Practice makes perfect, right? So why is it that countless people practice certain skills for hours on end, but very few ever become world-class? What matters is how we practice.
In his book The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else, Daniel Coyle discusses “deep practice,” a method used by world-class musicians, athletes, writers, and other masters of their craft. The idea is that the more new mistakes you can fix in a relatively short period of time, the faster you’ll make progress.
The trick, then, is to aggressively make and fix new mistakes instead of just repeating what you already know. Each time you fix a new mistake, new combinations of neurons fire in your brain, creating new mental pathways.
I’ve adapted Coyle’s research into a three-step practicing strategy: Fragment it, fuse it, feel it. You can use it to practice anything more deeply. Here’s how it works:
Fragment it: The easiest way to spot mistakes early is to chop your practice into the smallest unit that makes sense for your level of proficiency. If you’re a piano player, for example, it might make sense to study a new piece one musical bar at a time. If you’re a writer, consider breaking down your book into single sentences or paragraphs. If you’re a tennis player, focus on your serve. Only when you’ve mastered that unit should you move to the next.
Fuse it: When multiple small parts feel right, you can piece them back together. One paragraph becomes two paragraphs and so on. But don’t over-practice. Coyle writes that many world-class athletes practice no more than three to five hours per day. If you do deep practice right, after a certain point, more won’t lead to better — it will only lead to exhaustion. “When you depart the deep-practice zone,” Coyle writes, “you might as well quit.”
Feel it: Finally — and this is the difference between those who are “technically perfect” and those who go on to become legends — you must learn to “feel it.” As you progress, your gut will become stronger, and you can use it to detect anything that “feels off.”
A writer must read their work and ask: “How does it feel?” A musician’s work must transcend beyond perfection and into something that cannot be measured.
Fragment it, fuse it, feel it. Use it to become not just good but extraordinary.
Previously published on medium
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