Ericsson’s work on deliberate practice has a meaningful implication on self-development. Becoming great at something takes more than mere hours spent on the task itself. Based on the work by Dr. Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory, intrapersonal intelligence helps with structuring one’s own deliberate practice programs.
Looking back at my pro-gaming days, I used to structure my practice into training different aspects of my play in a ‘divide and conquer’ manner — different trainings for each weapon, optimizing plays for a map’s each segments, map-wide navigational movements, vertical aiming, horizontal aiming, mouse analysis (spending over $10k in mouse collection!), system and key configurations, graphic settings, item regeneration timings, and the list goes on.
Then to integrate the modular practice programs, I’d go on to practice on real opponents across different styles. This self-reflecting and executing cycle helped me get to Korea’s no.1 pro-gamer in Unreal Tournament (and a few other FPS games).
Of course, we didn’t have a ‘professional coach’ to help us train back then, so it was based on self-assessment and analysis of our own recorded plays. In hindsight, what made some of my colleagues really successful while most failed, was not the mere amount of hours spent on playing games — we’d all see each other online all the time — but more so on ‘how’ we decided to spend our time playing games.
Most ordinary players just kept logging in and spending hours and days playing on the servers repeatedly and almost mindlessly. I think this is similar to where most people get confused and argue that working long hours will result in reduced productivity and dive into the whole work-life-balance debate. It’s indeed true if you are repeatedly doing what doesn’t work well and don’t deliberately practice to figure out something new that helps you improve in a profound way.
While most people were repeating the same plays over a pro-longed period of time, a handful of players took time, self-assessed where they were strong and weak, and think of ways to reinvent themselves to overcome their weaknesses. The deliberate practice took many forms, such as changing keyboard configurations, switching mouse, changing sensitivities and acceleration curves, varying system and graphical configurations, and sparring with strong ‘trusted’ partners. So it wasn’t just playing level after level, opponent after opponent.
I made sure I didn’t run the same plays over and over again, which will form bad habits and what’s worse, get myself locked into a local optimum. I had to force myself to break out of the self-made mold numerous times. For example, completely changing the key configurations or going from light-weight mouse to heavy-weight mouse, which may not sound like a big deal, but for players fighting in (virtual) life-or-death situations that get decided in milliseconds, this was a pretty big change. Looking back, these kind of perturbations made myself jump out of the local optimum multiple times and climb the hill towards the global optimum.
These deliberate practices mixed with a goal setting (having an explicit ranking and competitions made it easier) and enjoying the journey (video games are pretty ideal for experiencing flow), I had the fortune of reaching the peak experience in my youth.
My personal take is that setting a clear goal, practicing deliberately, and building your intrapersonal intelligence to self-assess and iterate on feedbacks are pretty good ways to become really great at something and accelerate your growth.
* Update (2017-03-11): This video from TED-Ed also highlights good tips on how to practice effectively.