Decade after decade, year after year, human performance continues to improve. Since the second half of the twentieth century in particular, we have seen a constant increase in the time that people devote to practicing a certain discipline, using increasingly sophisticated training techniques, and gradually producing better results.
This is evident in many disciplines from dance, to music, sport, and medicine. It may be that this improvement is not perceptible from one year to the next, but this progress becomes evident when we look back on what has been achieved after some time.
Practice elevates human ability, which appears to be limitless, and can continually improve. This is because our brain and body are adaptable, and able to develop skills that previously seemed impossible to us, step by step.
These discoveries are relatively recent, and were unknown to the professionals who made extraordinary improvements in performance over the last century. By making this information accessible to everyone, it can be applied by more people, helping them to achieve results at any level of learning, in the broadest sense of the term, whether it be during their schooling or in their professional careers.
The authors introduce us to the concept of targeted practice, which they contrast with that of naive practice, which consists simply of continuing to do something, in the hope that repetition alone will improve your performance.
Targeted practice pushes us to do things that we didn't know how to do before, simply by engaging in a different way, because:
- It has specific objectives, which are very well-defined. For example, if we are music students, one goal of our practice might be to play a piece from start to finish, at the right speed, three times in a row, without making any mistakes. By outlining specific objectives, we can evaluate the effectiveness of the activity we are engaging in;
- it is focused: we improve when we are fully focused on what we are doing, free from distractions;
- it requires feedback: we need to know if we are doing well or not, and possibly where we are going wrong;
- it requires stepping out of your comfort zone: this is the most important aspect, because targeted practice starts from the assumption that everything can always be improved upon, and, therefore, constantly pushes us beyond our limits. A pianist who repeats the same songs over and over again, for years, not only fails to improve, but their performance will even deteriorate over time.