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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 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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