An enemy of talent

07 Jul 14

Arrows(shoot)_pinkOne of the biggest enemies of talent is not genes, or opportunity, or luck, it’s lack of practice. Most of us spend 95% of our time focusing on performance while dedicating less than 5% to practising it!

To further add to this poor practice can waste time, create bad habits and worst of all, give us the deceptive feeling we have accomplished something when in fact, we haven’t.

Poor practice is tough to identify.  Perhaps in the future, some genius will invent a practice-o-meter that flashes bright red lights and sounds a horn when it detects ineffective and time-wasting practice.  Until then, we have to make do with simpler methods.

Here are some warning signs, along with some suggested cures:

  • Robotic sameness of performance, if you are doing the same thing over and over with no variation, you are not practising deeply
  • Make it tougher, change one or more factors to stretch yourself.  If you are practising a presentation, set ever-shorter time limits to deliver it in.  Constantly switch it so you are always making and fixing mistakes.
  • The lack of “damn it” moments.  Learning something new is like walking into a darkened room and figuring out where the furniture is – when you make a mistake, you should feel it.  Effective practice contains lots of “damn it” moments. Making mistakes should carry an emotional burn that helps you to do better next time.
  • Keep score.  Turn it into a game, so that each mistake carries a larger consequence. 
  • Failing too much.  The “sweet spot” of practice is when you make mistakes 20-40 percent of the time.
  • Make it easier.  Eliminate some variables; simplify the task so that you are chunking one at a time until you get back to the sweet spot.
  • Total boredom.
  • Quit and do something else.  Come back when you’re fresh.

Always aim for quality over quantity.  It’s far better to achieve 10 minutes of deep practice – which is really tough to do – than practice shallowly for an hour.

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