On Thursday, I stumbled upon this blog post by Cal Newport on the importance of deliberate practice. Everyone knows that practice makes perfect, but not all practice is created equal. Practice by definition is repeating a task over and over to gain mastery or maintain skill level. So the point here generally is improvement. However, you can practice for a long time and not have any substantial results because you practice within your comfort zone. For real change to happen, for growth to take place, you need to practice outside that zone, in the things that make you uncomfortable.
A psychologist by the name of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi expressed the idea of the state of flow. That place where you are completely zoned in, focused and oblivious to the passage of time or even your immediate environment. This usually happens when you are working on something you are passionate about and have considerable skill in. When I work on graphic design projects I feel this way. I can sit for hours on end without eating even and work without feeling worn down.
Now contrast this with when I sit down to work on architecture assignments. Every 15minutes I’m looking for a distraction, by the time an hour has past, I’m usually back to watching series, reading a book or working on a graphic project. I was wondering about this phenomenon and trying to understand how to move past it. Until I read that post on Thursday that put things into perspective.
Cal Newport postulates the state of strain. Some of the work we must do is not easy, its tedious, it can even be boring to us…and sometimes this work is very important. The state of strain occurs when the task is difficult and slightly outside our skills zone. The way to tackle it is to treat it like practice, deliberate practice. Set aside time regularly to work on it, fight through the strain and get the work done. Over time our skill improves and it gets easier, maybe even enjoyable. But the discipline of regular hours and grappling with the task is the first step in over coming the state of strain and entering into the state of flow.
The state of flow is great, but we also need to get into the state of strain time and again to make sure we are pushing ourselves, make sure we are growing. We need the discipline of deliberate practice.