“Smart Practice,” The Most Effective Way To Become An Expert
One of my “bucket list” goals is to become a good dancer of Argentine Tango. After having traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, the birthplace of the tango, I fell in love with the dance! There were beautiful dancers on every corner of Calle Florida. The dancing was amazing! The footwork was intricate with leg hooks, lifts, and turns. The dancers were sexy and the dancing was hot!
As soon as I got home, I looked for a dance studio that taught Argentine Tango. I found one and I signed up for my first lessons. I was excited to start learning the “ganchos”, “paradas,” and “ochos.”
I could see myself in my head, dancing beautifully as I’d seen so many times in Argentina and in videos. I was Antonio Banderas!
Suddenly, sometime during the first lesson, reality hit me! “This is hard!” My feet were not doing what they were supposed to do. My head was forgetting everything! I got discouraged and quitting crossed my mind. I really doubted myself as to whether I could master this complicated dance.
When I got home, I picked up a book that I was reading just to relax and unwind from the stress of my first dance lesson. Unfortunately, the chapter that I began to read was about some research that stated that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. Now I was really discouraged! I couldn’t see myself spending 10,000 to learn to dance, nor to endure the stress of it all!
Anders Ericsson, a Florida State University psychologist conducted some research on expertise and concluded that it takes about 10,000 hours of “smart practice” to become an expert at some activity. Apart from sports that require height and body size (e.g. basketball, football), almost anyone can achieve the highest levels of performance with smart practice.
It is not enough just to put in the hours of practice. If you are a beginning golfer and you want to become an expert, and you continue to practice making the same mistakes, you will just become a better lousy golfer! Your game will NOT improve.
“Smart practice” requires that you practice along-side an expert coach. You must give it your full attention with your coach taking you through well-designed training for months or years. According to Ericsson, you don’t get benefits from just mechanical repetition. You only get better from continuous adjustments to your execution over and over until you get closer to your goal.
Your coach or mentor must give you regular feedback as to what you are doing well and what you are doing wrong. Hours and hours of practice are not sufficient. You must continuously correct your mistakes as identified by your master teacher. As the saying goes, “Perfect practice makes perfect.”
Unfortunately, what I just learned did not diminish my discouragement. First of all, I don’t have 10,000 hours to devote to dancing, not to mention that it will cost me a fortune for instructional fees!
As I kept reading, I discovered something that did inspire me to continue my dance lessons. According to Daniel Goleman, best-selling author of “Focus,” it may take 10,000 hours of smart practice to become an expert but it only takes 50 hours of dedicated smart practice to become “proficient.” That’s right, only 50 hours!
Most people don’t need to become “experts.” They just want to get to the “good-enough” level of performance. They want to get to where they can go through the motions more or less effortlessly. That’s where most of us want to get to. . . proficient, but not experts. We just want to be good to very good.
This level of performance can be accomplished in as little as 50 hours of focused practice. A prime example of this can be seen on the hit TV show “Dancing With The Stars.” On the first week the amateur stars are very clumsy, stiff, and extremely frustrated. Their performances are mediocre at best with scores of 7’s and 8’s.
Then, as the weeks progress, their expert coaches/dance partners continuously give them feedback and they practice an average of four hours per day. The dance pros are constantly tweaking their star’s performance. “Extend your hands.” “Flick your kicks.” “Maintain your frame.”
Finally, by the tenth or eleventh week, the same dancers who were getting average scores are now getting 9’s and 10’s. Their dancing is elegant and fluid. Some are even dancing as well as the pros. It is beautiful to watch them dance so effortlessly with crisp movements and precise footwork.
“Proficient” is the level of performance that most of us would like to get to. It is re-invigorating to know that it doesn’t take that long to get there. Therefore, you shouldn’t get discouraged when something takes a little time to learn.
Most of all, you shouldn’t refrain from trying new things. Your body and brain need to be stretched and challenged. That’s how the brain continues to build neurons, and new healthy neurons are a key to healthy living especially in the older years of life. “Either use it or lose it!”
Practice, practice and practice, but with a coach that can give regular feedback as to how you are performing. Don’t give up!
Every new activity from learning to drive a car, to playing the violin, to learning to become a leader is difficult in the beginning. Somewhere within the 50 hours of practice there is often a “breakthrough” when suddenly things seem to come a little bit easier. You just have to stick with the activity long enough to experience this stage of learning.
You can use the strategy of “Smart Practice” to get proficient at anything!
As for me, I’ve decided to continue with the Argentine Tango. After about 50 hours of “smart practice” with the coaching of my Argentine dance teacher Marcelo, I can now say that I am a proficient dancer. In fact, some of my dance partners have described my dancing as “delicious!”
I’m off to my dance class! Maybe I’ll see you in Buenos Aires at one of the milongas!
Be sure to check out one of my other articles called, “Crucial Conversations: How To Talk When Stakes and Emotions Are High.” If you like these articles please share them with your social media contacts.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
David C Figueroa
P.S. To learn how to become the best the YOU can be, check out “The Psychology of Achievement” by world renown author and success coach, Brian Tracy. CLICK THE BANNER BELOW FOR INSTANT ACCESS. . .