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Why practice makes perfect sense

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In learning any skill, people generally pick up the basics quickly. Then, they hit a plateau, and continuing to improve becomes difficult. At that point, most people figure they don’t have the natural ability to rise, so they coast.

“Ninety-nine percent of people, once they learn how to do something, stop improving,” says K. Anders Ericsson, professor of psychology at Florida State University and co-editor of Expert Performance in Sports.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Ericsson. The secret is deliberate practice. Example: Playing basketball three days a week with your buddies will help your game, but not as much as drilling yourself in ball-handling, rebounding and jump shots will.

Take Ericsson’s steps for using deliberate practice to improve a skill:
  1. Pick a target. Make it specific, such as a certain golf handicap or sales record.

  2. Practice. Write down your plan for improvement. First, break the skill into pieces. Then, state how you’ll improve each piece. Decide whether a coach should help.

  3. Assess yourself. Are you advancing? If not, stick closer to the plan, revise it or find a new coach. Don’t “graduate” to a new skill until your mastery is consistent.
—Adapted from “What’s the difference between the pros and the poseurs? Believing you can,” Joe Lindsey, Outside.

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