How To (Really) Become Better At What You Do Every Single Day
Deliberate practice has become one of those trendy terms. It is the concept that if you really want to master a skill, you need to consciously exercise your skill on a daily basis.
This has to happen in a way that allows you to self-correct your mistakes, improve on your strengths, and experiment in a way that pushes you forward.
But how do you really do that?
As I am a writer, I will share how I am applying the principles of deliberate practice in my own field. You can apply them to any other field — although you are going to have to adjust them accordingly.
1. Establish the best-possible feedback system for yourself
Writing on Medium has made all the difference for my writing career. Not so much because I am getting more readers compared to before, but more because it is a much better feedback system than my own platform.
Because the daily statistics on Medium are so simple and so immediate, for any article that I publish, I can always see on the very next day how it has been performing.
This makes it easy for me to analyse why a certain article may have failed, or why another one has succeeded in attracting an audience.
I can easily compare the different articles that I have published and compare them based on different characteristics, and get a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t in the process.
This is only possible because of the insanely good feedback-system that Medium is for writers.
What to look for in a feedback system?
- In the best case scenario, it allows you to check upon your progress on a daily basis
- It allows you to directly interact with an audience in a way that provides you with feedback straight away
- It gives you an easily accessible, and easily understandable way of comparing what you produced, and gaining the necessary lessons out of it
Final note: the ability to gain feedback is also the reason why I would encourage anyone to start sharing what they produce from day 1, regardless of how bad it is.
2. Zoom in on a specific aspect of your craft for a certain time-frame
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. — Bruce Lee
Repetitive practice of one single aspect of your craft is the way to really make improvement.
For example, I would spend a week only trying to work on the headlines of my articles. Then, a week of only trying to bring good metaphors into my articles. After that, I’d spend another week only shifting around calls to action to see which one’s get the best responses.
Again, there will have to be some way of measuring what works and what doesn’t. Even if that ‘measurement’ is only asking for feedback from the people around you, that is better than nothing.
Any skill consists of a set of sub-skills.
You are going to have to break your craft down to these sub-skills, and then learn to improve them one by one.
The larger skill of intercultural communication, for example, includes the following sub-skills:
- learning how to suspend judgement about a different cultural behaviour
- learning to ignore your own stereotypes or assumptions about another culture
- adapting your body language to mirror the behavior of the local culture
- learning to recognise patterns of cultural behaviour and mimicking them
If you can understand what the sub-skills are that you are currently weak at, and then work on improving them one by one, then this will make a significant difference in your performance.
3. Always keep experimenting
If you want to move beyond your current level of skill, then you need to keep experimenting with new ways of doing certain aspects the thing you are trying to learn.
Anders Ericsson, the inventor of the concept of deliberate practice, writes in his book “Peak”:
When you are stuck at a certain skill level and trying to move forward, the “the solution is not ‘try harder’ but rather ‘try differently’”.
The problem with this approach is that, in the beginning, your performance will decrease. As you are forcing yourself not to use familiar working patterns, the outcome of your work will become worse for a while.
Your natural reaction will be to stop experimenting, and to go back to your old behavioural patterns immediately.
This is why we get stuck at our current skill levels.
It is a fear that is driving us. The fear that we are only making our situation worse, rather than becoming better at what we do. The fear that we will unlearn our old ways, and develop new habits that are simply not as good.
But this is never what truly happens.
We never become ‘worse’ at a skill that we have already learned.
When we are experimenting around with a new way of doing things, then either we see that it works, or that it doesn’t work. If it works, then we add it to our existing repertoire of skills.
If it doesn’t work, then we can always stop experimenting around with it.
Experiments may temporarily decrease your performance. But they are a necessary part of getting better at what you do.
I believe you when you are saying that you are constantly practising your craft. But the question is — are you really practising it deliberately?
- Have you clearly identified the different sub-skills that are necessary to become better at your craft?
- Are you aware where your strengths- and where your weaknesses lie within your particular area of expertise?
- Do you set clear learning goals for yourself?
- Do you have clear ways of measuring your progress in place?
- Do you integrate feedback into your learning process?
- Do you use experiments to identify new techniques to add to your current ways of doing things?
To really become better at your craft, you need to constantly remain aware of what you are doing. You can’t just mindlessly do the thing that you want to get better at every single day, and expect that you will get real results.
Learning is a conscious process.
Make sure that you are actively involved in the learning process all the time. Develop enough self-awareness to understand which areas of your craft you most urgently need to get better at.
Set clear, measurable goals to understand when you have done what you wanted to do. Focus on improving one specific aspect of your skill at every single point in time.
Always keep learning.
And always remain conscious of the process.
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