If you took piano lessons as a child you were probably told by your teacher (and mother) that it was important to practice to improve your play. This concept also made its way into a joke that goes something like this:
A man was trying to find his way to Carnegie Hall in New York City. He stopped a New Yorker and asked, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" The person knowingly responded, "Practice, practice, practice."
So is that all there is to getting good at something-practice, practice, practice? Sort of, but there are a few more steps to achieving excellence, according to Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project and author of The Way We're Working Isn't Working.
According to Schwartz, his study of the subject has led him to conclude that people can "build any given skill or capacity" in the same systemic way we build a muscle. Whether you're trying to improve your golf game or your empathy you need to do something that Anders Ericsson, a leading researcher into high performance, calls "deliberate practice". Several researchers now agree that it takes at least 10,000 hours of this type of practice to excel at anything difficult. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this in his book Outliers.
While practice is critical to achieving excellence, Ericsson found it is also "the most difficult and the least intrinsically enjoyable" ingredient to achieving excellence," says Schwartz. So if you are going to tackle this route to success here are 6 steps that Schwartz has found most effective with his clients:
- Pursue what you love - passion helps motivate
- Do the hardest work first - morning is generally the best time to take on the most difficult work
- Practice intensely - 90 minutes appears to be the maximum amount of time that we can bring a high level of focus to any given activity
- Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses - too much feedback, too continuously can create cognitive overload
- Take regular renewal breaks - this helps embed learning and can lead to creative breakthroughs
- Ritualize practice - build specific, inviolable times at which you do difficult tasks that you want to excel at
It's really exciting to know that we have the capacity to greatly improve our skills at any age. But it's also a huge responsibility to realize this. You can't just say, "I'm too old to improve my game" or "I'm too set in my ways to change how I relate to people." You have to really want to change and then you have to work really hard at it. If you want to make excuses or blame somebody else, forget about it. Then you can't get to be really excellent at something.
Has intense practice brought you success at something? How did you go about it?