Nov 22, 2015

Deliberate Practice Series - 1: How Do You Measure Real Progress

Here are some things I'd feel accomplished if I get really good at:
- Be an extremely competent Software Engineer and a Programmer.
- Play the Guitar really well.
- Learn the ropes of Investing and gain the experience and insights to make good, informed Investments.

To make well-defined, measurable progress in any of these areas is not as straightforward as just putting in the hard work and toiling away. For instance, to turn into a competent programmer, it doesn't suffice to read a few books and write practice programs. If I want to get good at playing the Guitar, then picking up the Guitar everyday for half an hour and hammering away won't help me make notable progress for years. Improvements will be very slow in coming. Be it cognitive or mechanical, any reasonably complex task requires more than working through a few books or putting in some unstructured practice time.

I've been contemplating this area for a while and am increasingly convinced that to make real progress in a given area, you need a well defined set of benchmarks that you can measure yourself against, and a solid plan that helps keep you focused and lets you realize whether you are on track or are steering away.

A significant amount of literature (books and blogs) exists out there that deals with the question - How does one get to elite levels in any cognitive field? I have in particular been attracted to the concept of 'Deliberate Practice'. As far as I know, the book that really made a name for itself in this topic is 'Talent is Overrated' by Geoff Colvin. I had read this book a few years ago and it was liberating to realize that no field is the proprietary playground of a few hand-picked lucky folks with natural god-gifted talents, except in physically demanding areas like Sports where people with certain physique have a natural advantage. The book makes a strong case of the fact that with consistent application of Deliberate practice, anyone can reach elite levels in their chosen cognitive fields. A blog (my favorite) that also deals with the concept of 'Deliberate Practice' at length is Study Hacks.

Below are the constituents of Deliberate Practice (copied guilt-free from here)
1. It's designed to improve performance.
2. It's repeated a lot.
3. Feedback on results is continuously available.
4. It's highly demanding mentally.
5. It's hard.
6. It requires (good) goals.

In the next few posts, I will be laying down a deliberate practice framework applied to my above areas of interest. If at all I wish not to be doomed to a life of mediocrity, it is vital that I do this.

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