Deliberate Practice: What It Is And Why You Need To Do It

I like to run in my spare time. I’m not the “I’m training for a 10K marathon” type of runner, but more so the “I just feel like going for a run/fast walk” type of runner. So, every few days, I lace up my shoes and head out for a run to keep up my cardio and because I enjoy it.

I was talking to somebody the other day and telling them that I use the Nike Run app to track my runs. I told them that for my last 2 runs, my pace was quicker than usual - I was completing a kilometre in about 7 and a half minutes, compared to my normal 8 and a quarter or 8 and a half minute average. They congratulated me, but also asked what else I was tracking apart from my pace.

“What do you mean?” I had asked.

“You know, what other stuff? How do you set your goals and how do you track whether or not you reach them? And what’s your goal for your pace?” 

I realized that apart from the summary that my app was telling me, which included the pace and distance of my run, I wasn’t tracking anything else. Even worse, I didn’t even have a goal for my pace in mind. Normally, I would just run the same route, which is a big circle around my neighbourhood, the same amount of times each run. Also, since I alternate between walking and running, the amount of time that I spent running that day would dictate my pace and how quickly I completed the run. That being said, I realized that I never actually set a goal for the run. It was simply based on how I felt that day which would dictate what my endurance was like for that run. 

They continued to ask why I didn’t set a goal. “Why don’t you set a specific amount of kilometres to run/walk each time and try to shorten the time it takes you to finish it each time? Or just set a target pace each run, whether it’s a kilometre in 7 minutes or 8 minutes?”

And to be honest, the only explanation that I had for why I wasn’t doing that, which I had justified in my mind, was that running was just something fun that I liked to do. It was a hobby, and like all of my other hobbies, I didn’t really feel the need to set a specific goal each time I did it. I just did them; I continued the practice. 

A few days later, I picked up the praised book, “Grit”, by Angela Duckworth. It’s a popular self-help type of book and one that is definitely worth a read. It was then that my outlook on my runs and other hobbies of mine had changed. In the book, Duckworth talks about the idea of deliberate practice and how “gritty” people are particularly good at this. 

Deliberate practice is essentially practicing with a goal in mind, allowing yourself to stretch past your limits and go outside your comfort zone. It can be described as more or less the opposite of a “flow” state – you’re not just doing it mindlessly and with ease, but rather you’re testing yourself and trying to become better. Deliberate practice isn’t always easy as it requires a ton of effort; even the best of the best might only be able to do 3 or 4 separate 1-hour sessions each day, according to the book. Essentially, the challenge stems from forcing yourself to practice your weaknesses and deliberately do what you are dreading to do. However, it certainly is rewarding and can be enjoyable too, whether that comes from playing that one song you hate on the piano or running half a kilometre more than you normally do in a given sprint. 

Deliberate practice is how you improve and sharpen yourself. While the “flow” state is easier and probably more fun, you can’t avoid deliberate practice if you want to improve at something. Even with hobbies, it’s still important to factor in deliberate practice. 

So, think about what you’re currently doing in your life, apart from school, and try to think about how you can incorporate deliberate practice into your routine, even if it’s just for your casual hobbies. If it’s going to the gym, for instance, remember to set goals for yourself. Try to bench 5, 10, 20 more pounds over time. If, like me, your thing is yoga, try a pose that you’ve been wanting to do for a long time but can’t seem to get. Set aside some time each day or each week to practice it, little by little. It won’t be comfortable at first, nothing hard ever is, but over time, you are going to notice improvements. 

Trust me, you will be thankful you did it and are still continuing to do it.