Sunday, March 28, 2010

Deliberate practice- motivation

As mentioned in my last blog post, deliberate practice involves activities designed to specifically improve performance. This focused intention of improvement takes lots of effort and can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Ericcson (1993) questioned the source of the experts motivation, and it seems the cost benefit ratio of 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert seems to weight heavily on the cost side. So what is the motivation to sacrifice so much for a limited payout?

Harmonious and Obsessive Passion
In an interesting study done by Vallerand et al. (2007), the authors describe two types of passion, harmonious and obsessive passion. Basically the practictioner who is in harmony with his passion engages in activity for the enjoyment and mastery of skill. Harmonious passion involves doing activity for activity's sake, intrinsic motivation, and creating a feeling of general well being.

Obsessive passion, on the other hand, is extrinsically motivated, focused on engaging in activities for rewards, recognition, and creating a sense of identity by personal achievements. Vallerand reports those that score heavily on obsessive passion report lower levels of subjective well being, and often avoid performances because of a fear of failure and loss of identity.

Harmonious and obsessive passion both lead to deliberate practice, yet the intention for each passion is different. The harmonious practitioners intention is two fold: increased subjective well being and mastery goals. The mastery goals leads to deliberate practice, which in turn leads to improved performance. On the other hand, the obsessive practitioner focuses heavily on goals that will directly improve performance. Besides performance approach goals, the obsessive practictioner may have performance avoidance goals. Performance avoidance can be attributed to fear of failure or damaging a carefully constructed identity. Performance avoidance leads to a decrease in performance.

Can we be both Harmonious and Obsessive?

While Vallerand (2007) labels two distinct paths, I would argue that most practitioners have periods of harmonious and obsessive passion. It has been my experience with martial arts, specifically Judo, that obsessive passion is the path of youth. The young zealous competitor develops an identity through various accomplishments and success in tournaments. Success leads to more success and in an effort to reach the highest attainable level of success, obsessive passion develops. Yet because of the negative affect of obsessive passion and the emotional and physical investment involved in a sport like Judo, more often than not the individual becomes burnt out or finds a more harmonious balance.

Obsession can lead to harmony. Maybe after the burnout the practictioner shifts their goals from the extrinsic to intrinsic. Knowing that they may not be an Olympic champion, they instead focus on teaching or gaining a greater knowledge of the techniques. So in youth we have the energy to invest the extra energy and effort. As we age we don't have the same emotional and physical energy to battle, so we step into the flow and develop a more sustainable practice.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Deliberate practice-an overview


It seems the new catch phrase on the self help blogs is "Deliberate Practice." Running a google search on the term brings up 68,100 results! So what is Deliberate Practice and how can we incorporate it in our life? Deliberate Practice was termed by Anders K. Ericcson in his 1993 paper "The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance," you can download the pdf here. Basically what Ericcson finds is that to become an expert in a field one must invest 10,000 hours and/or 10 years of practice. Furthermore, the practice needs to be focused with the intent of improvement.

In every field there are clear examples of extraordinary performers. Yet, according to Ericcson what all of these extraordinary performers have in common is not superior genetic traits, but the required deliberate practice to reach an expert level. So to improve in a skill or task one should undertake deliberate practice for improvement. Yet don't expect to practice 10 hours a day to be "fast tracked" to an expert level. Ericcson writes, "expert performance is not reached with less than 10 years of deliberate practice. Most likely extreme practice will lead to burn out and a discontinuation of practice.

Second, deliberate practice starts at low levels and increases slowly over time." So deliberate practice starts at a consistent but reasonable level (1 hr a day?). From there the practitioner gets used to the routine of daily deliberate practice. Over years as the performer becomes more comfortable with deliberate practice, their ability to practice increases. Ultimately at the highest levels, experts spend an average of 20 hours of deliberate practice a week. This doesn't count other activities that correspond with the activity though. Ericcson describes eminent scientists who spend 80 hours a week on activities related to their scientific study!!

So how does one start on the path of expertise? According to Erricson the path to expertise starts when we are very young. In his study of expert violinists and pianists, on average the experts started between 5-7 years of age! These musicians didn't have exceptional talent at this age, just a curiousity and interest in music.

Environmental factors play a significant role in continual deliberate practice. Most likely a parent or teacher notices the child's interest in music and signs them up for classes. From there the child starts practicing a few hours a week, and if they continue to practice their practice time continues to increase. Thus it takes the necessary resources and environment to reach a level of expertise. Beyond environmental factors, motivational factors (I will talk more about this later), and genetics (not as much of a factor) play a role in the expert acquisition of skills.