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Practice Does Make Perfect: The Value of Deliberate Practice

By on February 5, 2008 – 5:42 am  20 Comments

Sherri Fisher, MAPP '06, M.Ed., Director of Learn & Flourish LLC, is a leader in the field of positive education. An education management consultant and coach, workshop facilitator and author, Sherri uses the POS-EDGE Model to incorporate research-based findings from strengths psychology and behavioral economics into positive, personalized, best-practice strategies for learning, parenting, and work. Full Bio. Sherri's articles are here.

Florida State University researcher K. Anders Ericsson is best known for his work as the expert on expertise, studying top performers in fields as diverse as medicine, athletics, chess and music. Ericsson set out to find out what makes some people the “best of the best.”

What he has discovered may contradict everything you have come to believe about exceptional performance, and may even make you wonder about your supposedly inborn strengths. Debunking the conventional wisdom, showing that those at the top of their fields are made, not born, Ericsson’s work opens the door for a new understanding about how individuals become “tops.”

Here are some important findings that can inform the ways we understand amazing performances. Also see previous articles from various authors on this site covering the following topics:




1. The best performers practice the most. Good performers practice only 20% of the time that top performers do, regardless of talent or ability. Without practice, Tiger Woods is only a very good player.

2. Gradual, disciplined refinement of particular aspects of one’s performance are part of this practice, and are required to get to expert levels. Ask Sarah and Emily Hughes’ parents what it took to get to the Oympics.

3. Get regular, immediate feedback from a top coach or teacher that reinforces refinement, whether you are an actor, athlete, musician, physician or chess player. Think of Cate Blanchett or Daniel Day-Lewis, Dr. Benjamin Carson (eminent pediatric neurosurgeon), or Yo-Yo Ma. They have all worked with coaches; they all seek mastery of their craft.

4. Spend extensive time—10, 000 hours of solitary practice spent before the age of 20 characterized the most expert performers. They spent time in highly focused, mindful practice, noting through constant self-evaluation how they could improve to even higher levels.

Pushing up goals

5. Set strategic goals for self-improvement. The most expert performers develop what my students and I call a “unique technique.” They make note of exactly how they may be different from other top performers, (whose work they take careful note of) and how that difference works for them.

Here’s why I believe practice is important, seen through the lens of my three favorite “selves”:

    self-regulation: Practice requires goal-setting and perseverance.

    self-efficacy: Practice till the point of success reinforces the “how” you will need to be able to replicate—or even improve—a performance.

    self-determination: Practice that you choose, that you determine, is valuable to you. Yes, there are necessary extrinsic motivators along the way, as any coach or parent or teacher will tell you. But when you choose a habit of mindful practice, it is your success, not just what someone else made you do.

Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Start creating those chances: Practice!


  • […] Fisher heeft een interessant berichtje geschreven over deliberate practice /* ‘); /* ]]> */ /* […]

  • Senia says:

    What a great article. Am really enjoying your top 5, top 10 lists articles, Sherri. Merci.

  • […] click here to read more about how to practice happiness […]

  • MFTMike says:

    Explaining what leads to success in this manner has really worked for my clients.

  • Sherri says:

    Hi, Senia–

    Glad you find those posts very useful.. I will keep that in mind for future ones 🙂

    I had lunch with Dr. Ericsson in June and was fascinated by his research since it is another one of those subfields of PP which have direct connections to teaching and learning. There was a NYT article last week about practice that reminded me to write about it. It mentioned Mike Csikszentmihalyi and flow, but not the researcher who actually studies practice! So there you have it–I have filled in that missing piece.

  • Jeff Dustin says:

    Sherri & Nicholas (Nick?),

    I loved the article on expertise. I think educators should have a working knowledge of the principles of expertise. Plus it was just a really fun article to read.
    “Practice makes Permanent” I once read in a brain-based pedagogy manual. From a sports psych book “Perfect practice makes perfect”.

    You know what I’d like to see from you? An article with accelerated learning as its theme. You are the expert on learning, so I think that would make for an exciting read.

    Peace as a character strength? Interesting and creative and I never would have thought of it. With self-awareness, will this make #26. VIA will have some serious rewriting of questionnaires to do.

    I love the idea of peace as a strength, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around it. I look at those regions of the world which are dominated by warfare, the Sudan, Eastern Europe, Chechnya, pick a country in the Middle East and I ask myself if peace would work for the oppressed? Sometimes war is the least evil answer of many poor options. Can you remain peaceful while waging war or struggling with an opposition group? Does that fit into your framework for peace as a strength?

  • Mimi says:

    Hi Sherri,

    Wondering what/if anything was said about the satisfaction/happiness of these top performers?

  • Sulynn says:

    Great article with useful reminders Sherri! EJ knows this by heart but sometimes the disconnect between know and do gets in the way and the ‘elephant’ gets the blame 🙂

  • jeff dustin says:


    That is a very interesting question. Just because you are a top performer, I bet that doesn’t equate to a happy top performer. I’d like to know Sherri’s answer to that one.

