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Published on October 16, 2019

The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

Remember the saying that it takes exactly 10,000 hours of practice to be considered an expert at something? While the saying has been used by many people over the years, there’s an underside to that saying.

Specifically in what it represents: deliberate practice.

While we’d focus on other areas of that quote, deliberate practice is something that isn’t talked much. And it’s actually a pretty crucial aspect of learning. It demands so much from us that no other learning skill would ask of us. It’s also highly effective and in a sense can supercharge your learning. Here is how it’s done.

Who Coined the Term Deliberate Practice?

Deliberate practice hasn’t been around for a very long time. It was first uncovered in the late 1970s when Anders Ericsson created a highly unusual and tedious experiment for his assistant.[1]

The subject, Steve Faloon, was told he had to memorize random strings of numbers. The numbers weren’t the important thing but rather how many numbers Faloon could store in his head at any given time with consistent practice.

At the time, Faloon was only able to hold about 7-8 random bits of numbers at any time. During the experiment, Ericsson and Steve sat down, and Ericsson would recite a string of numbers of one per second. After four sessions, Faloon achieved that benchmark, but would struggle with 9 and couldn’t remember the 10th number.

The effort was proving Ericsson’s research. That is until there was a breakthrough.

By session five, Faloon suddenly remembered the first 10 digit string and followed by passing an 11 string. It may not seem like much, however between a mere session, Faloon’s memory grew by 57% on average.

And by session 200, Faloon’s 11 string memory grew to 82 random digits he could recite!

What was so interesting about this though is that Faloon wasn’t anyone extraordinary. He didn’t have any special training or a secret technique. He merely practiced week after week a special way. Like anyone would if they wanted to be world record holders, prolific writers, or chess prodigies.

As a result of this, Ericsson devoted his life to this work and was the one behind coining the term deliberate practice to best describe this phenomenon.

Deliberate Practice In Learning

Deliberate practice in learning is pretty big in the learning community. Thanks to books like Talent is Overrated, The Practicing Mind, The First 20 Hours, The Talent Code, and Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, deliberate practice is certainly coveted.

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The problem with these books is that the authors did not interpret this research very correctly. And I’m not the one saying that. Ericsson published his own book called Peak, which expressed those concerns.

Deliberate practice is a method to overcome learning plateaus with rapid and quick bursts of continued improvements. Ericsson explained this process by breaking practice into three stages of learning: naive, purposeful, and deliberate.

Naive Practice

Naive practice is the practice of what most people are doing. They’re going through the motions, repeating what they normally do in any given situation.

This might include:

  • Playing a physical or mental sport casually like you would with a friend.
  • Writing the same type of article you’d write on a given day.
  • Playing or singing the same songs that you have skill in.
  • Finding a recipe, making that dish, and continue making that dish in the future.

While in some cases, you could argue that this is practice, the issue here is that it’s not challenging. To that, Ericsson says:

“People often misunderstand this because they assume that the continued driving or tennis playing or pie baking is a form of practice and that if they keep doing it they are bound to get better at it, slowly perhaps, but better nonetheless… But no. Research has shown that, generally speaking, once a person reaches that level of “acceptable” performance and automaticity, the additional years of “practice” don’t lead to improvement.”

This all sounds familiar and is what so many other books push. It’s the mere practice that counts. But that’s not true.

So what should you be doing?

Well, if you recognize that you are plateauing, or you’re going through the motions, you’ll need to look at some other form of practice. The next stage that Ericsson describes is purposeful practice and can help with that.

Purposeful Practice

It’s one step away from deliberate practice, but it’s vastly superior to naive practice.

How?

Because purposeful practice is the idea that you are practicing something with a specific goal in mind. Going back to naive practice, you’re casually doing those activities. Even if you want to be getting better at something, that’s no way to improve yourself.

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Instead, have specific goals in mind. Goals like:

  • Play or sing a certain song at a specific speed with no mistakes three times in a row.
  • Remember 10 random digits in a row. Remembering the first 10 digits of pi could be another exercise.
  • Running 10 100m sprints under 12 seconds each.
  • Finishing writing an article in under 45-minutes when they typically take you an hour.

