We do not keep getting better at something, the more we practice it.
If that were the case, given that many of us type on our laptops almost every day, we’d be typing at 200 words per minute by now.
Actually what happens is that we get better at something we practice till the level we reach becomes ok with us.
And then we stop improving.
This place was named the ‘Ok plateau’ by journalist Joshua Foer.
To get better once we have reached the plateau requires not practice but something else, something that has come to be known as ‘deliberate practice’.
Deliberate practice requires you to consciously put yourself out of your comfort zone and do something at a higher difficulty level than you are used to. In the case of typing, if you type at 50wpm, it would mean that you push yourself to type at 60wpm. When you practice at this level you will make errors and mistakes and the tendency will be to slow down. But if you persist mixing in deliberate practice with your normal practice, what happens is that after a while you suddenly notice… that you’re typing at 55wpm comfortably.
In our leadership development work with high potential managers who have been singled out by their company for investment, we push them harder than they’re used to in the training room. We ask them to set unreasonable targets in their action learning projects back at work. And we realize that this creates tension during that period. But almost always we find that at the end of the journey there is a sense of accomplishment and often considerable surprise – “I didn’t think I was ever going to achieve that when I started!”
There are a few steps that we have found that these high potential managers take during these periods that seems to be effective for them, and that we’d present before you as suggestions to try out:
1. Pick a target that you think is just out of your reach
2. One way of doing this is to try to do what someone you believe has more confidence/skill/experience than you would do
3. If you succeed, then pick a higher target till you start failing. You haven’t reached your limit yet.
4. STUDY YOURSELF FAILING
5. Seek out critical feedback immediately. You will most likely find the specific behaviours and beliefs that trip you up at your limits
6. Treat these failures like a scientific experiment. Form a hypothesis, try it, see the results, tweak your approach
7. Keep doing this till you succeed
8. Go down a notch in your targets. You’ll find that you’re performing at a higher level than you were before but with the same level of effort
Stick to the plateau for a while but when you’re ready…. go again.
You may want to ask yourself where in your life you have reached the ‘Ok plateau’ – it could be work, it could be relationships, it could be health, it could be finance, it could be your hobbies.
And then ask yourself if you’re ok with it or not. You may have come to believe that you’ve reached your limit because you’re not getting any better at it.
But practice doesn’t make perfect. Beyond a point, it doesn’t even make you better.
Deliberate practice does.