What does it take to get really good at something?

June 13, 2011

I’m reading Daniel Coyne’s The Talent Code right now which is getting me all fired up about deliberate practice, talent, and myelin (his website is worth checking out at http://thetalentcode.com/) .   On his site one of his links is Fires in the Mind, which you can visit at http://firesinthemind.org/.  They ask “What does it take to get really good at something?”  And their answer is:  “deliberate practice.”

Elements of Deliberate Practice

What elements qualify something as deliberate practice? Many researchers into cognition and learning describe it as follows:

  • Practice has an express purpose.
  • Practice demands attention and focus.
  • Practice involves conscious repetition or rehearsal.
  • Practice is geared to the individual.
  • Practice takes careful timing.
  • Practice is not inherently enjoyable.
  • Practice develops new skills and knowledge.
  • Practice applies to new endeavors.

What is NOT Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is not the same as work. “When I’m fixing something on my car,” said Ruben, “I might be doing my best, but I’m not exactly practicing a technique. I’m just trying to get the car repaired.”

Deliberate practice is not the same as play. “When I sit down with my guitar just for fun, I’m not necessarily trying to improve my technique or anything,” said Marquis.

Deliberate practice is not the same as rote repetition. All practice involves repetition. But unless they care about what they are repeating and why, students are “doing it just to do it”—not to learn. “We have to memorize chemistry formulas for the test,” said Christian. “But I never remember them later if I don’t get what they’re about.”

Reprinted by permission from Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery, by Kathleen Cushman and the students of What Kids Can Do. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2008. For more information, go to www.firesinthemind.org


One Response to “What does it take to get really good at something?”

  1. Laura Lentz Says:

    A good followup article to points raised in this post appeared in the New York Times on 11/20/2011 entitled Sorry, Strivers: Talent Matters, can be found here:


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