The idea with these goals is to create a deliberate challenge and each one calls on certain skills.

Want to run faster? Find a method that works for you that’ll help you run faster.

Want to write articles or papers faster? Find ways to enter a flow state faster and avoid distractions.

Want to have a better memory? Practice harder memory tests to train your mind.

There are other elements that form purposeful practice as well outside of setting a goal.

First, you’ll need a feedback system. This feedback system can be from your own self-assessment or from a coach. The differences between what’s needed will depend on what you are practicing.

Going back to Steve Faloon and his number memorization skills, self-assessment made sense with a little bit of coaching in terms of remembering more sequences.

If you’re looking to play a sport better or perform better musically, you’ll need more technical skills and will need a coach.

Second element is that the practice pushes you out of your comfort zone. If you can’t do that, you won’t improve. Ericsson said as much when he talked about Faloon:

“As he increased his memory capacity, I would challenge him with longer and longer strings of digits so that he was always close to his capacity. In particular, by increasing the number of digits each time he got a string right, and decreasing the number when he got it wrong, I kept the number of digits right around what he was capable of doing while always pushing him to remember just one more digit.”

That statement is important because it also addresses the degree in which one is stepping out of their comfort zone. Stepping out of your comfort zone doesn’t require you to go through a large mental battle. Rather, make it challenging, but not to the point that it’s impossible to achieve.

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This brings me to the final element of purposeful practice: prompting creative problem-solving.

Sometimes in order to overcome a problem, you need to try different techniques. Going back to Ericsson’s experiment, there were all kinds of methods used. Each time Faloon overcame them.

Sometimes, he had to memorize numbers in chunks. Other times, Ericsson slowed down the rate he was giving Faloon numbers.

Purposeful practice is the base of deliberate practice. In order to move to that stage, two things must happen…

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is exactly like purposeful practice but with two differences:

  • The person needs to practice in a well-defined field;
  • And they need a teacher who can tailor their practice activities.

On the note of the first essential, the person needs to be rigorous enough that there is a distinct difference between the experts and novices.

For example, you’d see deliberate practice in fields like chess, diving, musical performance, or any other competitive setting.

You wouldn’t see deliberate practice so much in other non-competitive tasks. Examples are gardening, most hobbies, teaching, consulting, or engineering. While people still say experts, intermediates, and novices in those fields – barring years of experience – there are no clear criteria distinguishing who is who.

This is further reinforced by the second difference – that you need a teacher to guide you. A good coach is someone who’ll provide practice strategies that will develop you and give you feedback.

Someone can give you tips on being a better chess player. That can’t be said exactly about gardening or cooking.

Ericsson makes this distinction clearer:

… 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. Deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there.”

But these two key differences aren’t the sole law. For example, you don’t always need a teacher to achieve deliberate practice. Take basketball legend, Kobe Bryant. Winning 5 NBA championships and 2 Olympic Gold Medals, Bryant’s practice regimen is outlined in this article. What’s significant is that the level of discipline he has doesn’t require a teacher at this point.

He has a strict regimen and he does it all by himself and occasionally asks someone to tag along.

You too can do the same. All you need to do is:

  1. Identify an expert in your field of interest.
  2. Learn what they do to make them good at that skill.
  3. Design purposeful practice around learning those techniques on your own.

The Importance of Deliberate Practice

When most people talk about working hard, we often turn to the amount of time spent. We’ve had entrepreneurs touting they spent 60 to 80 hours working a week. That or we go back to the 10,000 hours of practice.

But as Ericsson and many other researchers have uncovered, time is one part of the puzzle. So many people are hung up about the time factor that they forget the other aspects I’ve brought up.

What sort of feedback is each person getting?

Are they adding in layers of challenge to their practice?

Do they have any goals in mind?

These are all important factors to our improvement and are key considerations in whether you are doing naive practice or, deliberate practice.

