Sunday 21 November 2010

The Secret of Great Men: Deliberate Practice

While not specifically about music, Brett & Kate McKay have posted an excellent guide apropos to musical practice or any other endeavour you wish to better:

What creates great men? ... The typical answer that most people give is that greatness is born. Nature blesses a few great men with some sort of innate gift that allows them to excel at what they do ... you???re either born with talent and destined for greatness or born without talent and destined for a life of mediocrity.

There???s one small problem with this view of greatness: there isn???t much science to back it up.

In fact, studies show that greatness and excellence aren???t ???a consequence of possessing innate gifts [and talents]???. Rather greatness is the result of years and years of enormous amounts of hard, painful work. Ted Williams spent hours hitting baseballs, and Carnegie spent his entire adolescence learning how to network and developing his prodigious memory, skills that would turn him into a mind-boggling wealthy captain of industry. ... young prodigies excel not because of some kind of mystical innate talent but on the merits of pure hustle.

In short, great men aren???t born; great men are made, and they???re made through the process of deliberate practice.

What Is Deliberate Practice?

In the book Talent is Overrated, Fortune Magazine editor, Geoff Colvin proposes five elements that allow a man to practice deliberately and thus achieve greatness.

  1. Deliberate practice is an activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher???s help.  When top performers practice, they break down their skill into sharply defined elements. After breaking down a skill into parts, a top performer will work intently on the element they need to improve most. During the entire practice, they focus solely on that one aspect.

  2. The practice activity can be regularly repeated. The world???s top performers spend years of their lives practicing. Ted Williams, the greatest hitter in baseball history, would practice hitting balls until his hands bled. Basketball legend Pistol Pete Maravich would go into the gym on Saturday mornings and practice shooting from a specific spot on the court until the gym closed at night. To be the best, you have to put in the time. In fact, if you want to become an expert in your field, you???ll need to put in at least 10,000 hours or 10 years of practice first.

  3. The practice activity provides feedback on a continual basis. Constant feedback is crucial for improvement. You have to see the results of your efforts to evaluate if the way you???re doing things is working or if you need to change things up to improve. Moreover, without feedback during practice you???re more likely to lose the motivation to keep at it. During your practice sessions, constantly stop and look for feedback. With some activities, getting feedback is easy. For example, if you???re practicing your jump shot for basketball, if the ball goes through the net every shot, you know you???re on the right track. If you brick it every shot, that???s feedback that you need to change things up.

  4. Deliberate practice is highly demanding mentally, whether it???s purely physical or mental. This factor separates deliberate practice from mindless practice. When you???re practicing deliberately, you???re focusing and concentrating so much on your performance that you???re mentally exhausted after your practice session. Deliberate practice is so demanding mentally that studies show that ???four or five hours a day is the upper limit of deliberate practice, and this is frequently accomplished in sessions lasting no longer than an hour to ninety minutes.??? If you feel absolutely bushed after just an hour, chances are you practiced deliberately.

  5. Deliberate practice isn???t much fun. Most people don???t enjoy doing activities that they???re not good at. It???s no fun to fail over and over again and receive criticism on how you can improve. No one likes to be humbled like that. We???d rather do stuff at which we excel because succeeding is enjoyable, and it strokes our egos. Yet deliberate practice is specifically designed to focus on things you suck at and requires you to practice those skills over and over again until you???re mentally exhausted. What a buzz kill.

Don???t get the wrong idea. These studies don???t say that just because you spend a lot of time deliberately practicing a skill, you???ll become a master at everything you do. If you???re 4???5???, no amount of practice will allow you to slam dunk like Michael Jordan. What these studies do suggest is that we???re not as limited by our natural talents as we often think we are.

AoM Man-Up Challenge

This week I challenge you to pick an area of your life that needs improvement and apply the principles of deliberate practice to it.

read the full article over on The Art of Manliness

"The purpose of practice is not to better your opponents. The purpose of practice is to do better than you did yesterday." (Training officer to his men in Godzilla: Final War)

Reminder: the Owen Sound City Band next practice at OSCVI is tomorrow at 7:30, and our last practice of the 2010 year will be November 29th.

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