Practice does not make perfect
Most people would agree that the more you practice, the better you get. Well, actually that is not true. Several scientific studies have shown that a lot of practice and experience do not necessarily lead to real expertise.
For example, one study showed that psychotherapists with advanced degrees and decades of experience aren’t reliably more successful in their treatment of randomly assigned patients than novice therapists with just three months of training. There are even examples of professionals where expertise seems to decline with experience.
The question is: What causes this lack of correlation between improvement and practice?
Nathan Milstein, one of the 20th century’s best violinists, studied with the famous teacher Leopold Auer. One day Milstein asked Auer if he thought he was training enough. Auer replied: ”Train with your fingers and it will take you all day long. Train with your brain and you can achieve just as much in an hour and a half.”
I love this story, because it leaves us with a crucial lesson about developing true expertise. To become good at something you must constantly evaluate and honestly analyse your performance – what the world famous Swedish professor, Anders Ericsson, has named “deliberate practice”.
Deliberate practice is not just showing up and senselessly repeating what you did yesterday. It is knowing your goals, training deep, with great intensity and frequent feedback in order to move your skills to the next level. Not really what most people do;)
As Colm O’Connell, the legendary coach of the successful Kenyan long distance runners, told me a few years ago:
“I have athletes who come to training, train and go home again. Next day they turn up a few minutes before training starts. But I also have athletes who come here, do their training, go home and evaluate what they did. They work out what they did well and what they need to do better tomorrow. The next day they already start an hour or two before training to prepare themselves for precisely what they need to work at and focus on during the day’s training. Guess who goes furthest?”