We live in a society thats default way of thinking is: More is always better than less. I can super-size my lunch for an extra 59-cents or I can get a 36-ounce soda instead of a 16-ounce soda for a quarter more. This has not led to people enjoying their lunch more or made them feel better physically. It has led us to become the most overweight society in the history of the planet and caused an enormous amount of health-related illnesses.
This more is better way of thinking infiltrates all areas of our lives (music, education, athletics, etc.) and gives many people false hope that it will lead to success in their endeavors. Most of you have heard of the 10,000-hour rule of achieving expertise in any field, and many of you may subscribe to this belief. The problem is, few realize that the study this notion or “rule” came from never specified an amount of hours, as it just as easily could have been 8,000 or 12,000. More significantly, it was not focused on practice in general, but rather a specific form of practice called deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice is very different from what most people do in or at their practices. The primary focus of the normal way people practice is repetition. Deliberate practice is highly structured to include mental, as well as physical components, with the specific goal of improving performance or acquiring new skills. It requires concentrated effort at all times and is driven by a purpose.
There are several hallmarks of deliberate practice, but one of the most important, in my opinion, is that you receive immediate informative feedback. Without adequate feedback about your performance during practice, the maximum efficiency of learning is not possible and your improvement will be limited.
This is why seeking out experts is the quickest way to speed your development in any pursuit. Additionally, without proper immediate feedback you may develop bad habits, as bad habits are acquired just as easily as good ones, and are much harder to unlearn. It is not uncommon to be held back more by the bad habits you have, than good ones you have not yet developed.
When I was growing up, my good friend and classmate, Steve, and I started taking piano lessons from the same woman. We went to the same number of lessons and practiced approximately the same amount of time between lessons. Within a few months, Steve was finishing his third lesson book and I was just coming up on finishing my first book.
I wondered how that could be. Steve’s family was no more musical than mine was and we were receiving instruction from the same person. I now know even if I practiced twice (or three or four times) as many hours as Steve did back then I would not have kept up with him, because he went with the purpose of learning to play and I went to please/appease my parents.
With my attitude towards playing the piano, even the aforementioned 10,000- hours of practice likely would not have gotten me above average level (I will deal with the importance of attitude in a later blog). I see many good young athletes working out most days, but very few of them are approaching their workouts in a deliberate way fueled by purpose. Unfortunately, the majority of them think showing up and going through the motions will get them where they want to go, but by the time they realize they are on the wrong path, it is too late to recover.
I always say, ‘The average practice a lot, the good practice hard, but the exceptional practice smart and purposefully.’