I’ve been playing the guitar for 30 years, and I’m not that great. I put in the time, but my method of getting better is the problem. I do the same things over and over again, so I will not be winning a musical competition anytime soon. If I did want to get better, I would need to try harder pieces of music, practice scales and perhaps perform in public. This progression of mastering sub-skills in the proper order at the proper pace would allow me to be a little more confident in breaking out the guitar at a party. I would need to engage in what is called deliberate practice.

Many people think that just putting in time and hours is all that’s required for us to get better. You may hear people in sports, leisure or business say, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, therefore I’m an expert!” However, if you look at a group of people who have been doing things for the same amount of time, they have widely varied levels of expertise. While some of this might be due to natural gifts and luck, most of this can be attributed to how they practice and how they are consciously trying to get better.

Research by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson has shown that we must stay in the cognitive and associative phases of learning as much as possible if we are to keep getting better. As soon as we exit those stages, we become automated, and it is very hard to change or learn new ways of doing things.

It doesn’t take long to reach a level of proficiency, but to become an expert requires a different way to get there. Hard work or relying on past educations and experiences on our own is not enough. You need a higher intensity of thoughtful training and a dependence on others such as coaches and teammates to push beyond current levels of performance. Deliberate practice is not optional. It is the only way to progress and continue to get better over time.

Please take just seven minutes to listen to this edition of the HighPer 7 podcast, and then start practicing–deliberately.