Achieve any­thing

Fine-tune your prac­tice to be­come a mas­ter in your field

Men's Fitness - - Front Page -

Your four-step guide to get­ting the wealth and suc­cess you want

We’re all born with a gift, says psy­chol­o­gist and per­for­mance ex­pert An­ders Eric­s­son – but that gift isn’t for a spe­cific tal­ent like mu­sic or sport: rather, it’s an end­lessly adapt­able brain that can be­come great at any­thing with train­ing. And that doesn’t just mean a lot of train­ing, as the “10,000 hours” the­ory sug­gests, but the right train­ing. What­ever skill you want to mas­ter, here’s what you need to do.


You’ll ad­vance more quickly when taught by some­one who can demon­strate the proper way to per­form skills, pro­vide use­ful feed­back and de­sign prac­tice ac­tiv­i­ties to over­come par­tic­u­lar weak­nesses. When look­ing into a teacher’s rep­u­ta­tion, skip over re­views about how much fun their lessons are and look for spe­cific de­scrip­tions of mak­ing progress and over­com­ing ob­sta­cles. If there are mul­ti­ple as­pects to your sub­ject, re­cruit mul­ti­ple teach­ers – Dan McLaugh­lin, who gave up a pho­tog­ra­phy ca­reer to try to be­come a pro golfer, started with a golf coach, a strength and con­di­tion­ing coach and a nu­tri­tion­ist. And if you find you’ve stopped im­prov­ing, it’s time to look for a new teacher.


Natalie Cough­lin holds the joint record for most Olympic medals won by a fe­male swim­mer – but she didn’t be­come great in the pool un­til she learned to en­gage through­out her prac­tice. In­stead of let­ting her mind wander, she fo­cused on her tech­nique, try­ing to make each stroke as close to per­fect as pos­si­ble and fig­ur­ing out ex­actly how her body felt dur­ing a “per­fect” stroke. Once she had a clear idea what that stroke felt like, she knew when she was de­vi­at­ing from it and worked on min­imis­ing those de­vi­a­tions. To im­prove fo­cus, try shorter train­ing ses­sions with clearer goals. It’s bet­ter to train at 100% ef­fort for less time than at 70% ef­fort for a longer pe­riod. And get enough sleep.


When prac­tis­ing, don’t do the same thing over and over again mind­lessly: fig­ure out your weak­nesses and try dif­fer­ent meth­ods to im­prove un­til you find some­thing that works. A stu­dent train­ing to be a ring­mas­ter at a cir­cus school in Brazil told me how he learned to keep his au­di­ence in­ter­ested. He went to down­town Rio in rush hour and struck up con­ver­sa­tions with com­muters. Most were in a hurry, so he had to use his voice and body lan­guage to hold their at­ten­tion. He was de­lib­er­ate, tim­ing how long he kept each con­ver­sa­tion go­ing and not­ing which tech­niques worked. Use the three Fs: Fo­cus. Feed­back. Fix it. This is pur­pose­ful prac­tice.


Get­ting started is easy. It’s ex­cit­ing, it’s en­er­gis­ing – but when you don’t im­prove as fast as you hoped, your re­solve weak­ens. It’s why gyms that were crowded in Jan­uary are only half-full in July. One ef­fec­tive way to main­tain mo­ti­va­tion is to set aside a fixed time to prac­tise that’s cleared of all other obli­ga­tions and dis­trac­tions. When I stud­ied vi­olin stu­dents in Ber­lin I found most pre­ferred to prac­tise as soon as they got up – they set up their sched­ules so there was noth­ing else to do at that time. Min­imise the in­flu­ence of any­thing that might in­ter­fere with your train­ing. If you get dis­tracted by your smart­phone, turn it off – and prefer­ably leave it in an­other room. If you’re not a morn­ing per­son, move your ex­er­cise ses­sion to later in the day when your body won’t fight you.

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