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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 April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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