“Purposeful practice has well-defined, specific goals. One hypothetical music student would have been much more successful with a practice goal something like this: ‘Play the piece all the way through at the proper speed without a mistake three times in a row.’ Without such a goal, there was no way to judge whether the practice session had been a success.” – Peak
One of the books I read earlier this year, “With Winning In Mind”, has gotten me in the habit of keeping a specific performance journal for two skills I am working on: Brazilian jiu-jitsu and public speaking via toastmasters. Anders Ericsson’s writings has helped put scientific research around the hard won wisdom I read about in “With Winning In Mind”, first published in 1988, to make it clear why something like a performance journal is so important.
Ericsson first starts by defining naïve practice, how most people approach development, which is an accumulation of reps with the vague goal of “getting better” which tends to level off once one reached an “acceptable” level of performance. “Generally speaking,” Ericsson writes, “once a person reaches that level of acceptable performance and automaticity, the additional years of “practice” do not lead to improvement. If anything, the doctor or teacher or the driver who’s been at it for twenty years is likely to be a bit worse than the one who’s been doing it for only five, and the reason is that these automated abilities gradually deteriorate in the absence of deliberate efforts to improve.”
The gold standard of practice, deliberate practice, generally requires a coach or a teacher and will not be the subject for today.
There is a lot to unpack in Peak but today’s focus is on developing, what I think to be, one of the concepts that will bring the biggest return on investment: the performance journal.
Here is the really simple framework I have come to use:
- Goal / Intention (before)
- Stats (during)
- After Action Report (after)
Whatever you are trying to work on, you will be better off with a very specific goal going into the practice – ideally one that is just outside of your comfort zone. Once you have a very specific goal, you now have the ability to a) track your progress during the session and b) give yourself feedback so you can identify where you need to improve or how close you are to achieving your goal after the session.
For example, this past week in toastmasters, I had the goal to reduce my amount of filler words by at least 5 in my impromptu speech. Luckily the club gives me that feedback, I can track it, and afterwards reflect on the practice as a whole, where I succeeded, and where I can improve.
The more we can work this into our day-to-day’s the further “acceptable” will be in the rearview mirror, on the road to the uncommon.