The first chapter of Anders Ericsson’s book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, is called, The Power of Purposeful Practice.
Ericsson notes that there are several key characteristics of purposeful practice:
Has well-defined, specific goals; Is focused; involves feedback; and requires getting out of one’s comfort zone.
This is not just doing something over and over again. What Ericsson found is that EVERY great performer that he studied, and he’s known as the world expert on expertise for a reason, had invested an enormous amount of time in purposeful practice before reaching a level of greatness in his or her activity.
The beauty of Ericsson’s work and why I admire it so greatly is that he has uncovered one of the critically important secrets to performance success. You need to invest your time and energy into purposeful practice.
When Bill Belichick was 8 years old he was breaking down film of football plays for adults. He was receiving feedback from his father and other adults on how he did. Robin Williams practiced in his attic using different voices while he played with toy soldiers. He then eventually got into open mic nights and improv groups where he received immediate feedback from audiences on what worked and what didn’t work. Fred Rogers experimented with puppets and music for over ten years as he worked to perfect his show on child development before he ever went national with Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.
What skill do you want to master? Apply the principles of purposeful practice to it, and do so for a very long time.