High-performance via deliberate practice, like Clive Woodward’s winning teams.

We discuss the concepts that underpin the process of becoming a high performer and developing excellence in your chosen field or endeavour. To begin the podcast Tougher Minds founder Dr. Jon Finn reminded us that many people believe that talent is something you’re born with.

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Podcast transcript

In this Tougher Minds podcast, we’re discussing the concepts that underpin the process of becoming a high performer and developing excellence in your chosen field or endeavor. The discussion is based on a chapter of our free Ebook, the Elite Business Athlete. The book explains how performance secrets from global sporting icons can be beneficial and transformative for everyone. To begin the podcast Tougher Minds found a Dr.Jon Finn reminded us that many people believe that talent is something you’re born with.

I think there’s a common misconception that when people see someone who is very good at something, he’s kind of a human disposition to assume that they were bold to be good at that particular thing because that’s how our brains work. Our brains are very much about predicting. I’m predicting people’s abilities and often we lose. The five practices is very important in getting good at something. We used to talk about nature versus nurture, so I people bought to be grit or is it about the practice? The argument doesn’t really exist in contemporary insights in contemporary debates. What we’re talking about now is nurture, nurture, so we know that genetics are important, in our abilities to do certain things. However, what is also very important, the maybe the more important these genetics is practice and actually really practicing the skills that you want to get better, better, right, in whichever, whichever field you work in. So if we take the sporting context, we know the off the back of certain properly. We get recent success. He was talking about the fact that him and his teammates were working on Christmas Day and not get on the edge a little. The very famous world class athlete had a long period of his career where he wasn’t winning medals, where he was struggling when he talks about the changes that you made to the way you practiced and how that’s impacted on his ability to become one of the best athletes in the world and the possibly of all time. So we understand that if you want to develop expertise, if you want to turn your talent into real potential, then practice has a really important role in that. And it’s the difference between people fulfilling that or not.

And when, when Bradley Wiggins and Mo Farah gave these accounts of how they change their routines and their practice and training, um, I think it’s fair to say, isn’t it they didn’t just mean they, they made a certain one off sacrifice and missed out on Christmas Day or, or were away from their family for a time. What they were alluding to is very specific changes in a approach and keeping in mind a very important principle of practice.

Yes. So we know that just practices. So there’s, they say practice makes perfect, which isn’t really correct because it’s not just about the active practice, different practices, different practice gifts, different results. So what weekends are more fairer to all the people that color birth engaged in a lot of these, what we call deliberate practice. This is under Erickson’s work which was very famously quoted in Malcolm Gladwell’s popular, the psychology books. So deliberate practices is really challenging your skills, your abilities. It’s murky mistakes. He’s not just going through the motions, he’s pushing yourself. And actually optimal practices are very finely balanced thing that does the science say the scientific principle called the chairman’s point framework and talks about getting exactly the right type of practice so you’re pushing yourself just enough but you don’t make it so many mistakes that it overwhelms you when you, when you lose your confidence.

We know that it takes about 20 hours of this kind of deliberate practice to become good at one particular skill. So that might be playing a song on the guitar or it might be learning how to structure a paragraph properly or how to present to an audience once we get to once, once we become good at something, there is a whole level of other performance and so we might have a good club cyclist whose good at cycle and it might be good in the local town, the local community, but then you’ve got Bradley wiggins is all level of thought on what happens with practices. We can put in about 24 hours of really high quality practice, but then we hit something called arrested development where once we get to a certain level of skill or something, it becomes a lot more difficult to progress our scope. And this is where the idea is, like the challenge point framework, deliberate practice really, really come into their own because they’re really allow people to push on, into the echelons of, of, of skill, you know, on, on a world expertise level.

So in fact then you, you need to think very carefully about what you do and how you practice and keep certain principles in mind if you want to achieve the goal of continuous improvement, then yes. So we come back to this idea of self watching and making sure that we are not just practice it. So we just go into the golf ball after ball after ball. Um, we have to, we have to be able to be aware that if we’d gone to improve ourselves, we have to come out of our comfort zone and we have to make mistakes. Um, you know, we talk about the three, two, one grounding positivity ratio, so making mistakes he’s got, we know that it’s cognitively taxing to progress your skill levels of things, but he was the ability to do that is limited in the day, you know, so every, every day you only get so much time, but your brands actually careful of doing that. Um, I think we will certainly from my experience in professional sport and education on any business, you know, you see people going through the motions, so to speak, you see on the golf road where people just take ball off the ball after ball. They’re not necessarily refining and developing a skill that just doing the hobbit and that is a form of practice, but it’s not deliberate practice you see on the football training ground where people are that practicing the skills they need to perform in a football game, but they’re not pushing themselves out of that comfort zone. You see it in the workplace, you see it. Um, in, in education when people are sitting in class, I’m not doing the homework. And it’s a very good brand mindset too, to just go through the motions because it’s energy demanding to take yourself out of the comfort zone and push yourself so when you were at brand wants to conserve energy so you have to do it. But if we want to get better, if we want to improve, it’s absolutely paramount that we engage in practice, which challenges our current levels of skill.

