You’ve undoubtedly heard the expression “practice makes perfect,” but what you may not know about practice is that there is a beautiful science behind it that allows us all to improve! When done properly the progress can be incredible and the results speedy!
I first discovered the art of focused work, or deliberate practice, when I read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. In her book, Duckworth explains that people like world-renowned athletes and musicians create stretch goals for themselves and then parcel out these stretch goals by seeking out their weaknesses to work on them. In other words, these top performers look for their Achilles’ heel and meticulously set out a detailed course of action to fix it with a repetitive cycle of deliberate, focused practice and feedback. According to Duckworth, this ongoing cycle is essential in optimizing growth and progress. When this cycle of deliberate and focused work is done consistently and for a prolonged period of time, skills and abilities are honed and becomes a specialist in his or her chosen field. This relates well to Dr. Anders Ericsson’s 10,000-hour rule to mastery.
The Science behind Deliberate Practice.
Now, you may be asking yourself, “How is it possible to improve myself even as an adult? I thought this type of skill development was only reserved for children—aren’t they the sponges?” Well, yes, children are like sponges, but adults are just as wired to learn and progress as
children! This incredible science is perfectly expressed by Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code. Here’s how Coyle explains the science of skill advancement through the development of myelin:
“The talent code is built on revolutionary scientific discoveries involving a neural insulator called myelin, which some neurologists now consider to be the holy grail of acquiring skills. Here’s why. Every human skill, whether it’s playing baseball or playing Bach, is created by chains of nerve fibers carrying a tiny electrical impulse—basically, a signal traveling through a circuit. Myelin’s vital role is to wrap those nerve fibers the same way that rubber insulation wraps a copper wire, making the signal stronger and faster by preventing the electrical impulses from leaking out. When we fire our circuits in the right way—when we practice swinging that bat or playing that note—our myelin responds by wrapping layers of insulation around that neural circuit, each new layer adding a bit more skill and speed. The thicker the myelin gets, the better it insulates, and the faster and more accurate our movements and thoughts become.”
Furthermore, Coyle goes on to stress that in order for our circuits to fire the right way, we must practice deliberately and focus on the task at hand. No distractions. We must be one with our work. Given our high dependency on our smartphones, social media and other distracting tools, this may not be an easy task. However, if one is to develop greater skills, one must set the stage for focused work. It’s as simple as that.
Why is this Important for Me?
This important piece of information is critical in developing ourselves and attaining our goals in life. That’s why I’m writing about the development of myelin at four in the morning! I’m passionate about this kind of stuff and feel that I need to spread the word! This is how mastery happens. This is how you become a better writer, a better chef, a better artist, a better web designer, a better coder! Focused, deliberate, distraction-free work is what is required to attain that stretch goal of yours. But if you don’t believe me, believe Daniel Coyle (The Talent Code) and Cal Newport (Deep Work). They’ve written great books on this very topic.
I would like to leave you with this final thought: figure out what it is you really want to master, what skill you want to develop personally or professionally. Parcel out that stretch goal into smaller goals, practice deliberately and seek constructive feedback during every stage. Review, fine-tune, and start over. In time, you will discover that you are becoming a master!
What skill are you trying to master? Are you already putting into practice the elements of focused work or deliberate practice? If not, what steps will you take to enhance your skill development from now on? Please feel free to leave a comment below!
DID YOU KNOW???