A boy at a desk reading.

The Deliberate Practice of Learning

I was a terrible student until I entered college, and even then, the first two semesters were a disaster. I believed I wasn’t smart because I couldn’t keep up, especially in math class. I loved learning, but what I didn’t understand was that learning is a skill. It’s not about having a high IQ or the fastest reading speed, it’s about practicing knowledge acquisition. Learning how to learn is a gorgeous addiction.

If you’ve ever tried playing guitar, you’ll know what I’m taking about. Everyone wants to write music like Taylor Swift or strap on an electric guitar and jam with Eddie Van Halen – but you can’t. At least, not yet. And most people who “learn” guitar will never be good enough to do so despite thousands of hours of practice. Why? Because they have poor practicing habits.

Just because you love the guitar, that doesn’t give you the right to be a good guitar player. And just because you love reading and learning, that won’t give you a direct path to higher intelligence. You must practice your art deliberately.

“The hallmark of purposeful or deliberate practice is that you try to do something you cannot do — that takes you out of your comfort zone — and that you practice it over and over again, focusing on exactly how you are doing it, when you are falling short, and how you can get better” (Ericsson and Pool 157).

Ericsson and Pool are the authorities on deliberate practice. According to them, if you want to be a better guitarist, you can’t spend hours playing the songs you already know. You have to be honest with yourself, identify where you’re weak, and drill into those areas. If you’re terrible at music theory, design a practice where the guitar stays in the corner and you spend the afternoon writing out chords with an added 9th. Do the paperwork. Master the theory.

As a learner, it’s all the same. If you passively watch YouTube videos, you’ll only get so far. To learn is to engage with the material. Consider the skills it takes to understand something well: reading, comprehension, note-taking, organization, and application.

If you want to become a great learner, treat it like a skill. Do you have a note-taking system? Do you have a quality teacher? Have you set aside the appropriate amount of time to not only read the material, but to engage with it?

Begin today by making an assessment of what you need to work on as a student of life. Then create a plan to chip away at that weakness with deliberate practice every day. If you’re bad at taking notes, start there. Learn the different note-taking strategies and find what works for you.

The art of learning is a skill worth developing. When you take your education seriously, you find yourself on the upward path.

Until tomorrow, read slowly – take notes – apply the ideas.



Works Cited

Ericsson, Anders, and Robert Pool. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. First Mariner Books edition, Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

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