Deliberate practice- The art of excellence


Last week I wrote about motivation and the possibility of being mediocre at what we do. Having read a few popular books on this subject, the idea of how one gets motivated or why one wants to be the best is on my mind. Wanting to be the best or even working at it in a deliberate, diligent fashion does not mean you will succeed. You can put in your ten years and without the deliberate, focused and organized practice at whatever it is, you probably will never get to the level that you imagine. In music I always describe it as “doing it as you hear it in your head.” I think this description applies to most things.

Do we all want to be excellent? Do we envision the same things?  Who wants to be average or bad at what they do on purpose?  I just can’t fathom that. I see much mediocrity around me. I don’t mean to be critical, but if there is one thing I am good at it is “What is wrong with this picture?”

The reasons for this ability don’t matter so much. I would rather focus on how you get to be good at something. And then, if you do, is that it? Does that mean you will “succeed?”

When I studied music years ago, it was so complex. I loved the process of working in detail at something and making it better. I understood how to take the music apart and could dissect what was needed. I had the patience to repeat and repeat every day. Really, I know that a lot of people who become great musicians don’t like the process, but I LIKED IT. A lot of things I didn’t like, but that part of it, I liked. Many do not understand you don’t just repeat and repeat. Although that will glean some small improvement through rote repetition, it really doesn’t do much. You have to take it apart, like in any  performance medium or sport, and work on the individual technical challenges that need mastery. Most teachers just say, “Do it again! It needs to be _________.”  Often comments given without the analysis of  how to make what needs to be better, better. Maybe say it should be softer or louder or things like that, rather than actually using some technical exercise to dissect the parts that aren’t working. Can you tell I have a pet peeve about this? (Click graph to read)


So what am I getting at?  Are we doing children or students a disservice if we don’t show them the detail that mastery requires? Should we give them a taste of it by showing them really how it works? So few have the patience and deliberate temperament to work at things in this way. Is that because they were never shown this when they first began to learn?

I guess I could then ask “will that success make you happy?”  (That is for another time).  I think it is important to do whatever the task is well and in the case of education, positively affect the lives of others. I think for others who have never experienced the idea of deliberate practice or mastery, they don’t know what they don’t know. How can you believe you have given every child an opportunity to discover their talents if they don’t know how to do the hard work?

I am not just talking about music or one of the performing arts or sports. People seem to get that sports take a lot of practice but, who does it?  How many just go through the motion and expect the results, don’t get them and then are disappointed?  You can’t just shoot a hundred hockey pucks and expect to become a great shot. There must be deliberate purpose to the exercise. Don’t educators of all types, including coaches, owe the ones they teach the real deal?

I think so. I think this road to mastery, and the resulting discovery is essential to progress. Maybe the world needs all kinds of people but how do you know what is missed if one never even had the opportunity? What innovation might the world miss?

It is hard work, no doubt about it. I think it is fun, but lots who do it, don’t think it is fun, but they are motivated to do it because they like the results. Somewhere along the way someone inspired them and took the time to show them the details, the how and the why.

This post is a long one and for those who made it to the end I know you get what I am talking about. Robert Frost said it best.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

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