, when you break it down you actually need to learn several different things. You need to learn how to pop, how to land, body positioning in the air, and how to crash well. So instead of having a general goal, you should break down what you want into a tiny, super specific goal that’s going to help you improve. 

Ask yourself the following: What goal do you have for yourself that’s the next step in your progression? What are all of the skills that go into making this goal happen? Think about breaking your goal down into little blocks. 

For another example, let’s say that Emily wants to get better at yoga. She practices several times a week but she hasn’t been improving. Her problem is that she’s focusing on “getting better” and not on anything she can specifically work on. This leaves too much room for lazy, mindless practice. For her to improve, she needs to break down how she defines getting better  to find specific, actionable goals. Some examples of getting better at yoga could be learning to headstand, being able to do downward dog with her feet completely on the ground, and developing a daily practice. All of these would be awesome, specific goals, but they aren’t small enough. She needs to choose one and break it apart into tiny blocks. For example, let’s say she wants to master downward dog. To do this, she’ll need to become more flexible, strengthen her wrists, and work on her posture. Each one of these are truly specific. To apply deliberate practice, she needs to choose one and get to work!

Focus + Repetition

Now that you have a well-defined goal it’s time to start practicing! You know what you need to do to improve, you have a project to work on, and a purpose for your practice. But to have the best results, you’ll need to practice the right way. 
Deliberate practice revolves around intentional practice and focus. This means that every move you make should be full of intention, pushing you towards your goal. For example, you’re not just lifting a weight, you’re focusing on your mind-muscle connection. You’re not just hitting a jump, you’re focusing on pressing off the lip perfectly. 

Instead of just mindlessly repeating yourself, to engage in deliberate practice you need to be paying attention, focusing on the present moment, and working for perfection in every little movement. 

Let’s go back to our example, Emily. To apply deliberate practice, every single time she enters downward dog she needs to be focusing on how she’s doing and pushing herself to do her best. Instead of focusing on the pose as a whole, her super specific focus is maintaining great posture. It’s deliberate practice because she’s paying such close attention to each muscle and movement that she can finally begin to notice the small shifts she needs to make to improve. 
Focus and repetition isn’t just to get practice in, it’s to find our flaws. It’s to seek out the small imperfections that hold us back from reaching a breakthrough. This leads us straight into the final essential of deliberate practice.

Searching For Improvement

It’s helpful to think about deliberate practice as an experiment. You’re practicing, paying close attention to your performance, and observing what happens. Your job is to find every little detail that could be stopping you and working to adjust it the next time. The final step to apply deliberate practice is to be constantly searching for improvement. 

Let’s visit Emily once again. While she’s practicing her downward dog, perhaps she notices that she has very tight hamstrings and they seem to be restricting her flexibility. Instead of just shrugging off this discovery, she should take note of this and try stretching out her hamstrings beforehand. Maybe it was this small problem that had been disrupting her perfect posture the whole time!
By constantly searching for improvement, you’re simultaneously searching for each flaw and problem. Through using deliberate practice and taking notes, you can then search for ways to improve.

I have found that it’s incredibly helpful to keep a notebook for my own deliberate practice. When you’re paying such close attention to all of these little details, it’s a great idea to track down the adjustments and experiments you’ve done. By writing everything down, you’ll have a clear idea of what you should try out next time. Plus, it is really motivating to have a log of everything you have been working so hard on! I recommend having a dedicated notebook that is just for notes, thoughts, and ideas to try next time. 

Deliberate practice is a transformational skill to develop, and it can be applied to every area of your life. If you’re ready to implement deliberate practice in your own life but feel like you need some help, check out my FREE video course Overcoming Your Limits, where go even further into deliberate practice, finding focus, and pushing yourself. To get access to the first video, click here!

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