Naive vs. Deliberate Practice: Practice & Knowledge

  • A key to continued growth is knowing the difference between “naive practice” (a form of repetition) and “purposeful or deliberate” teaching practice, which specifically builds on strengths and improves weaknesses.
  • Is someone who has been driving for twenty years a better driver than someone who has been driving for five? The answer seems obvious, doesn’t it? Anders Ericsson, who has spent his lifetime researching how people develop expertise in every walk of life, teaches us that—amazingly—the answer is, no!
  • Presumably, effort of most any type by the beginner brings results. But after we have a solid baseline and are performing the activity (such as teaching) in an “automatic” way, then teaching more often simply becomes a form of “naive practice” and does not bring improvement.
  • Ericsson explains naive practice as “essentially just doing something repeatedly, and expecting that the repetition alone will improve one’s performance.”
  • “Deliberate practice” or “purposeful practice” is undertaken specifically to improve. It includes identifying weaknesses and setting up your practice and study to systematically address them. In teaching, this could mean challenging yourself to introduce more Sanskrit or anatomy, or asking a mentor for feedback on how you teach a visualization, and so on.

After Automation, You Stop Improving

Once you have reached [a] satisfactory skill level and automated your performance – your driving, your tennis playing, your baking of pies – you have stopped improving. People often misunderstand this because they assume that the continued driving or tennis playing or pie baking is a form of practice and that if they keep doing it they are bound to get better at it, slowly perhaps, but better nonetheless. They assume that someone who has been driving for twenty years must be a better driver than someone who has been driving for five, that a doctor who has been practicing medicine for twenty years must be a better doctor than one who has been practicing for five… But no. Research has shown that, generally speaking, once a person reaches that level of “acceptable” performance and automaticity, the additional years of “practice” don’t lead to improvement. – Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool