Deliberate practice

In some classes over the past month, we’ve been doing “30 Day Challenges” to try to accomplish something and build habits of “deliberate practice” — a phrase I saw in something about the Dalai Lama:

The Dalai Lama’s Daily Routine and Information Diet” (from Brain Pickings)

I don’t suppose most of us can follow his practices — he wakes up at 3:30 every morning to meditate. But another of his practices is something to shoot for:

“As a longtime student of real life, ruler of his people before the age of five, he listens every morning to the Voice of America, to the BBC East Asian broadcast, to the BBC World Service — even while meditating — and devours Time and Newsweekand many other news sources”

Reading, watching or listening to the news as a “deliberate practice” is something I try to encourage in students. Many say they don’t like to pay attention to the news because it’s full of violence, crime and war, disaster and disease. True. But that’s no reason to hide your head in the sand. And there are also uplifting stories.

I recently read another article that reminds me of the idea of “deliberate practice”:

“Mow the Lawn” (from the New York Times)

“I’ve grown suspicious of the inspirational. It’s overrated. I suspect duty — that half-forgotten word — may be more related to happiness than we think. Want to be happy? Mow the lawn. Collect the dead leaves. Paint the room. Do the dishes. Get a job. Labor until fatigue is in your very bones. Persist day after day. Be stoical. Never whine. Think less about the why of what you do than getting it done. Get the column written. Start pondering the next.”

What do you think? Do you believe that life should be about finding your passion? About

“…Find(ing) what you thrill to: if not the perfect sentence, the beautiful cure, the brilliant formula, the lovely chord, the exquisite sauce, the artful reconciliation. Strive not for everything money can buy but for everything money can’t buy.”

I think I’m somewhere in between. Deliberate practice is important. But if you really don’t enjoy what you’re doing, “the daily grind” can be soul-destroying. Roger Cohen suggests that if you’re doing a job that you really don’t enjoy, you need to balance that with hobbies and outside interests that you really do enjoy. I guess that’s better than nothing. Finding a job that you’re excited about may not be possible for everyone, but it’s worth striving for.

Like a job, classes seem to be just “a grind” for many students I talk to. Here, too, deliberate practice is important, but (and? Deliberate practice CAN be exciting, too.) you need to find something about your classes that excites you. Otherwise, the next few years are going to be a real drag.


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