Researchers have also made a point of looking at top performers and finding most indulge in deliberate practice. Top entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians, artists, CEOs and more all work on developing certain skills. One example is comedic genius Jerry Seinfeld who created a strategy called “don’t break the chain.”[2] That strategy alone was how Seinfeld wrote jokes and made him famous.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have a grasp of deliberate practice, you need to apply it in your life. Your goals may not be to be as famous as Jerry Seinfeld or as skilled as Kobe Bryant, but there are still steps you can take to step up your learning.

Spend one hour focusing on a task and indulging in deliberate practice. Have some goals, give yourself feedback, seek guidance if need be, and push your skills little by little every time.

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Featured photo credit: Tai’s Captures via unsplash.com

Reference

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on June 5, 2020

How Do Memory Vitamins Work? (And the Best Brain Supplements)

How Do Memory Vitamins Work? (And the Best Brain Supplements)

There are a whole bunch of alleged memory vitamins and supplements to help you concentrate and boost your brain function. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of misinformation, dodgy studies, and things we just don’t know when it comes to which vitamins actually help with memory and concentration.

This article will dig into the current research to pick four of the best vitamins and supplements to boost your memory and overall brain function.

Vitamins Vs Supplements

First, let’s talk about the difference between a vitamin and a supplement. Vitamins are simply organic compounds that are necessary in small quantities to sustain life[1]. We’re talking the vitamin A, B, and Cs here. Vitamins are in the unprocessed, healthy foods you eat every day and are also available as daily supplements in pill form or as chewy, edible cartoon characters.

Supplements are just extra pills, liquids, or cartoon characters that you consume in addition to the actual food you eat. Supplements can include but are not limited to vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, hormone building blocks, and other compounds that are synthesized or extracted from natural sources.

What Research Says About Vitamins and Supplements

Now, we need to talk about the current state of the research on memory vitamins and brain supplements.

The only real consensus seems to be that much more research needs to be done to truly answer which vitamins and supplements are best for your memory.

Supplements are big business. In 2015, Americans spent 643 million dollars on supplements, and a quarter of Americans over 50 take them regularly[2]. That’s a lot of money spent on an extremely unregulated and under-researched industry.

Here’s what we do know:

The brain needs vitamins and minerals to function properly. We also have some studies on rats and in small samples of humans that show preliminary glimmers of hope[3] that certain memory vitamins and brain supplements may also have positive effects on our brains.

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How Do Memory Vitamins and Supplements Work?

Vitamins and supplements work in many different ways to improve memory and brain function. So, let’s break down how some of the major vitamins and supplements work.

Nootropics

Any vitamin or supplement that aids memory falls into a category called nootropics. Nooptropic is now a term that refers to any natural or synthetic substance that has a positive impact on memory.[4]

Each type of nootropic works differently in the body to affect memory.

Antioxidants

Some nootropics are antioxidants. Vitamins such as vitamin E fall into this category.

Antioxidants help memory by protecting cells from free radicals. When free radicals build up in the body (a natural by-product of metabolism, aging, and exposure to environmental toxins), they cause cellular damage, so antioxidants help memory by preventing and reversing some of this damage.

Regeneration

Some nootropics help memory by going a step further than antioxidants. Some, like Lion’s Mane mushrooms, may help stimulate new cell growth. This regeneration would help memory by stimulating new neural growth.

Memory relies on strong neural pathways, so nootropics that stimulate cell growth might be especially effective supplements.

Stimulants

In order to remember, we have to be awake and alert. The first part of memory is perception, so nootropics such as caffeine help us wake up enough to perceive in the first place. These sensory perceptions can then be turned into memories.

Adaptogens

Adaptogens are believed to regulate your adrenal glands, which helps your body deal with stress. More research is needed, but some think that adaptogens help control hormone levels, which helps your immune system, energy levels, and brain functioning[5].

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Inflammation Reduction

Another way some nootropics help memory is by reducing inflammation in the brain. Memory relies on strong neural connections, and inflammation hurts these connections. So, nootropics that relieve this inflammation may be helpful for people to improve their cognitive functioning and memory.

Improving Sleep

Research is starting to show that sleep may also be critical for memory. Studies show that memory may require an active forgetting process during REM sleep[6].

