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How Deliberate Practice Makes You Have Expert-Level Performance

How Deliberate Practice Makes You Have Expert-Level Performance

It takes a lot of hard work to become an expert. in addition to reading up on the field that you might want to become an expert in, it takes deliberate practice to produce expert-level performance. Here are some tips for using deliberate practice to propel yourself to expertise.

The first thing you need to remember when it comes to developing expert performance at a given task or in a field of study is that it takes a long time to become an expert. Deliberate practice may be able to help get you there a little faster, but you’re still looking at years to go from being a beginner to becoming a true expert at anything.

What is Deliberate Practice?

Deliberate practice simply means that you are making a conscious effort to get better at a skill. So if you’re trying to become an expert at playing the guitar, for example, you learn the basics and then challenge yourself with progressively harder pieces, taking time to practice each day and listen to experts perform so you can learn from them.

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If you’re working on a business skill, you might read up on the technique, look for someone to mentor or coach you and then look for ways to incorporate those skills into your daily life.

The key is not just putting in the hours, but engaging in deliberate exercises in which you are fully attentive and aware of what you are doing and trying to learn. You can’t just go through the motions of singing or painting and expect to improve; you really need to study what you’re doing, practice with an eye toward mastery and keep doing that again and again day after day.

Keep Track of Your Progress

One thing that can help when you’re trying to build a skill and keep intentional practice in mind is to keep a journal. Write about what you’re practicing, what you’re learning and how you’re improving. Taking note of the changes and challenges you’re going through can help you to be more mindful while you are practicing, and to keep you aware of where you’re paying attention and where you might be slacking off or need to put more focus.

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Beginner’s Mind

One key to continuing to learn and improve even when you already feel like an expert is to practice beginner’s mind. It’s so much more freeing to be a beginner because, as Zen master Shunryu Suzuki explains, “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Experts know how things are going to work and the way things are supposed to happen. Beginners are more open to whimsy, alternative ways of thinking and doing things. They ask more questions and have more interesting answers.

The more you can embrace the attitude of a beginner, no matter how much of an expert you may be in your field, the better your performance will be.

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That’s because a beginner doesn’t look too far ahead; he takes one step at a time. She’s persistent, questioning, creative, better able to be in the moment and less frozen by fear of failure.

You don’t forget the things you know when you are in beginner’s mind, but you do try to look at what you know in a different way, to continue asking questions and going further than your current knowledge can take you.

Always Learning

Yo-Yo Ma has famously noted that he’s probably played the cello for 50,000 hours, yet he also says, “I’m always learning.” (Michelangelo said it, too: “I am still learning.”)

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Or, as John Wooden put it, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

There is no end to learning, no pinnacle of expertise. Remember that, and you can continue building your expertise through deliberate practice for the rest of your life.

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Sarah White

Freelance Writer, Editor, Professional Crafter

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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