Deliberate Practice and the Art of Family

Geoff Colvin, in Talent is Overrated, talks about how “deliberate practice” is the method in which one can go from being good or acceptable to great in their field, whether it is sports, art, entertainment, or even business. The elite performers spend hours training and studying at their craft, which is the key to building neural pathways in the brain that allow them to perform at the highest levels. The brain, as it repeats the exercises and study, increases the protective sheath around the neurons, and speeds up those pathways so that they become more resilent and faster. This “deliberate practice” doesn’t just consist of repetition of the skills in which these individuals have already achieved high levels, but is an intentional focus on the areas that still require improvement. They go out and work on those areas over and over again in order to build themselves up.  

Colvin also, in his book, talks about “domain knowledge” as another way that individuals continue to grow to become the top in their field. Reqular study and understanding of the “How” and the “Why” in their field becomes another key element to their success. The best in any field is a “subject matter expert” at what they do. That experience gives them depth and insight beyond the rest, and allows them view the landscape to see what is coming next.  

There is a story of the how Wayne Gretzky’s father trained his young son to nearly see into the future. He would put Wayne onto the ice and have him follow the puck around as he made long passes. Wayne’s father would sling the puck off of the boards around the ice rink and make Wayne chase it until his lungs burned and his legs ached. The key to this practice, however, wasn’t to build speed; speed was a by-product. Wayne wouldn’t just follow the puck, he would go to where the puck would be in the future and catch it on the fly. Wayne looked ahead to see where the puck was going, and went there. He studied how the puck would bounce and became a subject matter expert, using deliberate practice to master his field.

Thinking about this, how are you committing to “deliberate practice” in your life? Are you spending time studying your job, or your favorite pastimes? Do you practice the skills that you have not yet mastered in order to attain that mastery? Each and every time you sit down to learn, what can you do to make sure that you’re improving?

These concepts, however, do not just limit themselves to business, physical endeavors, or the arts. Family requires “deliberate practice” as well. Spending time with your spouse, your children, and the others closest to you in your life can be another form of “deliberate practice.” Family isn’t easy, it isn’t quick, and NO ONE is an expert at it Day One. We learn about each other. We grow together. We have to constantly work on the areas that have fault and failure. For, without that work, we never learn how to overcome the struggles that inevitably are a part of life. Consistent, intentional, and focused “practice” is the key.  

Take time to work on the areas of your marriage or relationship that seem hard. If you struggle with engaging consistently throughout the day, make it a point to do three kind, selfless acts for that someone in your life in the morning, during the day, and in the evening. If you find that you have a hard time expressing yourself and your feelings, send three text messages throughout the day and let that other person know how much your care about them. Then, after a week, take one of those times and say it to them directly, face-to-face. Yes, it’s going to be hard; that’s why it’s called DELIBERATE practice. You’ll have to work at it to become great.  

Spend time and build the “domain knowledge” of that other person. Over coffee, or dinner, or while sitting together in the car, ask questions about their thoughts and mindsets on things. Work to understand how they think. Pray for them and with them. Become a “subject matter expert” on them. By connected with them on a deeper level, you will not only build your relationship, you’ll actually change your brain! You will find that they become your area of focused expertise. And that’s a skill you’ll never want to give up.