The Myth and Magic of Deliberate Practice

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In recent years, the study of hard work has developed into a scientific pursuit named “deliberate practice”- focused and effortful training as the recipe for success. To demonstrate an example of deliberate practice, here is a little-known story about how Joe DiMaggio acquired his exceptional ability to become one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.

As the story goes, a journalist was interviewing DiMaggio at his home and asked him what it felt like to be such a “natural hitter.” Without saying a word, he dragged the reporter downstairs. In the shadows of the basement, DiMaggio picked up a bat and began to repeat a series of practice swings. Before each swing, he would call out a particular pitch such as “fastball, low and away” or “slider, inside” and adjust his approach accordingly.

Once he finished the routine, DiMaggio set the bat down, picked up a piece of chalk, and scratched a tally mark on the wall. Then he flicked on the lights to reveal thousands of tally marks covering the basement walls. Supposedly, DiMaggio then looked at the journalist and said, “Don’t you ever tell me that I’m a natural hitter again.”

We love stories like this—stories that highlight how remarkable success is the product of effort and perseverance. To maximize our potential, we need to know when deliberate practice makes the difference between success and failure and when it doesn’t.

The Deliberate Practice Myth

The myth of deliberate practice is that you can fashion yourself into anything with enough work and effort. While human beings possess a remarkable ability to develop their skills, your genes set a boundary around what is possible.

Experts have discovered that our genes impact nearly every human trait including short-term memory to mental processing speed to willingness to practice. Some researchers have estimated that our genes account for 25-35 percent of differences in performance.

So where does this leave us?

While genetics influence performance, they do not determine performance. Do not confuse destiny with opportunity. Genes provide opportunity. They do not determine our destiny. It’s similar to a game of cards. You have a better opportunity if you are dealt a better hand, but you also need to play the hand well to win.

If you can’t win by being better, then win by being different. By combining your skills, you reduce the level of competition, which makes it much easier to stand out regardless of your natural abilities.

The Magic of Deliberate Practice

Sun Tzu, the legendary military strategist who wrote The Art of War, believed in only fighting battles where the odds were in his favor. He wrote, “In war, the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won.”

Similarly, we should seek to fight battles where the genetic odds are in our favor. If you aspire to maximize your success, then you should train hard and practice deliberately in areas where the genetic odds are in your favor (or where you can overlap your skills in a compelling way).

Deliberate practice is necessary for success, but it is not sufficient. The people at the top of any competitive field are both well-suited and well-trained. To maximize your potential, you need to not only engage in consistent and purposeful practice, but also to align your ambitions with your natural abilities.

Regardless of where we choose to apply ourselves, deliberate practice can help us maximize our potential—no matter what cards we were dealt. That is the magic of deliberate practice. It turns potential into reality.


This article was originally published on JamesClear.com. James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

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Tips for Managing Stress During the Holidays

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Stress is a natural part of our daily lives. It can be triggered by pressure to meet deadlines, too many time demands, illness, or other serious life changes.

During the upcoming holiday season, here are some steps that can help you learn to better cope with stress:

  • Set priorities: Decide what must get done and what can wait.  Learn to say no to new tasks if you are overwhelmed. Plan ahead to avoid last-minute shopping or other stressful situations.
  • Learn when to say no: Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity.
  • Stick to a budget: before you go shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.
  • Stay in touch with people who can provide emotional and other support. Ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations to reduce stress due to work responsibilities or family issues, such as caring for a loved one.
  • Volunteering your time to help others is a great way to lift your spirits and broaden friendships.
  • Take a breather: make time to do relaxing activities you enjoy, such as outdoor activities, listening to music, watching a movie or reading a good book.
  • Avoid dwelling on problems: focus on what you have accomplished, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Don’t abandon your healthy habits: get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly. Just 30 minutes per day of moderate walking can help boost mood and reduce stress.

Wishing you a Happy Holiday Season and a Prosperous 2017.

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The Domino Effect

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The Domino Effect states that when you make a change to one behavior it will activate a chain reaction and cause a shift in related behaviors as well.

Many of the habits and routines that make up our daily lives are related to one another. There is an astounding interconnectedness between the systems of life and human behavior is no exception. The inherent relatedness of things is a core reason why choices in one area of life can lead to surprising results in other areas, regardless of the plans you make.

The Domino Effect capitalizes on one of the core principles of human behavior: commitment and consistency. This phenomenon is explained in the classic book on human behavior, Influence by Robert Cialdini. The core idea is that if people commit to an idea or goal, even in a very small way, they are more likely to honor that commitment because they now see that idea or goal as being aligned with their self-image.

The Domino Effect not only creates a cascade of new behaviors, but often a shift in personal beliefs as well. As each tiny domino falls, you start believing new things about yourself and building identity-based habits.

The Rules of the Domino Effect

The Domino Effect is not merely a phenomenon that happens to you, but something you can create. It is within your power to spark a chain reaction of good habits by building new behaviors that naturally lead to the next successful action.

There are three keys to making this work in real life. Here are the three rules of the Domino Effect:

1. Start with the thing you are most motivated to do. Start with a small behavior and do it consistently. This will not only feel satisfying, but also open your eyes to the type of person you can become. It does not matter which domino falls first, as long as one falls.

2. Maintain momentum and immediately move to the next task you are motivated to finish. Let the momentum of finishing one task carry you directly into the next behavior. With each repetition, you will become more committed to your new self-image.

3. When in doubt, break things down into smaller chunks. As you try new habits, focus on keeping them small and manageable. The Domino Effect is about progress, not results. Simply maintain the momentum. Let the process repeat as one domino automatically knocks down the next.

When one habit fails to lead to the next behavior, it is often because the behavior does not adhere to these three rules. There are many different paths to getting dominoes to fall. Focus on the behavior you are excited about and let it cascade throughout your life.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com. James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science‐based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

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