Deliberate Practice

What’s the most important part of acquiring a new skill? Practice.

It’s that simple. I’m 100% convinced that someone can become very good at anything if they commit to daily practice, and their practice is in some sense deliberate – they don’t just mess around but always explore something new or have a purpose to their practice.

Starting Out

A few months ago, I came across a vivid example of the power of practice. It’s a fellow who committed to sketching or painting every day. Starting from a totally average artist, he quickly became competent (after about a 6 months to a year of practice) and then after a longer time, was able to portray things photorealistically.

This was someone who started drawing in his twenties, and started without any appreciable skill. But he had a passion, and he had dedication, and he had focus — and that was enough.

One Year In

I’ve found that when something grabs my fancy, I’ll spend a lot of my time immersing myself in studying the culture of learning that – whether it’s physical fitness or an instrument or a language. More time, in fact, than actually practicing whatever it is.

Once you start obsessing over the culture, you then start obsessing over efficiency: “If I focus on supersets and negative reps when lifting, maybe I’ll get stronger 3% faster than if I follow another program!” This is a worthless mindset for a beginner. Search out an expert and have them give you a basic program, and then resolve to follow that for 6 months. This will get you infinitely more results than obsessing for three weeks and then losing interest. If you want to get healthy, follow a simple multi-joint lifting program (bench press, squats, deadlifts), do some jogging, stop eating junk food, and you’ll be much healthier in 6 months. If you enjoy it, then you can begin to tweak, optimize and experiment.


You can tie this to material objects, too. My philosophy towards buying, in a nutshell, is that if you’re already using something almost daily, then replace it with something top-of-the-line, but if you’re trying something new, look in the super-budget price range. Don’t invest a lot of money/time on something that doesn’t have a huge impact on results – that goes for adjusting practice parameters, or the build quality of something you have no experience with.

If you want to learn to play guitar, buy a $100 guitar, not a $1000 one. If you want to learn to kayak, get a crappy kayak, or even rent one. This will save a ton of money in the long run. 90% of the things I try, I’m just not that passionate about. And that’s fine, as long as I haven’t sunk money into them. Once you find that you really do love something (and have spent a lot of time on it), and not just the idea of something, then go ahead and upgrade guilt-free. Besides, you’ll have a better idea of what’s important to you, which you wouldn’t have had as a novice.

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1 Comment

  1. Stephen

     /  November 22, 2011

    When a friend invites me to join them in their hobby, I ask if they can borrow the equipment for me. Often, they’re willing to make the arrangements because they really want you to share in their experience. It’s a cheap way to try a new thing, at least the first time.


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