Photograph creative commons courtesy of suewells10
So you know you’re pretty good at something, but you want to get better. What do you do? You might take classes, you might ask friends for improvement advice, or you might practice, practice, practice. But which of the above really works for making you the best in some domain?
I’ve recently started taking springboard diving as a class after not stepping on the diving board for over 15 years. Is the class working? Yes, it’s working. Each day, I learn a new technique or a new tip for improving. It’s incremental. And most days, I feel wiped and extremely challenged. Is taking this class the most effective thing I could be doing to become better at diving? Certainly starting to put the time into it is one of the most effective things I could be doing to improve.
In a blog post I once wrote on training expertise, I cite research on becoming an expert in your field. (And you might have more than one field of expertise: you might be an entrepreneur and a marathoner or a dad and a business person.) In your field, researchers find a rule of thumb that expertise is likely to develop within 10-years (or 10,000 hours) of practice. Even Mozart by the time he was famous at age 13, they argue, had had four hours per day of training for nearly a decade. If you like chess, you have to read this research because there are many chess examples.
What Type of Practice Works Best?
Researchers also agree that improvement is chunking progress into organized challenging steps. Improvement is incremental challenge. Where do you get most incrementally challenged? Is it when you have a weekly standing meeting with your personal trainer? Is it when you send an email each evening to your friend telling her how many steps you walked that day? Is it when you train to become a teacher in your field? Find that activity that gives you practice right at the edge of challenge.
For my springboard diving class, this coach is the best. The coach gives specific, incremental, consistent directions that put me right at the edge of my abilities. Yesterday, I fell backwards off the three-meter diving platform – something I would not have done even the day before. Each day is right at the edge of challenge. As a friend of mine says, “It’s not about hitting a golf ball 100 times, it’s about hitting each time at the edge of your abilities.”
Senia Maymin’s column highlights exercises and research from the field of positive psychology to increase happiness, resilience, and productivity.