Does Practice Make Perfect? Not Quite

Noelle Ihli

There’s no question that practice builds skills. Whether you’re trying to become a concert pianist, skilled developer, accomplished soccer player, or master chef, putting in the time and effort to practice your craft is the price of admission for expertise.

But it turns out that regardless of which ability you’d like to develop, there’s a particular type of practice that will help you increase your skill level and reach your goals more effectively: 

Angela Duckworth, bestselling author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, calls it “deliberate practice.”

What Is “Deliberate Practice”?                     

According to K. Anders Ericsson, whose research Duckworth cites extensively in Grit, “Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence shows that experts are always made, not born.” 

Ericsson’s research further revealed that novices turn into experts most effectively through “Deliberate Practice,” or practice centered on tasks just beyond their current abilities. 

Duckworth says, “Each of the basic requirements of deliberate practice is unremarkable: A clearly defined stretch goal, full concentration, and effort, immediate and informative feedback, repetition with reflection and refinement.”

How to Practice Deliberately and Increase Your Skill Level More Effectively

Let’s explore how you can make the most of your practice time by embracing the requirements of deliberate practice.

Set Stretch Goals

A “stretch goal” is just beyond your current abilities—but not so far beyond them that it’s difficult or impossible to reach. Stretch goals push you past plateaus to new levels.

Concentrate Fully 

Deliberate practice requires blocking out distractions (like social media, cell phone dings, or the drone of a TV). You’ll practice more effectively when you focus fully.  

Seek Immediate and Informative Feedback

It’s difficult to know how to improve if you don’t get timely feedback on your performance. This feedback should be geared toward helping you set stretch goals for improvement. 

Reflect, Refine, Repeat

Time to reflect on your feedback, use that information to set new stretch goals, and keep going! Call on your grit (perseverance and passion!) to apply consistent effort to your goal.

Deliberate Practice and “Kaizen”

Duckworth encourages anyone who wants to practice more deliberately to embrace the concept of “Kaizen,” a Japanese term for “continuous improvement.”

In deliberate practice, Kaizen looks like “Short cycles of full-throated effort, followed by feedback and reflection, followed by an adjustment, leading to another round, and another, and another.” 

Perfection isn’t the goal. Instead, strive for steady, deliberate practice. 

Challenge: Consider a skill you’d like to develop through deliberate practice. Share your next stretch goal with us on Twitter using #Grit

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

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