  • Jeff Dustin says:

    If happiness is a skill, or at least skill based, is it reasonable to assume that regular practice could potentially build expertise in happiness? That seems to be the assumptive premise of this website.

    Something that excites me is the concept of an online Virtual Happiness Gym (VHG). Sort of a virtual place where you can practice, get feedback and social support, create your own customized happiness interventions/tactics/strategies. Maybe some researchers could share pro bono questionnaires like the Oxford Happiness Quiz, CES-D, Seligman Authentic Happiness Questionnaire, VIA, whatever.

    The key extension that goes above and beyond just theorizing about happiness strategies is the actual practice of these interventions. The biggest splinter under my thumbnail is that there are no VHG easily accessible from The vast internet is a fertile valley for growing interventions and informally testing them. Borrowing Kathryn Britton’s concept of the tension between application & evaluation, a successful VHG would guarantee forward movement of application. Assuredly. (Even if I’m the only one using it)!

    I think that a VHG would best provide free access to interested parties who want to improve their personal and community happiness levels. A small step toward a VHG might be a simple forum option on It could function as a sort of workspace to play with the ideas mentioned by the brilliant authors here.

    The best bit of all would be that simple anonymous data-tracking could provide tentative support for newly minted interventions from this site’s articles. A simple (anonymous) tally of happiness/depression scores individualized to each category of intervention could prove quite enlightening and spur more directions for creative growth.

    I’m sure everyone here is intimately familiar with and its quizzes? Why not selectively use these probes (and others) to measure increases possibly related by VHG practice. Where, I ask, is the harm? If nobody uses it, what has lost? A few hours of theorizing and chit-chat amongst PP educated friends and partners? Isn’t that what the authors here do anyway?

    You can’t learn to play the piano without a place to practice. Why should the skill of flourishing prove any different? The bottom line is that I’d commit to using a VHG and I think I’m among the many readers who would benefit.

  • […] Sherri Fisher recently blogged about some research into expert-level performance by K. Anders Ericsson, professor of psychology at Florida State University, that points to the importance of a particular type of practice regimen—one that Ericsson calls “deliberate practice.” […]

  • […] Change can be frightening, and taking action means effecting change. There is a great deal of comfort in the status quo, but remaining inert will not move you any closer to your personal goals. […]

  • Sherri says:


    The simple answer to your question is that then it would not be science. Your idea is interesting, and I know of an organization that has a “Coaching Gym” which functions as you suggest. It is moderated by a counselor/coach.

    The other reason is that once it is not science, you cannot account for all of the outcomes since confounds are not controlled for.

    Reflective Learning offers validated interventions on line. See what you think.

  • […] Read more (via  Positive psychology News Daily) People who read this post also readPersonal practices of conversation […]

  • […] Faced with a raw chicken, fresh vegetables, and a mound of potatoes, a person can produce a satisfying meal. They can choose to add garlic and herbs or leave out the mushrooms. People who really like to cook may take cooking lessons and are likely to take cuisine-specific classes in their areas of greatest interest and strength or even attend culinary institutes that reveal the advanced techniques of food preparation. To become truly proficient, they practice, practice, practice. (see my article on the benefits of sustained practice) […]

  • […] 面对着生鸡、蔬菜及一堆马铃薯,人们有能力煮一桌可口的菜,他们可选择加进蒜茸、香草或蘑菇。非常喜欢烹饪的人会上烹饪班,学习他们有兴的特色地方菜肴,有些甚至会到教授深入的食材知识的烹饪学院。要成为一流的高手,他们需要不断地练习、练习、再练习。(请看我写关于持续练习的好处的文章) […]

  • […] 面對著生雞、蔬菜及一堆薯仔,人們有能力泡製一桌可口的菜,他們可選擇加進蒜茸、香草或蘑菇。非常喜歡烹飪的人會上烹飪班,學習他們有興趣的特色地方菜餚,有些甚至會到教授深入的食材知識的烹飪學院。要成為一流的高手,他們需要不斷地練習、練習、再練習。(請看我寫關於持續練習的好處的文章) […]

  • […] can help you make a list of tactics and identify strengths you will employ in the service of your SMART goals. Ask your coach or another rider (what we call an “Aristotelian Friend” in Positive Psychology) […]

  • […] 要培養自律的品質需要「先想想,後行動」。輔導員可以幫你列出策略並鼓勵你運用自己的強項去達成你的「SMART目標」 。 詢問一下你的輔導員或其他騎者(在正向心理學中,我們稱之為亞里士多德式的朋友)去幫你保持在正確的軌道上。 […]

  • […] 要培养自律的品质需要“先想想,后行动”。教练可以帮你列出策略并鼓励你运用自己的长处去达成你的“SMART目标” 。 询问一下你的教练或其他骑者(在正向心理学中,我们称之为亚里士多德式的朋友)去帮你保持在正确的轨道上。 […]

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