Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Deliberate practice ... is not inherently enjoyable

“The important thing is not just practice but deliberate practice, a constant sense of self-evaluation, of focusing on one’s weaknesses, rather than simply fooling around and playing to one’s strengths. Studies show that practice aimed at remedying weaknesses is a better predictor of expertise than raw number of hours; playing for fun and repeating what you already know is not necessarily the same as efficiently reaching a new level. Most of the practice that most people do, most of the time, be it in the pursuit of learning the guitar or improving their golf game, yields almost no effect.”

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George A said...

A great post! I think anyone who has mastered any complex skill totally gets this and appreciates that it's not the total time devoted, but rather the quality of the practice.

Now that's a good thing for skaters because a. ice time is relatively expensive and b. working adults somehow must fit practice into a busy work schedule. These two constraints intensify the need for deliberateness. The trick is,in the absence of coaching (which is also expensive), to be able to clearly identify the skill weaknesses (which is generally easy!) and then practice the required remedy. This second bit, at least for me, is the hard part. Without a coach at your "deliberate practice" session, how does one devise a solution to a problem skill so as to practice the technique properly and not have to unlearn a bad habit?

Does this mean that all untutored practice is a waste of time? I think not. Practicing moves which one is comfortable provides the confidence to reexamine skills that are shaky (i.e. "I don't totally suck at everything so let's try that PITA element again") and, even on one's own, occasionally a solution to the problem skill is discovered in an "Ah Ha" moment. "Ah Ha" moments sometimes come out of no where through repeated attempts at the skill and sometimes via careful observation of other skaters who are correctly performing that skill in your presence. Point here is that progress is painfully slow but not impossible.

All of the above applies to me. Someone with greatly advanced skills may (probably does) have a different trajectory.

TnT said...

"Is ntutored practice a waste of time?"

For me, sometimes it is although I figure at least I'm sweating and getting exercise, so not a total waste. But I do make backward progress when I practice mistakes. Usually I realize I'm making a mistake and try various methods to correct it. Oftentimes I have a breakthrough for no reason I can discern. Other times the breakthrough comes at my next lesson. I think it's a fine balancing act.

In my case, I am mostly re-learning skills I once mastered. That's been an interesting experience because I usually know when something is wrong and I may even know what it feels like to do it right, but I can't teach my newly-wired body to actually do it!

George A said...

Interesting point. I looked up a couple of Ericsson's journal articles via medline (I have better access to medical journals from my work computer than here at home). Ericsson pointed out that beyond a certain point the expert or elite trained individual could, to a certain extent, "self coach" due to their accumulated knowledge of and exposure to coaching techniques. At my level, however, I need all the guidance I can get!

I did a bit of "semi-DP" this afternoon making myself work on elements that I'm trying to remaster rather than pleasantly burning time doing stuff of which I've more or less already taken ownership. I say "semi" because my group lesson instructor was present at today's public session, giving a private lesson, while I was putzing away at the opposite end of the rink. After finishing with his student he skated over and watched me and provided critical comments which immediately improved my attempts--so perhaps the best of both worlds(disciplined practice of know weakness immediately followed by expert correction)?

I also find that I need a period of "digestion" after instruction--time away from the coach to practice on my own and assimilate the lesson and somehow convert it into "George-think". I suspect that's an important part of "owning the process"--at least for me.

At work I'm currently in the throes of learning the necessary skills to set up and run gene array plates for insulin signaling, cancer pathways, etc. It's much the same process--lots of individual steps, both mental and manual, to master. Any one of these steps if not performed correctly would screw up the end result--so a lot like skating but not so physically painful(!)--however since I'm working with human study samples which can not be replaced a screw up would certainly inflict mental pain...

Gordon said...

Much truth to this post! I have found for myself that when I bring my notebook and keep track of what I'm doing I am *much* more focused. With most of the stuff that I'm working on I have some pretty good ideas as to what I need to do... but sometimes discipline is lacking.