This post is Part 4 in a 5-part blog series on developing excellence. (If you missed the first post, you can find it here.)
In this blog post, I want to explore what makes practice DEEP.
Most of our practice is shallow. Remember how I practiced basketball? I would just shoot around, and then try to find a pick-up game. As we will see, DEEP practice is very different from what most of us do in our everyday lives.
To understand DEEP practice, just remember the acronym DEEP:
- DEEP practice is designed: DEEP practice is designed specifically to improve performance. For any particular skill, there is usually a tried-and-true method for improvement. Often you need a teacher who has a large body of knowledge about a specific field to design practice activities. The teacher can also observe things about your performance that you might not be able to recognize yourself. Feedback on your performance is readily available.
- DEEP practice occurs at the edges: DEEP practice stretches you beyond your current abilities. This is key. Most of us, when we practice, get to a certain level of competence and then just stay where we are at. We stay in our comfort zone. This is not DEEP practice. DEEP practice targets mistakes, and occurs at the edges of one’s abilities.
- DEEP practice is engaged: DEEP practice is highly engaging mentally. It requires an intensive level of focus and concentration. Because of this, you can’t do DEEP practice for very long. 4-5 hours per day seems to be the upper limit that a person can do DEEP practice. A study of elite violinists in Berlin found that the best musicians only engaged in DEEP practice about 3.5 hours per day, separated over 2-3 sessions.
- DEEP practice is rePeated: DEEP practice needs to be repeated a lot. A high volume of practice is key. Ted Williams, one of the best hitters of all time, hit baseballs until his hands bled. Pete Maravich, one of the best basketball players of all time, would shoot baskets from morning until night. DEEP practice needs to be repeated, and it needs to be repeated a lot.
Discussion: What do you think of the 4 components of DEEP practice? Take some time and think about something you are trying to improve. How do your practice habits line up with the 4 components? Which components might you be missing?
Further Reading: The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle