To become an expert at something, all you have to do is practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more, right? Is practice alone enough?

The simple answer is no. There are many factors that have a correlation to your success such as your intelligence, your motivation, your natural ability, the way in which you practice, and at what age you start practicing. On the basis of this finding, then it is indisputable that it is vital to help each child identify his strengths and natural talents and nurture them. Having said that, it is just as important to promote and enhance a child’s intrinsic motivation to improve their ‘weak areas’ with practice. The amount of pleasure one gets from doing something is a great predictor of success. Therefore, for practices to be long-lasting, effective, and self-sustaining, children must be intrinsically motivated.

In his book, ‘Outliers‘, Malcom Gladwell suggests that in order to become an expert at anything, you have to devote many hours to whatever it is you are doing. “It seems to be impossible to achieve any kind of true expertise, unless you have practiced for 10,000 hours. And 10,000 hours – if you think about it, think of it as four hours a day – is ten years.”

If that is the case, then how do you explain the fact that some people reach a superior level of performance without ample practice while other people fail to reach such heights despite their extensive practice? Hambrick and colleagues at Michigan State University studied the correlation between practice and perfection among students learning chess and music. Their findings stated that practice was responsible for only one-third of the differences in performance. Natural ability, intelligence and the age at which an individual starts learning something were all more prominent factors than practice alone.

Another team of researchers at Princeton University found that deliberate practice is more worthwhile if the activity is predictable. For example, running practices had a much higher correlation to performance than aviation emergency training, because the performance environment for runners were highly predictable. They found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports,  only 4% for education, and less than 1% for professionals at work”.

So, how can we make our practices more effective? Rather than repetitive drilling and practicing often, we need to teach children (and ourselves) to focus on how we practice. Scientists at The University of Sheffield have found that those who stop, learn and reflect on their mistakes during their practices, those who experiment and explore the activity, and those who space out their practices tend to do well in the long run. Therefore, those who are not aiming for consistency at the beginning do much better as they are the ones willing to experiment, which in turn gives more room for mistakes from which to learn from.

So, yes practice does help. But it takes more than just plain old practice to make perfect!!

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