In the introductory post in this series, we listed the characteristics of deliberate practice. This post will focus on the first principle of deliberate practice—that deliberate practice is designed to improve performance.
Deliberate practice is not mere repetition. Deliberate practice is designed to improve performance by targeting a shortcoming in current performance and attempting to rectify that shortcoming. There is an explicit goal in deliberate practice, and all the activity is targeted towards attaining that goal.
I have vivid memories of taking piano lessons as a child. When I would sit down to “practice” at home, I spent a lot of time letting my fingers dance over the keys. While my improvisation was fun—at least for me; I make no claims about my parents’ attitude—it definitely wasn’t practice. No matter how much time I spent pretending to be Ray Charles, I didn’t get better by randomly mashing down keys.
Unfortunately, most of us spend our practice time on unfocused activities. If your practice sessions consist of turning on a song and dancing with a partner, you’re not really practicing: you’re social dancing. If you go into a practice session with the goal of “working on your dancing,” you’re leaving a lot on the table. To truly improve, you have to approach your practice time with a purpose.
An easy way to incorporate this principle into your practice is to have an agenda for your practice session. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy: “solo dance basics to a full song with a kick ball change on each pattern’s 1, 2” is a perfectly acceptable agenda if all you have is four minutes to practice. What you will quickly discover is that this kind of focus pays off much faster than meandering practice sessions, even if you spend more time in the meandering sessions.