Deliberate practice has been found to encompass five characteristics:
1. It is designed specifically to improve performance
The exercise often needs to be designed by a teacher or mentor who understands what your weaknesses are and what needs to be done to improve.
The activities need to be designed to stretch you and push you outside your comfort zone. Tiger Woods will drop a golf ball into a sand bunker, step on it, and then play the stroke and he will do that thousands of times until he is exhausted. Tiger may only play that stroke a handful of times through his career, but when he comes to it he is well rehearsed in how to execute.
2. It can be repeated a lot
Repetition counts. Repetition alone however is not good enough, but when focusing on a particular skill-set with a clear outcome, there needs to be high repetition.
In business this can be achieved through role-play and rehearsal. When preparing for a high stakes show in Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Eve, Chris Rock performed 18 dress rehearsal evenings in small clubs across America, perfecting his material with every laugh.
3. Feedback on results is continually available
In business, feedback is everywhere and often it comes in the form of failure; a proposal that didn’t get through, a presentation that didn’t hit, a deal which fell over. Rather than looking at these experiences as failures, if we can examine what happened and take from it an understanding of what to do differently next time, there is our feedback. This is best done with a mentor or manager.
4. It is highly demanding mentally
Several studies have shown that four or five hours a day seems to be the most we can engage in deliberate practice. This is due to the mental exhaustion that accompanies it.
Even professional athletes that may be hitting more tennis balls in a day than most people do in a year, report that at the end of the day it is the mental exhaustion, not the physical exhaustion, that is most obvious.
5. It isn’t fun
Often people can have a romantic notion of what it is to be an ‘entrepreneur’. These notions don’t usually make it past the first year.
Doing what we’re good at is enjoyable. However when you take what you are good at, hone in on your weaknesses and repeat a deliberately designed exercise to the point of mental exhaustion, often it is not fun.
This is of course a good thing. If it were easy – everyone would be doing it.