Personal Development Exercises 6. How To Be An Expert

Are you an Olympian, a clubber or an amateur when it comes to perfecting your craft?

Your craft can be anything in which you want to excel or be outstanding at. It may be that you want to work on your communication skills, your IT skills, piano playing, or being the best in your professional field. Fill in your own topic.

If you want to be good at something, really good at it, most of us know that we have to practise and practise regularly. However, research has shown that we can often be spending a huge amount of time practising poorly.

People’s typing skills for example, rarely get beyond adequate because we get to a level where we can do it, and although we are doing it every day (I may be talking about myself here, by the way) we stay with that level of competence and don’t push ourselves to type with our eyes shut, use more than two fingers, find out the correct way to do it, and really improve. We plateau on ‘good enough’.

Which is fine if you’re happy to stay an amateur.

Psychologist Anders Ericsson has researched this topic extensively and says:

“With the exception of the influence of height and body size in some sports, no characteristic of the brain or body has yet been shown to constrain an individual from reaching an expert level.”

Proper Practice Makes Perfect

Ericsson describes how dedicated figure skaters practise differently on the ice: Olympic hopefuls work on skills they have yet to master. Club skaters, in contrast, work on skills they already do well. Amateurs tend to spend half of their time at the rink chatting with friends and not practising at all. Simply put, skaters can all spend the same amount of time at the rink, put in the same number of hours but all will achieve very different results because of how they practise, not because of some innate talent some have and others don’t.

His research shows that this holds true for every skill you can think of from playing chess, the violin, to giving speeches, getting on with other people, and holding sensitive conversations. The number of hours we spend practising is far less important though, than the receiving clear and frequent feedback against a known standard. And when we are practising we have to give it our utmost concentration.

So this is your personal development exercise: what skills do you need to work on to enhance the quality of your life? At what level do you currently operate in relation to this skill set? Do you need to be operating at a higher more proficient level? Are you motivated to do this? How can you do this?

The first post in this series is here.

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Posted on August 21st, 2012 by

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