Now there’s a couple of things in the Elite Business Athlete, but that a, I like to talk to you about and develop those ideas. Firstly, and I think it connects to what you’ve just said, that about the being in energy demand and something happening in the brain. Um, talk to us more about the process that happens when you try to learn a new skill. When you practice a skill and what happens inside your brain.

Well, learning starts with attention. So if we’re going to learn something new, we have to pay attention to. It was we paid attention to some things. We get it into our, into our short term memory. And then if we repeat that thing, our brain starts to develop some neurological connections, which we call New Orleans. Let me get this process called neuroplasticity, Turkey inputs of the New Orleans in our brain a lie. Um, we, we think of them as this cobwebs, what we initially learned something. So they’re very thin, very fragile in a sense that the more we practice this thing that we want to get better up the thick of those connections because when they turned into cable. So we talked about complex to cables. So we know that practice is, it’s not magic of improving skill level isn’t magic. There’s a biological process taking place in our brain which is centered around thing called neuroplasticity, which is a relatively new understanding, um, that we get better at things by practice, practice, practice.

But if, if we want to keep progressing our skill level, we have to keep taking ourselves out of our comfort zone that will allow those neurological connections to get thicker and thicker and thicker. Our brain. He’s trying to make everything into a habit. So our A.P.E. brain wants to do everything on auto pilot and as soon as you do it on autopilot, you’re not progressing your skill level, your limited, the progression of the skill level, so you’ve got to come back out of the comfort zone and push yourself again. So that’s the rough overview of how humans learn things, new things and you don’t. It’s a biological process and, and hopefully then I suppose the good news from that is um, you can change, you can build better skills and habits through practice.

Yeah, without a doubt. We, you know, we see this in, we, we say this in all the context that we work in peoples are, I’ll just never be able to do that. I won’t be able to do it. And then when they see that they expose themselves to good quality practice, they get better at things and it’s what he was designed to do, what design to learn. So we can improve sometimes us even what I’ve just said then is misconstrued as well you’re saying that everyone can be the fastest person in the world. No, I’m not saying that. We’re just saying that everyone could improve at anything, so whatever your levels and abilities are now speaking French or doing quadratic equations, or hitting a golf ball or doing public speaking or being a leader in your organization, with practice you can improve, but it’s not just any old practice. It’s very specific deliberate practice.

Now in the Elite Business Athlete, which of course you can download for free from the Tougher Minds website. Just go to the homepage and you’ll see it there, available for download. You talk about, um, a significant figure from elite sport who’s adopted these principles, um, specifically into their coaching. And that’s the Clive Woodward of course, who has earned his place in history as the coach of the England rugby team that won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and that iconic match in Sydney with Jonny Wilkinson dropping the winning goal. And he also worked, um, in a, in an overarching team capacity with team gb at the London 2012 Olympics, which was a tremendously successful sporting moment too. And he understood, um, in many ways a lot of these important principles about practice. So just to explain how Clive Woodward implemented that for us, if you would Jon.

England Rugby Union was quite transitional work because the sport was going from an amateur sport professional sport. So I guess he was given a new level of, of, of time to think about trading and how to implement the best training and also probably more time with the athletes to actually help them to become better rugby players. Never before. I think what clive quickly realized was that if he wanted to optimize practice and optimize the development of his players, he had to make that practice similar as possible to what was going to take place, you know, in a live real rip again, so that he had to align the, um, the, the emotional response to players might be under, you know, live will begin and bring up the best that it could into a, into a practice situation. And in understanding what Clive Woodward data aligns itself very well with this idea of functional equivalence, which was really means that you want your practice to be as close as possible to the actual live performance that you’re going to do.

So if you’re, if you’re gonna, do a big speech at work or do a big presentation, um, to do that presentation, there’s going to be a hundred people in the room. You’re going to be stood up, you ask them, they’ll be beating a bit faster. The, you’re going to have to talk consistently for about 30 minutes. Well, sitting down at your desk, reading notes out in a nice calm environment with a cup of tea into some music on, in the background. He’s a really giving you the right kind of practice that you need to perform in order to get, um, get the producer performance that you want in the, in the real situation. So what would understood that? And he brought in lots of little but very powerful changes into a training program. And I think he used a said philosopher when he became the head of performance with the British Olympic Association, so he was trying to spread good practice throughout the Olympic sports, which allow to get better practice to take place so that more learning could be taking place or more functional equivalent learning could take place when the athletes will practice in, you know, and hoping that that showed itself when they’re performed.

And I think there’s good evidence to show that he did not evidence has extended itself into the, the Rio Games as well where Britain has done exceptionally well.

