You might have heard of the 10,000 hours "rule"? Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, it promotes the idea that to become an expert or master in your area, you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice. Nice in theory, but we call bullsh*t. Agreed, in the vast majority of cases, practice is indeed necessary for mastery of a skill. But it's about the type/quality of the practice, not just the quantity of hours put in.
Let's say, for example, you want to master playing flamenco guitar. Great! An ambitious goal, but good on you for aiming high! How would 12 hours of you practicing alone in your room with a Flamenco Guitar for Dummies book, stack up against 12 hours of practice spaced out weekly, in 1:1 training with a qualified teacher? Not quite the same thing, right? And that's not even taking into account the different starting points for each of us. Perhaps Bob over there already has some experience playing flamenco, Sandra has an innate talent with any musical instrument, or maybe you're thinking of Antonio who's hand-eye coordination leaves much to be desired. Getting good at something takes more than just raw talent and more than generic practice. That's where deliberate practice and its principals come in. Namely: honing in on your areas of weakness, adapting your approach, tracking your progress and setting stretch goals, seeking out feedback, and taking time to rest.
Keeping with our example above, let's say you've been training for years and you're a proficient flamenco guitar player. Nice! But there's always room for improvement. Maybe it's sight-reading that's your Achilles' heel, or lack of finger agility that's slowing you down, or perhaps it's getting those rasgueado patterns sounding perfect that has you stumped. Identify what specific area you need to work on and hone in on that with laser focus. Transposing this onto our Tribe, that might mean looking more closely into perspective, proportions, composition, colour theory, speed, realistic creature anatomy design, scripting, coding, or the wealth of options in between. And with any of these elements, remember to break it down into its smallest component, and start there. And we get it, the pull to get distracted and practice elements that you're already pretty good at will be strong. But that's not helping you excel in the area you most need to develop. So be honest with yourself and focus your attention on where you actually want to improve.
Cool, you've identified that finger agility when switching between chords is where you want to focus your efforts. You've tried pulling out that section and repeating it, but you're seeing no progress. Now what? Adapt. Try a different approach. For example, if finger agility is your weakness, look at ways that you can improve that skill more systematically. Seek out a teacher to train you with progressively more complex exercises. You might not even play a song for weeks, as you focus on this one area. No one said deliberate practice was fun. What we said was that it's effective if done properly. And no two people are made equal, so what works for you might not work for the next person. Maybe you need to build up the strength in your fingers, or maybe you're better at training through gamification. Continue to explore new options if the approach you're taking isn't working for you. But also be sure that you're actually giving your approaches a proper try before giving up on them.
Set Goals and Track Progress
You set yourself a spaced out practice schedule, stuck to it, and can now easily switch between twelve different chord patterns. Excellent! But don't stop there. Once you've reached your goal, push yourself a little further. Is there anything more you can do in this area? Perhaps you can try songs that make you switch between those chords more quickly, or more frequently? Or now that you've mastered these transitions, you can add additional ones to your repertoire? Each time you practice, you should be aiming to make the goal a little harder. Alternatively, if you've mastered everything you wanted to in that area, you could move onto the next area you want to improve in. Becoming an expert means constantly looking for ways to improve, and actively looking to best yourself in those areas. If you'd rather sit on your laurels, content with what you've achieved so far, that's an option. Just don't bemoan the fact that you've plateaued. It's in your hands to improve or simply maintain the status quo.
Seek Outside Feedback
Working at your skills in a silo can be effective...to a certain point. Yes, we now have a wealth of reference and knowledge available to us on the internet. And we can look back at our previous work and see where we've improved, but it's all subjective to our own frame of reference and prejudices. Seeking out an alternate, outside perspective, whether it be in the form of a teacher, training, or mentorship can provide access to your blind spots, and the edge to take your skills to the next level.
Take a Break
The road to becoming an expert doesn't involve deliberate practice every waking hour of the day. That's neither feasible, nor effective. The level of attention and focus required for effective deliberate practice can't be sustained over extended periods of time. So use your time wisely. Space out your practice sessions, schedule them for lengths of time that are effective, and when you're practicing, really practice. But also remember that rest and sleep are imperative to your success. When your mind is at rest, it's still processing and organizing information. It's still adding to your growth. Working in tandem with your deliberate practice, a relaxed mind and body are what will help get you the results you're looking for.
In an excellent article by Farnam Street, elaborating on the origin, methodology and elements of deliberate practice, they very aptly noted: "Deliberate practice is challenging and uncomfortable. Seeing as deliberate practice requires us to keep targeting our weakest areas, it means spending time doing stuff we’re not good at. In the moment, that can feel pretty miserable. But the quickest route to improvement involves stepping outside of our comfort zones." And that's exactly what we'd challenge you to do. Step out of your comfort zone, shine light on areas of improvement, and dive in head first. There's nowhere to go but up.
If you want to master a particular skill, overcome plateaus and actively excel, deliberate practice is your friend. However, there are some things in life that we do for the pure pleasure of it - going on long walks by the seaside, doodling on napkins just for fun, whistling show tunes while waiting for the bus. For those activities, you're likely not actively looking to improve, at least not significantly. Not all aspects of our lives require deliberate practice. Remember to identify what your objectives are and apply these techniques where they most benefit you.