Elements of Deliberate Practice
Where do you spend most of your time in your sport? Count the hours you spend in training versus the time you are in competition. Do they add up? Now look at your preparation. Do you prepare for both training and competition the same way? Eat the same things, sleep the same the night before, set up your gear the same way, and even prepare mentally the same? It’s important that we practice as if we are competing, exude quality over quantity, and be intentional or purposeful during our training.
Take a look at the 2 columns below. **It is important NOT TO LOOK AT THE SECOND ONE until you are done looking at the first!** Spend about 30-45 seconds to examine both of these lists. Spend the same amount of time on each.
On average, people remember 3x as many words in column B. Why? Your IQ was the same when you looked at both columns, but during column B you had to stop and you struggled for a brief microsecond. That microsecond of struggle makes all the difference. In Daniel Coyle’s “The Talent Code”, he refers to this as an example of “deep practice”. Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways—operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes—makes you smarter. In other words, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them (similar to if you were walking up an ice-covered hill where you were slipping and stumbling as you go)—end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it.
We often think “effortless” performance is desirable (which it is), but it’s a terrible way to learn. The key in training is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; target the struggle, and excel past the struggle. This paradox is how the best separate themselves from the rest. Training in this dynamic capacity leads to mistakes being made, which increases the speed of skill acquisition. Performers learn through making errors/mistakes and then correcting them. This method produces results 10 times faster than regular practice.
In addition to training this paradox and pushing your limits everyday (unless you’re recovering), below are some elements to deliberate practice that you can start applying to your everyday training.
Have Purpose: What it is and Why it’s Important
Have an objective for every training session or for every repetition to make it intentional. This helps avoid going through the motions of another day of workouts. Make it specific and simple. To do this, I recommend setting a daily physical goal and mental goal for each session, but just one for each. This will boost your confidence knowing that you got that goal done, will allow you to track your progress over time when times get tough, and will keep you moving forward towards your full potential.
*BONUS* To benefit even more from this, it helps to know how that specific workout or training session is going to help you get better; whether its building strength, endurance, VO2 max work, or recovery. Pay attention to the details, and make the training sessions count.
Set your Podium List: Win the Day
Very similar to having purpose with each training session, you can have purpose in all aspects of your life. Every morning when I wake up, I write down 3 -5 critical tasks that I want to complete that day. Some days these tasks are fitness oriented, some days these are business or work oriented, and others it is a combination of these. The idea is to write down things that you don’t normally do on a consistent basis! Write down inconsistent tasks or areas that you want to excel in. The goal is to get all the tasks done throughout the day. Most importantly, the goal is to win the day.
Once a task has been on that list for 21 days and completed consecutively, it is considered a habit that can then theoretically be completed automatically. This consistent progress towards your goals in every aspect of life will create momentum to get you where you want to be. Additionally, over time you see the power of forward progression and each day you’ll be able to appreciate the small wins that will keep you focused on the process.
Turn the Light Switch “On”
Outside distractions can keep us from performing to our true potential during important training sessions. These distractions often act as stressors that can cause pressure, muscle tightness, fatigue, lack of focus, and even injury. We want to think of practice and training as if we are “Ringing the Sponge”. If you had two buckets, one empty and one full of water; how do you get the most water into the empty bucket? Ring the sponge. We want to get the best bang for our buck during training, so we don’t leave anything to chance once competition arrives.
To do this we need to enter these sessions with the proper mindset. By turning our “light switch” on. By switching to “athlete mode”. Look for cues or barriers that can switch you into “athlete mode” to get you locked in and focused for the session ahead. To some cyclists and runners, it might be kitting up into your gear. As soon as you switch into different gear; you are leaving work, school, and everything else behind. For exercisers, it might be as soon as you cross the threshold of the gym door. Whatever cue or barrier you decide, make sure you keep it consistent and stick to it.
Train smarter, not harder.