Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

More About Learning

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

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

50 Motivational Quotes for Work to Inspire Success How to Increase Brain Power, Boost Memory and Become 10X Smarter 9 Millionaire Success Habits That Will Inspire Your Life 15 Effortless Memorization Tricks To Remember Anything The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

Trending in Learning

1 15 Effortless Memorization Tricks To Remember Anything 2 16 Timeless Quotes About the Power of Learning 3 The 7 Types of Learners: What Kind of Learner Am I? 4 10 Reasons Personal Growth Is Important No Matter Your Age 5 When You Never Stop Learning, These 5 Amazing Things Happen

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Published on January 14, 2020

15 Effortless Memorization Tricks To Remember Anything

15 Effortless Memorization Tricks To Remember Anything

The struggle is real!

With so much happening in life, it’s hard to remember the details. In particular, names, due dates, requirements and locations slip from the mind every so often. But the memorization tricks outlined in this article should ensure that you never forget stuff that matters.

I used to have a problem with remembering names and faces.

You see, I meet new people every day from around the globe and it’s just too many new names and faces for my mind to register.

But I’ll tell you this:

It’s certainly quite embarrassing to have coffee with somebody and not recognize them the next day.

The problem is that forgetting is such a passive action that you often have no control over it.

Let me explain:

When you forget something, it’s not like you’re actively trying to. It just… happens and that makes it hard to inhibit your forgetfulness.

I mean, how do you stop doing something that you’re not really doing?

So, I just accepted that this is how it is and I’m going to have to live with it.

But several embarrassing encounters later, I’ve consolidated a list of memorizing tips that worked like magic for me.

I’ve used them to overcome my problem of remembering people and their names which has helped me immensely in improving communication and collaboration within and outside of my company.

Now before we dive into the memorization tricks that I wanted to discuss with you, let’s first take a look at how and why we forget.

The Science of Forgetting

In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus put forth his theory that outlined the “Forgetting Curve”.[1] This curve shows how much information we retain after a certain amount of time has passed since initially memorizing it.

You might be a bit concerned about how valid this theory is, given that it was initially presented in the 19th century.

But in a 2015 analysis, scientists found that the Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve was completely accurate.[2]

Fascinatingly, the Forgetting Curve shows that just after a day of memorizing something, we remember about 30% of it.

Before we jump into the memorization tricks in this article, I’d first like to explain to you why you forget in the first place. Knowing the root cause of forgetfulness will help you apply the information that you gather.

When you initially learn something, your mind transfers it into the hypothetical short-term memory chamber.

Your brain doesn’t know which piece of information is important and which needs to be discarded. So, it waits for a signal that helps it recognize important pieces of information that it can then shift into the hypothetical long-term memory chamber.

One of the more obvious of such signals is repetition. As shown in the forgetting figure below, repetition can change the shape of the forgetting curve.

Advertising

    All the memorization tricks and tips in this article revolve around signaling the importance of memories to your mind so it can move that piece of information from the short-term memory chamber to the long-term one.

    15 Memorization Tricks That Work

    Enough of science; let’s get into the business end of this article. Here are 15 memorization tricks that work:

    1. Say it 3 Times

    This is one of the simplest learning methods that I’ve been using and it seems to yield some great results.

    Make a habit of saying something 3 times as soon as you hear it. This will help you retain that information longer in your brain. In my case, when someone would tell me their name, I’d say it thrice under my breath. This signaled to my brain that this piece of information is important and I’d like to remember it.

    2. Link it to an Established Long-Term Memory

    What if you already have something in your long-term memory that you can link your new piece of information to?

    Imagine this:

    There’s a piece of information that resides deep in your hypothetical long-term memory chamber. Once you claim a new memory, you stick it to the old one.

    What do you think will happen?

    Of course, the new memory will retain better because of the strong memory that you linked it to.

    For instance, people set their 4-digit pin codes for their birthdates (or their spouse’s) all the time. It’s easier to remember because they have an already established link in their mind that’s probably never going to break.

    3. Type Away

    Writing something down is a common memorizing trick that works for many.

    The problem?

    You almost never have a pen and paper close at hand when you need it.

    So here, I decided to go a bit unconventional and use technology to my advantage.

    I started typing notes on my phone that I’d revisit before sleeping.

    A lot of times, I wouldn’t even have to revisit my notes because the mere act of typing them would help me retain that memory.

    But if typing it out doesn’t help, rereading it at night surely will.

    4. Spaced Repetition

    As mentioned above, further research on the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve showed that it’s best to revise a piece of information after a certain amount of time as it helps your mind retain it better.

    Now, what a lot of people do is that they try to repeat or revise a memory as soon as they attain it.

    But research shows that it’s useless to adopt that strategy. The goal isn’t to avoid forgetting that memory; it’s to forget it so you can relearn and solidify its roots in your brain.

    The same research suggested 4 repetitions; around 20 mins, 50 mins, 9 hours and 5 days after memorizing something.[3]

    Advertising

    But it might not be practical to revisit a memory in that fashion. So, as we recommend in our article on Spaced Repetition, just revise an important memory 24-36 hours after initially learning it and you should see 90% above retention rates.

    5. Grasp the Concept

    Back in college, rote learning never seemed to work for me.

    No matter how many times I’d repeat a phrase and try to learn it by heart, I’d have completely forgotten it by the next day.

