Leadership Soup
Published in

Leadership Soup

How You Practice Is Just As Important As What You Practice

If you’ve spent a lot of time studying for exams, it’s likely you know how easy it is to spend an entire day copying down useless information and then ending up with a disappointing grade.

The fact is that practicing hard can be a waste of time if you don’t practice intelligently.

People who practice always have more success at mastering a new skill than people who put in no effort at all. That said, cognitive psychologist Anders Ericsson has discovered that the key to this success is intelligent practice.

Consider athletics. Successful runners don’t practice with vague goals in mind; they are precise and keep a close eye on every detail of their runs, including keeping track of how their body is responding and the distance they’re covering.

Their goals are also precise; they attempt to run a certain number of miles further than last month, to reach a specific speed or pace by the end of the month, or to improve their cadence.

The benefits of deliberate practice are threefold: it’ll get you off autopilot, help you avoid repetition, and bring great results.

Doctors also benefit from highly specified training. With this knowledge in mind, Ericsson developed a program to help train doctors to deal with specific critical situations, like cardiac arrests.

The program gives doctors feedback after they suggest certain methods of treatment, providing hints if they end up on the wrong path.

During a training session with the program, one physician remained on autopilot. He wasn’t learning from the feedback and he repeatedly made the same mistake. Though diligently practicing and putting in the work, he was simply repeating himself without making any progress.

It wasn’t until the doctor was pulled aside and told to take a moment — to think and intelligently reflect about what he was doing — that he got it right and began seeing good results.

It can be easy to simply put your head down, get to work and end up on autopilot with the assumption that you’ll inevitably end up reaping the rewards of your practice time. But that won’t happen until you stop and reflect on precisely what it is you need to improve and start practicing smart.

Related Video:

Author Angela Duckworth visited Google’s office in NYC to discuss her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance with Ben Fried, Google’s CIO and Site Lead in NYC. In GRIT, Angela Duckworth explores the science of why some people succeed and others fail, and why talent alone doesn’t guarantee success. She shows us that perseverance and passion matter at least as much as talent and intelligence.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store


Pushing 50. Survivor of 3 wars, child abuse, divorce, parenthood, several near death experiences, endless meetings, and one too many Saints heartbreak seasons.