Welcome to Part 2 of The Power of Perspective series!
In this series, I plan to share my top five dynamic distinctions to broaden your mindset, sharpen your thinking, and present a better version of you.
Exercise has been a mainstay of my adult life since shortly after my 30th birthday.
After spending my 20’s consumed with work, marriage, and starting a family, an impromptu workout with my teenage nephew revealed how alarmingly out of shape I was. Although I hated distance running as a youth, at this stage of my life I wanted something I could compete in and that didn’t require court time, playing partners, and other restrictions found in most athletic pursuits. So I started running with the goal of competing in my age group.
The first event I entered was the Cherry Festival 15K, a local road race that features a challenging hill climb right in the middle of the run. After training for months, I was happy with my initial result and was confident I would improve the next year. But despite logging significantly more miles, my time was only slightly better.
As I shared my frustration at work one afternoon on the showroom floor of our Saturn dealership, Dan, one of my salespeople who was a seasoned distance runner and had coached at the college level, overheard my whining and invited me to breakfast the next morning.
The $20 I spent on that breakfast was the best investment I ever made in my adult athletic career.
Running more miles will build your endurance, but it won’t make you faster,” he explained. “To lower your time, you need to train your aerobic system to run at faster paces.
He told me about interval, tempo, and continuous pace training, which not only improved my race times and added variety to my workouts, they also improved my enjoyment of the sport.
The result: I became a highly competitive local runner, finishing at or near the top of my age group in distance races from 5K to half marathon.
What Dan taught me that morning was more than just some new training tools; he shared the valuable distinction between experience and expertise.
The Myth of Experience
After all, that’s how employment traditionally works: employers pay their staff an annual increment based on their years of employment, even if the role hasn’t changed. Experience, so the saying goes, counts. So, the longer you do the job, the more value you add, and the more you should be paid. Or is it?
In his book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson highlights research on teachers, doctors, and other professions showing that performance can actually decline with experience.
Indeed, throughout my career, I’ve encountered people in my industry who boast about their 30 years of experience when, in reality, those 30 years amount to 1-year experiences repeated 30 consecutive times.
See the difference?
The problem is, they never learned how to intentionally grow and develop their skills and work habits. In other words, they never learned the power of deliberate practice.
This is the essence of the experience versus expertise distinction: You can only become an expert with experience, but experience alone does not make you an expert.
The issue is that it’s not the time on the job or the time practicing (think sport, a musical instrument, writing, or any other observable skill) that counts. It’s how you spend the time.
According to Ericsson, people who build their abilities and become experts spend a great deal of time engaged in deliberate practice versus what he calls “accumulated experience.”
And there’s a big difference.
Deliberate practice extends your abilities. It involves stepping outside of your comfort zone. It’s highly focused and is guided by specific performance measures.
By contrast, accumulated experience, what most people consider practice, mainly involves repetition and rehearsal, performing skills, and tasks that are familiar and comfortable. And while it can certainly entail working hard, the work lacks focus and direction. As Ericsson asserts, this sort of practice is, at best, inefficient. At worst, it’s ineffective at creating growth, fails to lead to expertise, and can ultimately lead to burnout.
3 Keys to Becoming an Expert
To optimize our performance at anything, Ericsson says we must engage in the 3 Fs of Deliberate Practice:
Working hard is a good first step, but it’s not enough. Research in neuroscience shows that breaking skills down into smaller, specific skills rewires specific parts of your brain, which leads to lasting improvement. You need to be intentional.
You won’t get it right at first, but getting specific, direct feedback from a trustworthy coach will supercharge your growth. If there’s no coach available, then there must be a clear set of standards for you to shoot for.
3. Fix It
Armed with a focus and feedback on what to change, you must go back and modify your approach. This means re-entering the process of focus, feedback, and fix it again and again. The key is producing new neural networks in the brain. Only then will new abilities be formed.
The next time you encounter someone who truly excels at something–golf, music, public speaking, etc–ask him/her how they practice. Chances are, they approach it with a different level of intensity and purpose than those who are merely “good” in the same areas. Deliberate practice is what separates the very best in virtually any field. So remember:
Whenever you see a successful person, you only see the public glories, never the private sacrifices to reach them. – Vaibhav Shah
Stay tuned for The Power of Perspective: Part 3, coming soon!