How to Practice the Right Way

Wisdom, Health, Work

Just showing up and doing something over and over again won’t get you any better. Instead, learn how to practice the right way.

people working out giving a high five

Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule

You have likely heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hour Rule,” which he wrote about in his book Outliers. Essentially, Gladwell says that in order to become an expert at something, you have to practice it – a LOT. About 10,000 hours worth of practice, to be precise. That’s a lot of hours you need to go through in order to practice the right way!

The 10,000 hour rule isn't<br />
just about the time spent<br />
in practice; it has to be<br />
the right kind of practice.

Gladwell based this claim on research conducted by Anders Ericsson, a psychologist known as the “expert on experts.”

Over the course of his career, Ericsson studied the lives of hundreds of elite performers in fields as diverse as sports, business, and music. In his studies, Ericsson found that it was practice, not natural ability, that consistently led to the highest levels of achievement. But, the 10,000 hour rule isn’t just about the time spent in practice; it has to be the right kind of practice.

When Naïve Practice Helps vs When it Hurts

As it turns out, just showing up and doing something over and over again won’t get you any better. In fact, it might make you a little worse as you become ingrained in your ways. Ericsson called this type of practice “naïve practice,” because it misleads us into thinking that just showing up and performing a lot of hours at something will somehow cause us to get better.

The thing is, most of what we do in life is done under the parameters of naïve practice. Take tying your shoes, for example. When you were a kid, learning how to tie a shoelace was very difficult. You had to try over and over again before you got it right. But once you had it figured out, it became second nature to you. Just like when you learned how to ride a bike.

Since then, you have likely tied your shoes every day in precisely the same way that you did when you were five years old. There’s no reason why you should have ever “improved” – it does the job, and that’s all you need it to do. The same thing goes for brushing your teeth. Driving a car. And making yourself a bowl of cereal every morning. You have “practiced” each of these activities for 10,000 hours, but you stopped getting better at them a long time ago.

Does this make you naïve? Not at all – the development of these habits is actually a critical part of what makes you human, and allows us to become better at the things that make you unique. It’s not naïve, it’s just comfortable.

Purposeful Practice: The Next Level of Practice

As Ericsson notes, the “right” type of practice has to make you uncomfortable. In order to learn new skills, we have to get out of our comfort zone and do the hard work necessary to improve. The reason for this, it turns out, lies in the neurobiology of our brains.

When we want to execute a certain behavior, our brains must fire a certain sequence of neurons. If those neurons aren’t used to communicating with each other, it will require a lot of energy to get an electrical signal to fire between them.

We can force them to do it, but it will feel uncomfortable. In fact, Ericsson found that this type of purposeful practice could only be performed for roughly an hour each day before too much energy was used up.

Then, during rest, something truly incredible happens – those neurons end up wiring more strongly with each other. So, the next day, the same type of practice becomes a little bit easier. The more this happens over time, eventually the pathway becomes comfortable. This means that a new skill has now been learned.

Once the uncomfortable becomes comfortable, it’s time to select a new, harder goal to perform, and repeat the process again. This is what makes the difference between top performers and those still struggling at the bottom: not the amount of effort that they put in on a particular day, but the number of days that they have consistently put forth effort over time.

Deliberate Practice: The Highest Level of Practice

The only thing better than purposeful practice, Ericsson found, was what he called deliberate practice. And what’s the difference with this type? Only one thing: a coach.

The difference between purposeful practice and deliberate practice is whether or not you have a coach. When you conduct purposeful practice, you learn from your failures so that you can repeat the new skills that actually lead to success.

But until you experience feedback letting you know that your actions will help you achieve your goals, you don’t know which activities to perform. Through trial and error you will eventually figure it out, but that might take a lot of time.

By having an experienced coach, you can be guided towards the right next thing to deliberately practice. The coach can’t put in the effort for you, and the practice will feel just as uncomfortable, but you won’t waste time learning the wrong skills. And since skill development is a snowball effect of learned skills, a more efficient process means a much larger snowball.

The I GOT This™ Framework

The Ideal Life’s “I GOT This™ Framework” is designed to facilitate deliberate practice towards your own unique pursuit of purpose.

By carefully structuring the pursuit of goals to meet the criteria of deliberate practice, and then aligning those goals with the fixed purpose of the Ideal, the I GOT This™ framework leads to self-mastery through the deliberate practice of purpose. Ultimately helping others to live their most ideal life.