    So I tried to memorize the concept, not the words.

    This worked great for me back then and still works well when I’m trying to understand the mechanics of a company or a business.

    6. Interleaved Practice

    If you mix it up, you’ll see better results in memorization.

    Most people, when they’re trying to memorize or learn something, keep working at it until it’s all done or perfect.

    It doesn’t make much sense if you leave a memorization task in the middle right? Wrong!

    Research shows that if you learn two different things at once, you’ll learn them better. This is called interleaved practice.

    Now that are 2 reasons why interleaved practice shows spectacular resuLts:

    Similar memories get mixed up in the brain

    Interleaved practice makes it harder to recall a memory. And the harder the practice session, the better your results!

    7. Use Storytelling

    Without a doubt, storytelling is one of the most powerful skills that one can master.

    And the reason is simple:

    Stories captivate us like nothing else.

    Look at all the forms of entertainment that we have nowadays and you’ll see storytelling in each one of them; movies, songs, music videos, video games, vlogs… the list goes on.

    The reason is simple:

    Our brain is obsessed with stories.

    So the next time you’re trying to memorize something, try creating a story in your head that would help you remember it.

    8. Record Your Audio

    Here’s another fantastic memorizing trick that puts technology to great use.

    When you’re trying to memorize something, just audio record yourself on the phone and listen to it on repeat.

    You don’t need to do this for long. In fact, about 15-20 minutes of listening to yourself should be more than enough.

    Advertising

    This is especially useful for auditory learners.

    9. Create Parts

    What if I tell you to memorize this number in 20 seconds:

    583957304

    I’m sure that sounds like a daunting task.

    But what about:

    583-957-304

    This looks easier although both numbers are essentially the same.

    The only difference in both numbers is that the second one has two dashes. Now, the dashes themselves aren’t significant. What’s significant is the fact that the dashes break the number into 3 parts.

    When you break the number, it becomes easier to remember. Your brain can then focus on individual parts and consolidate them in the end.

    In fact, this memorization technique is pretty much a setup to trick your mind into thinking the task is easier than it actually is.

    So, the next time you’re learning something extensive, create parts out of it and focus on each part individually.

    10. Focus on Keywords

    I like to use this method in conjunction with “Grasping the Concept”.

    You see, there are just some things that require word-for-word learning.

    And if you’re not good at it, then learning keywords becomes your last option.

    It’s likely that you’ve used this technique if you buy the groceries. All you do is memorize keywords like “6 eggs” but never “buy half a dozen eggs” because the rest of all the words contribute nothing (or very little) to the message.

    11. Say it out Aloud

    Here’s another learning trick for auditory learners:

    Say your words out aloud.

    I’m a firm believer that the more senses you stimulate while learning, the better you’ll learn.

    This means that reading alone (using your visual sense only) is not nearly as effective as speaking your words while you read them because it stimulates your sense of hearing as well.

    Ideally, you’d want to use this technique with writing or typing.

    12. Retain While You Sleep

    Did you know that sleeping could help improve your memory?

    Well, researchers from Matthew P. Walker and Robert Stickgold sure think so. In their research, “Sleep, Memory and Plasticity”, they maintain that sleep has a major role in “memory consolidation” and “memory reconsolidation”.[4].

    Advertising

    Another research published in Current Opinion in Neurology shows that,[5]

    “Sleep is important for optimal learning.”

    By that logic, memorizing just before you go to sleep is a nice way of strengthening that memory. While you sleep, your brain should work on that memory’s consolidation and reconsolidation.

    Also, it’s important to get a good amount of sleep in for improving memory in general.

    13. Challenge Yourself

    Most people think that memorizing is all about reading and speaking.

    And that’s partly why they aren’t particularly good at it.

    Most of the time, we’re trying to memorize something all day but when the right time comes, our memory fails to support us.

    A good way to eliminate that problem is to test yourself in the middle of the day.

    Challenge yourself in the middle of the day to recall what you’re trying to learn. It doesn’t necessarily need to be in a learning environment. In fact, you could try recalling while you’re in the elevator, having lunch or walking to your office.

    14. Mnemonics

    Mnemonics have been for ages to learn a list of words in order.

    And the only reason why they’ve stood the test of time is that they work.

    In this method, you list out the first letter of each word and then try creating a sentence/phrase out of them that can be memorized.

    A common example is the “Roy G. Biv” mnemonic that’s used to memorize the colors of the rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet).

    Although recent research on effective learning techniques ranked mnemonics as a low utility learning method, the only reason for that was that mnemonics don’t have a wide variety of applications in general learning.[6]

    However, they work like magic if you’re trying to learn a foreign language or increase vocabulary.

    15. Use a To-Do List App

    The last memorizing trick on our list is to use a To-Do List app.

    A lot of these apps come with the added functionality of displaying your notes on the home screen of your phone.

    A lot of others come with a sticky notification of that note that appears 24/7 on your phone.

    By typing what you want to memorize in that note, you can then read it again every time you use your phone.

    And if you’re anything like the common man, this memorization trick should give you the opportunity to review your memory multiple times in the day.

    If you tend to forget easily, start trying these memorizing tricks. They’ve changed my life and will change yours too!

    More to Boost Your Memory

    Featured photo credit: Sincerely Media via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next