Deliberate Practice

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson has done extensive research on what it takes to excel at various fields, including chess, piano and sports.  He determined that it takes approximately 10 000 hours to master something.


I find myself starting a new career at age 40. It’s sad to say goodbye to the investment of all those hours on my ‘old’ career that I’ll probably never use again professionally. And it’s scary to think of the time I’d need to spend on writing in order to master it. I’ve got visions of myself at sixty, finally feeling like I know what I’m doing. Or perhaps that never actually happens. Perhaps we spend our whole lives practicing.

Ericsson and others have written that talent is overrated. People admire those with masterful achievements but they often don’t attribute the success to hard work. It’s more comfortable for us to think that someone else is more talented than the fact that we’re just not prepared to work that hard. He states “the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”

I suppose the good news for me is that I’m blessed with self-discipline and I can apply myself to my new craft, as daunting as it is. I love learning and I love to see progress. I hope to have many years of improvement ahead in my craft and the opportunity to relish my work. I feel that my career has not been fulfilling and that I have suffered enough from unhappy work. Now is the time for some fun and to enjoy what I do.

A key aspect of deliberate practice is solitude. Those that have become world-class in their pursuits spent a lot of time alone, and that’s where the serious work happens. The masters are those that spend time on their weakest aspects in order to build bullet-proof skill. Martin Seligman states in his book Flourish, that “[t]he real leverage you have for more achievement is more effort.”

Flourish also talks about parenting and the fact that the best way to help our children is to foster self-discipline. It got me thinking about what our lives would be like if I tried to drag my child through the kind of effort required to create a child star. I have difficulty pushing her through the fifteen minutes of homework four days a week. She’s not going to let me push her through hours and hours a week of piano, chess or tennis.

As most parents do, I wonder whether I’m giving my children enough support and exposure to things that they can excel at. I know that there are parents who are much better at sacrificing their own needs and goals and focusing on their children. However, that’s not me. I know that I’ll break before she does if we tried to turn my six-year-old into a music or sports star. I favour an approach that let’s my children be children, a lot of time playing and having fun and a lot less obligation. That being said, both my husband and myself are very strong on the self-discipline and the principle of work before play. I’m sure that will rub off on them regardless of what we do.

I’ve got my own goals and dreams. I have things I want to do with my life and I want to explore just how far I can push myself. Perhaps my children will look back and think that I’ve let them down or I failed to push them harder. But there will always be something that I didn’t get right.

I know that I’m a parent who tries hard to give them everything that I can. I think it’s good for them to see a parent following their dreams. I’ll encourage them to follow theirs too. To make the most of their talents and to follow their passions and never, ever settle for something that doesn’t inspire them.

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I am a champion for living your passion. Writing is my passion, my destiny and my calling. I am a mother of two beautiful daughters and a wife and live in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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