Why Deliberate Practice? Getting Off the Amateur Plateau

I love this graphic by Kathy Sierra.

Often performance improves but then levels off, stranding us on the amateur plateau.  Our performance plateaus because we become “good enough” at what we do to solve our immediate problem. For example, early on through effort, trial and error, and supervisor feedback we develop enough skill to deal with many situational demands (e.g., early on we learned a way to do an intake session or suggest sleep hygiene ideas or assess suicide risk that seemed good enough to get the job done). Then these ways of doing things became increasingly automatic-it’s easy and efficient to do an intake or respond to a clinical problem the way we have always done it.  From the point when we reach automaticity of a skill, experience alone does not produce performance improvements.

Instead, part of what’s needed to get off the amateur plateau and move toward true expertise is a process called deliberate practice.  Deliberate practice is when you choose to practice what you are not good at with “sustained, mindful efforts to develop the full range of abilities that success requires.” (Gawande, A. Personal Best. The New Yorker, 2011).  Like the way a musician might rehearse a difficult passage of music phrase by phrase or an athlete might drill to improve a small but key move.

Taking the expertise research literature seriously leads to a different approach to teaching and learning as therapists. This motivates our intent at PracticeGround to be shoulder-to-shoulder with colleagues for the long haul, to work where things are hard, to build expertise that improves client outcomes. I think there’s a cadre of colleagues who share this value—do you think so? Would love to hear your thoughts (email me kelly@ebpi.org).