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The difference that makes a difference.

November 8, 2009

St Kilda Beach

It’s over 30 degrees outside and I can see half of Melbourne cooling their heels in the water on St Kilda beach from my balcony. Me? I’m eating strawberries and avoiding sunburn by remaining indoors, glued to the computer screen, and noodling through a new all-time favourite website, Neuroanthropology. I’ve added it to the blogroll section on the right for you to explore at your leisure.

What I’ve been reading and mulling over on the site is Greg Downey’s post entitled Talent: A difference that makes a difference. In it is a section on K Anders Ericsson’s concept of deliberate practice, and because I can’t put it any more clearly or succinctly, I’m going to quote directly from Greg’s post:

One of the core observation of Ericsson’s research is that expert performance seems to take a minimum of 10 years or 10,000 hours of ‘deliberate practice,’ progressively more challenging, and expert coaching, even with people labelled by others as ‘prodigies’ (see Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer 1993). As Ericsson, Prietula and Cokely (2007) describe, repetition is not enough:

“When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.”

The problem for many people is that they’re not practicing deliberately; if they did, they would see a bigger improvement in their performance.

Now, Greg’s post explicitly explores athletic ‘talent’, but the same principle applies to our every action in the world. You may not consider ‘doing the gardening’ or ‘sitting at the computer desk’ as performance per se, but these are actions we practice on a daily basis and it’s usually such everyday actions that most of my Feldenkrais students want to improve. To look at it from another perspective, it’s frequently lack of expertise in everyday actions that leads to pain or inflexibility.

We don’t generally think everyday actions even warrant expertise – to our detriment. Most of us would be hard-pressed to identify what we actually do, let alone don’t do well, even when we experience frustration because we can’t improve, or do something, or someone else comments on our ‘posture’. This is where Feldenkrais can be of real and practical use in making the first steps towards deliberate practice – regular classes provide the opportunity to develop our attentional skills for body and movement awareness. Feldenkrais principles such as reversibility and intentional error (purposely doing things the more difficult way to clarify what is easy) should also be part of the deliberate practice repertoire.

It’s only when you can sense what you’re doing, that you’re able to make the difference that makes the difference.

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