How Deliberate Practice Can Lead to Success

Cognitive psychology professor, John Hayes, asked two simple questions:

    •    How long does it take to master your craft?
    •    And what do people who achieve their goals do differently than everybody else?

Hayes spent decades studying the greats, including Picasso, Mozart, and many others…and what he found is astonishing. Out of all the masters he studied, not one produced noteworthy work until the tenth year into their craft. That’s ten years of hard work, dedication, and deliberate practice before they created their “masterwork.” But as Hayes and other researchers investigated further, they found that time wasn’t the only factor that led to success. Deliberate practice was the other key component to their success.

What is Deliberate Practice?

You may put in a lot of time, and yes, you may even see improvement, but time alone isn’t enough to make you a top performer in your craft. That’s where deliberate practice comes in. Below are the 5 key components of deliberate practice: 

  1. Break your craft down into specific goals/skills for each practice session.
  2. Focus all your attention on each goal/skill during each practice session.
  3. Build upon each skill as it is mastered—Experts build upon skills in a cumulative fashion.
  4. Evaluate. Ask yourself: What am I missing? What knowledge can I pursue to fill the gap? How can I grow and improve?
  5. Involve a coach—A coach will break down the specific aspects of each skill and work with you to help improve your overall performance in regards to your craft.

 I think James Clear said it best when he wrote:

How can we apply deliberate practice to our writing?

As a pianist, I learned early on that there was a difference between just running through an entire piece of music repeatedly and deliberately practicing for better results. A strong pianist knows to break a piece of music down into sections and drill the most difficult parts, periodically evaluating the performance and then identifying how to improve it by asking questions such as: Could I use a better fingering pattern for a smoother transition? Am I playing this run fast enough, or do I need to drill it further to get it faster and smoother?  


And just like breaking down a piece of music into segments, while writing we can identify an area that needs improvement (such as settings for example) and after each writing session, ask ourselves evaluating questions: Was the setting vivid enough? Did the words describe what I want the reader to see? Did I provide too much detail?


Another example of this is my difficulty in writing conclusions when writing nonfiction articles, emails, and so on. My plan? I’m going to focus on writing many concluding paragraphs, evaluating where they are weak, and work deliberately on making them better.  


Don’t be afraid to put in the work. If you’re willing to put the hours in, and be deliberate about it, you’ll see great improvement moving forward. But beware that you don’t fall into the trap of mechanical repetition. That is, don’t do the same thing over and over again on a consistent basis without adjusting your technique to increase your limits and ability. If you just mechanically repeat the same motions, the same techniques, day in and day out, you will find yourself at a plateau. Instead, continually tweak, and then evaluate and tweak some more. Do this until you’ve pushed yourself past your limits, each day getting one percent better than the day before.

Great artists don’t wait for inspiration but instead they commit to consistent, intentional, and deliberate practice.

What small step are you taking today toward writing your masterpiece?

In next week’s blog post, I’ll be talking about writing as a business and creative entrepreneurship.