Chris Nikic embraced the power of getting 1% better every day and in November 2020 became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an IRONMAN Triathlon. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a full 26.2-mile marathon run. It’s truly an inspirational story, and also a powerful lesson about deliberate practice.
Whether you’re an athlete working to accomplish a Guinness World Record or a high performing surgeon with a slim margin for improvement in a surgical procedure, operating in a deliberate practice model is a path to greater improvement and higher achievement.
What Is Deliberate Practice?
As surgeons, we don’t get better overnight or without hard work. We learned that lesson well in medical school and residency. What we may not have embraced is the power of getting better 1% at a time. Making incremental improvements in many areas can lead to profound achievement.
Taking the power of 1% further, deliberate practice is a theory by K. Anders Ericsson, PhD, that defines the process of reaching expert performance in athletics, music, medicine, or any other domain. Deliberate practice is intentional, skill-focused, and requires feedback from a teacher or coach (1). Dr. Ericsson’s theory of deliberate practice involves:
- Task-based processes with a forward-looking clear goal
- Motivation to get better
- Feedback from a teacher or coach
- Extensive opportunities for repetition and incremental adjustments in execution
Utilizing Deliberate Practice to Get to the Next Level
How can you use the theory of deliberate practice to get to the next level? Think about a specific procedure or “soft skill” that you want to improve. That improvement is not going to happen overnight. You have to put in the work to get better at it, which may seem daunting at first. Instead of thinking about mastering the procedure or skill all at once, frame your approach to improvement as getting 1% better every day. I can think of so many procedures or skills that may require some adjustments to this reframing. To create the appropriate perspective and feedback, confer with a great teacher, mentor, or coach. With enough time and deliberate practice, the progression to competency, proficiency, and mastery will be evident to those that wish to benefit from these skills.
How can deliberate practice and the power of getting 1% better be applied to your practice?
Anders Ericsson, K. “Deliberate Practice and Acquisition of Expert Performance: A General Overview.” Academic Emergency Medicine, vol. 15, no. 11, Nov. 2008, pp. 988–994, 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2008.00227.x.