Deliberate Practice, Habits and Rituals

A conversation with friends at dinner made me think about deliberate practice a little bit more tonight. I have been thinking about Habits and Rituals for quite some time. Countless articles and books dissect genius and find out that the success is basically nothing but an outcome of “deliberate practice”. It is said that if you practice anything deliberately for 10,000 hours you would be one of the very few masters of that thing on this planet. I believe it’s completely true. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this and everyday some blog post talks about this.

If we all knew that the secret of success is deliberate practice why aren’t we all super stars in our chosen field already? Because it’s far more harder to do that than to say it. I mean the practice may not be that hard at all, but the deliberate part of it is definitely hard. I have been reading Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement. It’s a very interesting idea of looking at our lives from the perspective of *energy*. There are many ways we can divide up our lives. We humans can’t take the whole day by it’s own – we have our own way of chunking and handling our days. Some people divide it by tasks. There is a whole plethora of books, techniques, like GTD,  about how to best manage tasks. Some people divide it by time – instead of taking up a task and doing it, they spend certain amount of time on the task at hand, once the time is up they relax take a break and may be decide to spend another chunk of time on it – Pomodoro technique is one of the many available ones.

But Tony Schwartz talks about dividing it up based on energy. He doesn’t completely define or care about how enthusiastic you are at any given time or whether it’s physical energy etc – but it’s more subtle than that. He talks about how we have certain energy (a mix of physical, mental and emotional) and we don’t have whole lot of it. So, his core idea is – to manage energy. How does he recommend it? Rituals.

Think about it, the most successful people around you definitely have some kind of ritual that makes them stand apart. The friends who are healthier than you are the ones who have a ritual of working out religiously. The people who are peaceful are the ones who attend meditation regularly. Similarly people who are good at doing what they do have some ritual which they follow – no matter what comes into their life.

So these rituals are very simple steps that these people follow to make them who they are. The cool thing about a ritual is – once you get a hang of it, once the body and mind gets used to it – its welcomed whole heartedly. And there are theories around that too (like 21 day rule, or 40 day rule etc). But rituals make or break a successful career, path etc.

Next comes habit – once you follow these rituals regularly and get over that hump of resistance – it’s all smooth sailing from there. It will become a habit. Habit is a mental shortcut. It’s what we do without thinking consciously. It’s the mind’s way to store up a whole lot of instructions in very few synapses. Habits can go both ways. Habits could be a mental short cut helping you or they could also be your blind spots. Habits that are resourceful are the ones that help us.

So what does it entail in the end? Why am I talking about this? I think the only way to make deliberate practice easy is to make a habit out of it. And the only way to create a successful habit is through a ritual. I think that pretty much is a sure path to success in whatever you are planning to do.

Being a programmer it’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the technology that flows by. I am like a kid in a toy store when it comes to all the technology around me (no not the gadgets part of it, but the problem solving part of it). But I can’t be successful in what I want to do if I don’t deliberately practice good problem solving in my career. To make my life easier, here are couple of rituals I have been following –

1. First 90 mins of my day are really important – when I wake up, my mind is fresh and anything I take up at that time just gets absorbed. So, for the first 90 minutes of my day I work on stuff that I love most – in this case – Cocoa programming.

2. Priority List – The night before I sleep I make a list of highest priority things for the next day. That way I can just get on the most important things immediately without wasting time.

3. Email and Chat – When I am focusing, I turn off my email and chat – that really helps.

4. While driving (alone) –  I take up a idea/concept I learned and try to explain it to the non-present 5 year old sitting next to me. Just try to break it down. (I know I know it’s kinda crazy, but it’s part of my ritual)

5. While idle – I try to chant and focus on my breath trying to stay in present.

There are couple of things I want to add to my ritual  like blogging – both personal and technical but I don’t want to overwhelm myself and lose it.

So there you go. The secret of any success is : Deiberate Practice <– Habits <– Rituals. Craft easy and simple rituals and pretty soon you will be successful at what you want to achieve.

Here are some of the books to explore if you want to learn more:

1. The Power of full Engagement

2. The now habit

3. War of Art (not the other Art of War)