While we sleep, we are actually clearing out less important memory pathways. This helps strengthen the memories that do matter, so sleep is a critical component in memory. Any nootropic that improves our sleep may also be helping to strengthen our memory and brain functioning.

So, which four memory vitamins and brain supplements top the list?

The Best Brain Supplements

If you’re looking to boost your memory, try any one of these supplements.

1. Vitamin E

If we’re just talking about vitamins, I’d put my money on vitamin E to boost memory.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which means it protects cells from free radicals. When there are too many free radicals in the body, they cause cellular damage. So, vitamin E helps slow the aging process (cellular damage), including the onset of Alzheimer’s-related dementia.

Studies have shown that people with adequate levels of vitamin E performed better on cognitive and memory tests and significantly delayed Alzheimer’s-related dementia. To boost vitamin E’s effects even more, some studies have also shown that it performs better with adequate levels of vitamin C[7].

2. Lion’s Mane

Lion’s Mane mushroom has been around in Chinese medicine for thousands of years but may not be on your radar just yet. Some preliminary studies on rats have shown that it may improve memory and protect the brain.

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Lion’s Mane has anti-oxidizing effects in the body, fighting off those free radicals, but it may also stimulate Nerve Growth Factor. As Dr. Mary Sabo L.Ac DACM explains:

“These proteins stimulate the production of new brain cells and support the health of existing ones. They also support myelin and brain plasticity.”[8]

Myelin is the fatty substance around nerve cell axons. Axons are like the wires between cells, so when we’re talking about memory, protecting the axon coverings is like protecting the plastic covering of electrical wires. When the covering is compromised, the wire itself is, too.

Like all the other nootropics, much more research needs to be done on Lion’s Mane, but the early studies seem encouraging. It may help stimulate neural growth, protect brain cells, and remove free radicals, which may help improve your memory.

3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

A lot of research has been done on fish oil and how it affects overall brain health. Just like vitamin E, we should be getting the fatty acids in fish oil in our actual diet. But if you don’t, a supplement might be just what the doctor ordered (and again, please check with your doctor before taking any supplements).

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids. The 3 in omega-3 refers to the 3 different fatty acids in omega-3: EPA, DPA, and DHA.

There still needs to be more studies to clarify which fatty acids have which effects on the brain, but preliminary studies show that omega-3, especially DHA, is the most important fatty acid for the memory of non-impaired adults[9].

Omega 3s are found in cell membranes, and studies have shown that consuming them may help protect cell health in the brain by helping build cell membranes throughout the body[10].

4. Rhodiola Rosacea

There’s an herb called Rhodiola Rosacea that may also help mental and physical fatigue. Rhodiola Rosacea is an adaptogen, which means it helps regulate the adrenal glands. This helps you deal with stress better.

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According to Dr. Sabo:

“One double-blind, placebo-controlled study on physicians working night shift showed it [Rhodiola Rosacea] was helpful in boosting cognitive cerebral functions when taken daily in supplement form.”

So if you’re looking for a supplement to help with your cognitive endurance, Rhodiola Rosacea may be the thing for you.

The Bottom Line

So, what should you keep in mind when considering memory vitamins and brain supplements?

There is still not enough research to definitively say which memory vitamins are best or which supplements will boost your brain the most. What most doctors agree on is that a healthy diet with natural, unprocessed foods, a physically active lifestyle, a good night’s rest, and strong social relationships are actually the best things we can do for our memories and our brains more generally.

However, if you’re making those positive changes with your diet, exercise, sleep, and relationships, you may also still be considering supplements. Consult your doctor first because memory problems may be a sign of something much more serious. As Dr. Sabo explains:

“Problems with memory and concentration can be symptoms of other conditions such as hypothyroid, anxiety, depression, or insomnia. It can also be an early sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia in the elderly. While some supplements can help with these symptoms, getting the right diagnosis and medical care from an MD and targeted support from a holistic practitioner can be the best path for ongoing care.”

So seek an expert’s opinion and ask informed questions about nootropics, adaptogens, and antioxidants to land on your own decision for which memory vitamins and brain boosters are best for you.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Sweet via unsplash.com

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