Deliberate Practices

Deliberate Practice – Reference Card

The #DeliberatePractices are the path to mastery. And mastery matters as this is the path to intrinsic motivation 1 for the individual and for organizational excellence.

Distinguish between Work, Play, and Deliberate Practices 2

Three types of activity: Work, play, and deliberate practice.

  • Work is extrinsically motivated, and performance stability and predictability (i.e. that you’ll get the job done) are paramount, performance growth is not.
  • Play is intrinsically motivated and pleasurable, but not goal-directed, and not structured to improve performance.
  • Deliberate practice is structured, effortful practice, usually not pleasurable, focused on specific performance bottlenecks.

Not all practices are Deliberates

Ericsson distinguish between three kinds of practices :3:

1- Natural or naive practices e.g. Just playing Tennis

  • doing the same things, your best, again and again .
  • Not trying to change any specific aspect.
  • mindless repetitions

2- Purposeful practices e.g. Practice Serving

  • goal orientation
    • change one aspect at a time
    • knowledge of a gap between where you are and where you want to be . Ideally measurable
  • feedback (to you)

  • reflect on what you could do now (after practices) you could not do before

3- Deliberate practices

  • feedback from a coach / teacher ( someone who has already reached the highest level in that domain 4) ( to stop guessing or experimenting to find the best path to improve)
  • get out of your comfort zone
  • focused , mindful (to)
  • build a mental representation (instead of relying just on intuition or senses) [^maxhug] in order to discriminate between where where you are and where you want to be
  • well-defined, specific goals
  • 4 /5 h max a day 5, or potentially 1-2 h in the morning

Mental Representations

The main purpose of deliberate practice is to develop effective mental representations, and, as we will discuss shortly, mental representations in turn play a key role in deliberate practice.
The key change that occurs in our adaptable brains in response to deliberate practice is the development of better mental representations, which in turn open up new possibilities for improved performance. (P.75) [^maxhug]

Quotes from Various Interviews


  • Deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there.

  • The practice regimen should be designed and overseen by a teacher or coach who is familiar with the abilities of expert performers and with how those abilities can best be developed.

  • Deliberate practice takes place outside one’s comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities. Thus it demands near-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable.

  • Deliberate practice involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of the target performance; it is not aimed at some vague overall improvement. Once an overall goal has been set, a teacher or coach will develop a plan for making a series of small changes that will add up to the desired larger change. Improving some aspect of the target performance allows a performer to see that his or her performances have been improved by the training.
  • Deliberate practice is deliberate, that is, it requires a person’s full attention and conscious actions. It isn’t enough to simply follow a teacher’s or coach’s directions. The student must concentrate on the specific goal for his or her practice activity so that adjustments can be made to control practice.

  • Deliberate practice involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to that feedback. Early in the training process much of the feedback will come from the teacher or coach, who will monitor progress, point out problems, and offer ways to address those problems. With time and experience students must learn to monitor themselves, spot mistakes, and adjust accordingly. Such self-monitoring requires effective mental representations.

  • Deliberate practice both produces and depends on effective mental representations. Improving performance goes hand in hand with improving mental representations; as one’s performance improves, the representations become more detailed and effective, in turn making it possible to improve even more. Mental representations make it possible to monitor how one is doing, both in practice and in actual performance. They show the right way to do something and allow one to notice when doing something wrong and to correct it.

  • (incremental / iterative) .Deliberate practice nearly always involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically; over time this step-by-step improvement will eventually lead to expert performance. Because of the way that new skills are built on top of existing skills, it is important for teachers to provide beginners with the correct fundamental skills in order to minimize the chances that the student will have to relearn those fundamental skills later when at a more advanced level.

Ericsson, Anders. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (p. 99). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Édition du Kindle.

Deliberate Practice: A Guide to Mastery 6

  • Define success and drill deliberately
  • plan, reflect, and take notes
  • go slow
  • limit your sessions for focus
  • maximise practise time
  • track small intervals of improvement
  • emulate practice, not performance
  • repetition makes perfect
  • routine is everything
  • get a coach


Basically that idea, in the same way that musicians, when they’re actually reading a piece of music, they can hear it in their head, and now actually think about, “Well, if I do this. Then it’s going to sound a little bit like that.” So basically, that ability of actually mentally being able to and not being dependent on the immediate experience and basically rely on intuition.

We argue that those representations seem to be the key to identify individuals who are improving because once they fail, they’re able to now try to figure out what they need to change. If you just rely on your intuition and you fail, what do you do? There’s really nothing for you to actively manipulate.


In general, according to Ericsson, deliberate practice involves stepping outside your comfort zone and trying activities beyond your current abilities. While repeating a skill you’ve already mastered might be satisfying, it’s not enough to help you get better. Moreover, simply wanting to improve isn’t enough — people also need well-defined goals and the help of a teacher who makes a plan for achieving them.

Most notably, Ericsson’s work on deliberate practice formed the basis for the “10,000-hour rule” featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers”: Put in about 10,000 hours of practice, and you’ll become an expert.

Unfortunately, Ericsson says Gladwell misinterpreted his research and that 10,000 hours of merely repeating the same activity over and over again is not sufficient to catapult someone to the top of their field.

When I spoke with Ericsson by phone in May, he told me that people who think practice can only get you so far aren’t talking about the same kind of practice as he is.

Mastery is not IQ

Even intelligence, Ericsson said, is not directly linked to expert performance. In “Peak,” he cites a study by British researchers, which found that intelligence does indeed predict chess skill among children. But when those researchers looked only at kids who were elite chess players, a higher IQ was, in fact, linked to worse skills.

Kids with high IQs learn how to play chess faster — but once their peers catch up, they may no longer have an advantage.

No limits but you

“I’ve been spending now 30 years trying to look for kind of limits that would actually constrain some individuals from being successful in some domain,” Ericsson told me. “And I’m surprised that I’ve yet really to find such limits.”

Effort is not DP

Unless you’re performing exercises that were assigned by a teacher to help you improve in a particular area, Ericsson believes you’re not engaging in deliberate practice. Plenty of practice activities are completely ineffective and won’t lead to improvement, he told me when we spoke again in June.

Beyond the controversy over whether deliberate practice leads directly to expertise, perhaps the insight that struck me most in “Peak” was this: To become an expert, you may need to be willing to sacrifice short-term pleasure for potential satisfaction of success down the road. A key tenet of deliberate practice is that it’s generally not enjoyable.

Instead, it’s about doing things that don’t come naturally or easily, which can be tough. “Practice really involves failing a lot until you eventually reach your goal,” Ericsson told me.

So what’s the downside to becoming an expert? Perhaps it’s that you need to devote yourself wholly to one area — that while one door flies wide open, others slowly creak to a close. Ericsson told me he doesn’t know of anyone who’s become a world-class expert in more than one skill.

That’s why, he said, becoming an expert in anything and placing 100% focus on becoming the best in one domain “may not be basically the right thing here for even the majority of people.”

Tags: #DeliberatePractices

Main Reference:

Ericsson, Karl Anders, and Robert Pool. 2016. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Boston New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Other References

[#novak_learning_1984]: Novak, Joseph D., D. Bob Gowin, and Jane Butler Kahle. 1984. Learning How to Learn. 1 edition. Cambridge Cambridgeshire ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

  1. intrinsic motivation includes autonomy mastery and purpose. see [][#pink_drive_2011] 
  4. and this means for emergent areas,it may not be that easy to find a coach, potentially none. AE mentions a “highly develop field”, so we know what is success, semi objective ways to measure performance. 
  5. potentially look like a BRAC