Conventional wisdom tells us that if we are to improve in anything, we must practice for hours on end. Think of the 10,000-hour rule by Malcolm Gladwell. The traditional notion of practice is preached in sports, business, academia, the arts, and other fields of performance. The problem with the current definition of practice is it doesn’t help one achieve optimal performance in a given skill.
Let’s use baseball as an example. If someone wants to become a better hitter, they typically will go to a batting cage and hit rounds of pitches for weeks on end. If they play in a league, they may get some instruction from their coach and apply what they learned in the cage or game.
Over time their hitting will improve, but soon they hit a plateau. This plateau is what usually discourages many of us from taking the extra steps necessary to achieve optimal performance. But we never ask ourselves why it is we have plateaued in the first place.
There are several reasons. One is chances are the hitter wasn’t properly instructed on how to hit a baseball, which is typical in baseball where many players aren’t taught the correct hitting mechanics. Another reason is the player didn’t receive good feedback on a consistent basis. How do you know what to improve on if you aren’t being told what you are doing wrong?
Finally, when most of us practice something, we don’t set specific goals to hold us accountable to our training. In this case, promising to hit a certain number of balls a day, dedicating a certain number of training hours, as well as focusing on say, improving your batting average by five to ten points are just a few goals one can aim for when training to become a better hitter.
There is some validation to Gladwell’s 10,000 hours where one must practice a set amount of hours to improve on a given skill. The problem is if we aren’t taught how to practice the right way while receiving feedback and proper instruction from a coach or mentor, then all those hours we spent training will have been a waste of time.
We must be deliberate with how we approach our training and education, requiring focus, proper coaching, as well as the dedication to committing long hours to the skills we are trying to improve.
Plateaus can be discouraging to our progress, but they can also be great learning opportunities to learn how we can take our talents to new heights.