Yeah, I mean, and one thing I, I became aware of just by reading the sports media is ….and people might regard it as incidental, but I think it is very much part of this focus on functionally equivalent practice. The team would practice with exactly the same match ball that they might be using in the, in the competition, even if they weren’t yet in the country they were going to tour. So they would have rugby balls brought over from Australia so that it could use them in England in their build-up to the actual tour and loss. So all part of, of um, as you say, making everything as specific and it’s functionally equivalent as possible. Um, so at perhaps a takeaway then for people listening, I’m sure with interest to, to what you said about how they might implement these kind of principles in their working life, in their business life and some of the challenges they have to face. If, if you were then preparing for that killer presentation rather than rehearsing it at your desk and clicking through the powerpoint or whichever your chosen presentation application is, you might actually have a dummy run in a room, gather a few colleagues together, don’t have exactly the same, don’t have this sort of wealth of resources you’ve got at your desk with you fly a bit solo as it were, metaphorically speaking. Is that the sort of thing you mean then Jon?

Yes. I think that for whatever you want to achieve, the first thing you need to do is have a clear goal was achieved with he’s going to be. You then have to recognize it to get there. You’re going to have to put your practice and I think the, the, once you’ve got your goal, the first thing to recognize is what, what are the limitations of the way I currently practice in this particular thing, whether it’s speech or something else and, you know, make a little plan that allows you to actually extend and accelerate the way you’re currently practicing in so that it’s every minute you spend practicing it is a more effective minute and efficient minute, but then how you’ve previously practiced that. I think most importantly is you’ve got to keep being aware of your A.P.E. brain’s resistance to actually do the hard work and it will push you towards taking the shortcut.

I want it to be a really good presentation. I wouldn’t practice it once in front of colleagues. I’ll be approximately several times and refining it and refining it and refining it. We have a rule within two for mindset, any slide we have text to put that on slide. And that’s how you get things really, really good. So I think the, when we look at people who are extremely good at things, whether that’s the England rugby team, when Clive Woodward was in charge or people like Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins or Jessica Ennis-Hill, it’s easy for us to kid ourselves. So they’re just naturally and it comes really easy for them. The reality is that good because they work exceptionally hard, um, and that practice is often more efficient and effective than their rivals. And if you want to get the best out of yourself in your profession in the skills that you want to make excel accelerate up, you’ve got to have a certain mindset and recognize that your success will largely be based on working efficiently and effectively, effectively, and practice it as well as you possibly can.

I think it’s a great message for people and something that everyone can incorporate into whatever they want to achieve that in their life, be in the working life that, that business context or perhaps even in the leisure time. I just want to take you back to one thing that we’ve previously discussed on a Tougher Minds podcast. And certainly what you’ve, what you’ve just outlined to is John, a very clear message is you must plan the, your practice in detail and all the, keep in mind all the important components of that planning, but you, you spoke at the start of this podcast about attention and the need to be in the right frame of mind and focus and that, that links back into activation, which we’ve talked about previously, as I say on a previous Tougher Minds podcast. And I understand that it’s important to, to, to be ready to learn, to be ready to practice.

Yes because if we don’t have clever neurotransmitter, dopamine and adrenaline

in sufficient quantity and our brain and then it’s hard to pay attention and it’s hard to retain information. So we have to be in the right frame of mind. But more specifically at the right alertness levels if we’re, if we’re going to do high quality practice. And again that comes back to planning. You know, what is the best time of year for you to practice the things that you want to get good up is all pretty new emails. And the style of the day, the best word to maybe use the best parts of the day or is it to actually do the difficult more challenging work that you need to do? So yeah, ultimately getting better at things that, of that journeys is paying attention and attention is, is it is a problem for human beings because it’s a limited results because we’re so habit in, in the wild west sort of a bit tool in most of the things that we do. So we have to recognize in our practice planning what is the best time of death from engaging in high quality practice.

And you touched on a famous work and is send you mentioned and also Malcolm Gladwell who’s quite as you say, a celebrated author of, of popular psychology books and of course in the UK as well. And the sports journalist and Matthew Syed has enjoyed significant success with his book bounds. But it’s perhaps worth pointing out that in Tougher Minds programs, people have the ability to access some very simple and practical techniques and frameworks that they can take away quite readily without having to, um, shall we say, Glean that themselves from reading a textbook. Tougher Minds can offer this in a digestible form. This, this, and this can be implemented in many contexts straightaway.

Yes. I think the understanding that you need to engage in.. lots of hours of high quality practices has grown from Anders Eriksson performing lots of research in my area, to people like Malcolm gladwell popularized those ideas. But in those books, they don’t tell you how to do it. They just say it’s important we teach people how to do it so that they can change their lives and, uh, fulfill that potential. So yeah, that’s certainly a difference in the way that we approach helping people.

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