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Why Showing Up Just Isn’t Enough

If you’re like most people, you spend most of your waking hours at work
by Caitlin Schiller | Oct 29 2014

Even if you’ve been doing the same work for eight hours a day for 20 years, there’s a good chance you’re only fine to middling at it. The plot thickens, too: despite years of practice, as time goes by you might actually become worse at your job. Extensive research shows that even experienced doctors score lower on tests of medical knowledge than their greener peers.


We all know the saying “practice makes perfect,” so what’s going on here? Ask Geoff Colvin, author of Talent is Overrated, and he’d tell you that mastery is a function of much more than time. To get really good, you’ve got to get comfortable with something called deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice requires identifying specific elements of your performance that need work and then, through repetition and feedback, improve them. Deliberate practice is more than putting in the hours. Here, according to Colvin, are its 5 defining traits:

1. It’s engineered for a performance boost: Deliberate practice is not simply being a warm body in a room. It’s showing up and mindfully doing the work with a keen eye toward which aspects of your craft could stand to be improved.
2. It relies on feedback: Work on a presentation or a skill until you believe it’s unequivocally ready to show and chances are you’re already too late. Find a mentor, or develop a feedback generation loop like Benjamin Franklin’s. You benefit from feedback the most early on.
3. It requires repetition: Just as, workout after workout, you’ll need to perform a similar set of exercises to see muscle development in any one group, you’ll have to repeat your professional activities until they become second nature. You might get bored, you might get frustrated, but muscle memory (or skill memory) is critical.
4. It’s mentally tiring: Deliberate practice is intended to expand your horizons, to stretch that one-size-fits-me-always sweater of skill you donned when you learned your craft. It’s going to be painful, so prepare yourself for that. Discomfort is a sign that it’s working.
5. It won’t be fun: You might love your skill – public speaking, for example, or grant writing – but deliberate practice isn’t meant to be fun. It’s meant to be educative. As noted above, embrace the discomfort and know that ferreting out and fortifying your weaknesses won’t be fun, but it will make you better.

Learn more about mastery, talent, and practice from Talent is Overrated, or check out the 15-minute summary on Blinkist.

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