The Performance Mindset Guru Who Invented Deliberate Practice Reveals How To Learn To Win

When Geoff Colvin released his book Talent Is Overrated with its scientific studies, he turned the performance psychology world on its head, and introduced the ground-breaking concept of Deliberate Practice.

This deceptively simple approach to getting better at something is a liberating idea where high performance is decoupled from innate talent, or mysterious ‘gifts’. Simply put, you don’t need to be born good at something – you can learn how to be awesome at it!

Having said that, the way you go about putting the work in is crucial, especially because many who set out to do this get it completely wrong, and waste their time, eventually giving up because no progress is made, or they reach a plateau.

RSNG spoke to Colvin to find out how to apply deliberate practice to improving your golf game (or any other high performance challenge). With a bit of time and application you can take the game to superior opposition, and beat them!

Whether you're talking about sports or anything else, all of the great performers seem to have deliberate practice in common – they do it a lot of it every day for years

Realize That Talent May Be Overrated By Geoff Colvin’s own admission, when he wrote Talent is Overrated, his focus was on those who had talent and those who, by definition, didn’t. The award-winning speaker, broadcaster and author admits his scientific findings challenged his own preconceptions, not least when it came to the idea that practice makes perfect:

“We are always led to believe if someone has been doing something for a long time they will be getting better at it,” he begins. “In reality, that isn’t necessarily true.

“In fact, the evidence is that people may well get worse, because you have laziness and complacency that creeps into the picture; and there is no greater complacency in a golfer when going into a match expecting to win.”

Why Deliberate Practice Wins Colvin’s studies on deliberate practice outline something that is fundamental to the idea of beating a superior opponent – namely that at some point, and to keep on beating them, you will essentially need to become better than them.

“With deliberate practice, there is no cheat mechanism, and the principle revolves solely around your own game rather than trying to affect that of another player; but it is the only real thing that will enable you to consistently beat superior opposition, to the point where you will no longer regard them as superior… and neither will they!” he says.

“So whether you're talking about sports or music or business or teaching or anything else, what all of the great performers seem to have in common is this particular specific activity of deliberate practice, and in particular, doing a lot of it every day for years.”

The good news is you don't need any innate gift – the road to great performance is long and hard but it is available!

If this sounds like hard work, then consider that it is also something of a motivational magic bullet to overcome previously insurmountable opposition and obstacles. “The good news is you don't need any innate gift – the road to great performance is long and hard, and nobody says it's easy; but the good news is it's available!

“This is an incredibly liberating message because it says that all of us have at least the ability to be much, much better performers than we are; and if we want to go all the way we have certain bounds that all of us may operate within.” says Colvin. “So we all have the ability to be actually great performers if we just know how it's done.”

Colvin says there are four core rules of deliberate practice, which can make it a workable and realistic route towards better performance for anyone:

1. Be Specific And Progressive “Firstly, pursuing Deliberate Practice means undertaking an activity – putting, driving, chipping – that is designed especially for you at your particular stage of development in golf. And yet it’s going to change because as you get better the activities are going to have to change to reflect that.”

2. Push Into Failure “Second, the activity must be designed to push you just beyond what you can currently do, and in that respect you need to be prepared to fail at it, because by that very definition you are not yet at that level, although you strive to be in the future. Essentially, you cannot operate within your current abilities, because then you don't grow. It is about constantly pushing you just beyond what you can do.”

3. Crank Up The Volume “Next, it needs to be at high volume – it turns out that doing these practice activities at high volume literally changes the structure of your brain; it causes physical changes in your brain, and specifically it causes a substance called myelin to form around some of the connections in your brain.”

4. Gain The Feedback “The final element is continual feedback – you can't get better if you don't know how you're doing, so you need some kind of continual feedback to tell you how you're progressing, or not – it’s a barometer, and that’s essential.”

If you were on the fence about getting a golf coach (or any kind of sports coach) then the idea of deliberate practice should have persuaded you that they are worth their weight in gold, and this applies to strength and conditioning coaches too.

Not only will a coach be able to assess your performance level, in order to set you challenges that push into failure, but they will also be able to specifically target areas to improve, be able to set the correct volume of practice to avoid excessive fatigue, and give you the accurate continual feedback you need to know how you are progressing. So, what are you waiting for – get out there and practice!

WHAT NEXT? Self-improvement can be a long and tough road, so boost your drive with these psychologist-approved motivational hacks….

Photos: Adobe Stock