What do you do to deliberately practice?

post by hath · 2022-06-04T22:20:50.609Z · LW · GW · 9 comments



Also related: Humans Are Not Automatically Strategic [LW · GW]

At the beginning of Tyler Cowen and David Gross's recent book, Talent, they mention an interview question Tyler used for new hires:

Daniel recalls that he first learned from Tyler this question for prospective hires: "What is it you do to practice that is analogous to how a pianist practices scales?" You learn what this person is doing to achieve ongoing improvement, and perhaps you can judge its efficacy or even learn something from it. You also learn how the person thinks about continual self-improvement, above and beyond their particular habits. If a person doesn't practice much, they still might be a good hire, but then you are much more in the world of "what you see is what you get," which is valuable information on its own. If the person does engage in daily, intensive self-improvement, perhaps eschewing more typical and more social pursuits, there is a greater chance they are the kind of creative obsessive who can make a big difference.

When I read this, I opened a new Obsidian file and tried to write down what I do for deliberate practice. I couldn't think of anything; I don't do anything to deliberately practice skills I have.

As I thought of what I might start doing to deliberately practice, I realized that while I had some conception of my comparative advantage (high charisma and extroversion) relative to the skilled people I regularly interact with, I had no plan to practice that, even though I knew a good drill for practicing public speaking. I also realized that I had no idea how to deliberately practice certain skills—what does, say, Tyler Cowen do to deliberately practice his skill at searching for talent? (EDIT: a friend linked his post on it)

I'd like to see what it is that you do to deliberately practice. If, like me, you realized that you don't deliberately try to improve the skills you regularly use, hopefully the other responses can provide some ideas for possible new habits.


If you wanted to improve your social skills or public speaking, you could try recording yourself giving a speech or having a conversation and then seeing what specific things you could have done better. [1]

Similarly, an extracurricular program at my old school had a speaking drill for interview practice:

In some areas, "deliberate practice" might just mean "actually doing the thing you're trying to practice." Stephen King always tries to write at least ~2000 words per day, which may be the best way to improve your skill at writing. I would guess that practicing a skill like alignment research or entrepreneurship might be similar, but I'm not sure. Breaking down something like "alignment research" or "entrepreneurship" into smaller chunks like "understanding the research of others" or "pitching to investors" may also help.

Again, I'm interested in seeing what you do to deliberately practice, or other notable examples of deliberate practice.

  1. ^

    I'll be trying to teach social skills/extroversion to a friend of mine using How To Make Friends And Influence People, the drills mentioned here, and personal feedback.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Rabrg · 2022-06-05T17:12:15.311Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Something I've recently started that I've found to be beneficial is deliberately practicing friendliness / extroversion / accepting "scary" social invitations that I previously would've rejected.

I've only been doing it for a couple of months, and I'm already seeing benefits like improved confidence, new friends / interesting conversations, and a deeper love for humanity.

comment by matto · 2022-06-07T12:11:33.666Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I analyze essays: I'll find an essay I really like and then go through it paragraph by paragraph, trying to figure out what makes it so good. I have no formal training in composition above English 101 and 102, so it's been a long journey of finding out things that people have been talking about for centuries. Above all, it has been slowly changing the way I see written texts because now I'm able to discern parts that I couldn't see before.

For some time, I also analyzed my daily work ([wrote about it here](https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/MAM3pdncCWBrkhnxq/watching-myself-program)), but I've put that on hold because things became too hectic at work (and I'm also changing jobs).

comment by ChristianKl · 2022-06-05T16:48:20.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The toastmaster's magazine once said that the secret to being a good public speaker is stage time, stage time, stage time. While recording oneself is a useful way to practice if you actually analyze the video, simple setting up opportunities for a lot of stage time is important. I would expect that it's better to analyze videos of actually giving a talk to an audience.

Recording videos is good for very many skills to analyze rooms for improvement. Even solitary skills like coding, allow for recording the activity and later analyzing what you could have done better. Setting up video recording for coding is even easier than setting up a good recording of public speaking. 

comment by Ustice · 2022-06-05T05:54:00.937Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I’m active in programming communities. Both on Reddit, where I’m a moderator, where I learn about new things all the time. I read other people’s code, and look for ways to improve my own. I tend to read about 6-10 articles a day, skimming many more.

I practice leaving code better than I found it. Since I work with code that is kept at 100% test coverage, I can make big changes, and be reasonably confident that I’m not affecting known behavior.

Lately, I’ve been exploring category theory, and Tensor Flow, as well as more advanced

I’ve been doing this almost my entire life. I was like six, sitting down with my dad learning the basics, and I was hooked. I read books, documentation, working code, all before the internet, let alone GitHub. Born in ‘77, I have seen the personal computing revolution, and have lived it

As long as my brain holds out, I expect to be learning daily, and writing code, whether I am paid for it, or officially retired, but volunteering in open source software, and developing my own tools.

comment by lc · 2022-06-05T04:03:54.754Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I used to do lots of regular computer hacking on sites like HackTheBox & else, but sadly I gave that up to start a company. I don't really practice anything with regularity anymore.

comment by gareth (g.lesswrong@bemused.org) · 2022-06-05T02:26:16.564Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Meditation and morning pages / journaling are 2 things that I regularly do. I have found that meditation is helpful for focus and clearing my mind. Morning pages has made me much better at understanding my thought processes and resolving issues I may have, whether personal or professional. When I started them both I wasn’t sure what the result would be but now as I practice they are both super useful tools that have improved my life.

comment by JustisMills · 2022-06-05T02:50:18.600Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I journal! It's a good way to write at least something daily, and often also feels like a good avenue for healthy introspection.

comment by Adam Jermyn (adam-jermyn) · 2022-06-05T02:32:24.339Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I sometimes record exercises to review and improve my form.

I journal daily to keep tight feedback loops. New lessons that seem especially important go in an Anki deck.

I solicit feedback on writing and keep track of that feedback/the relevant lessons over time.

comment by stavros · 2022-06-05T04:54:17.511Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Both meditation and exercise. A daily (1hr a day is the sweet spot), lifelong practice without end. Easy to learn, probably impossible for most of us to master but that's okay because mastery isn't the point.

The point is to strengthen and broaden the connection between mind and body, and the connections within your body itself - to relearn how to move with the whole body.

To learn how to be still, and yet relaxed instead of stiff.

The point is also, at least for me, to do something impossibly slow and hard every day. To fail with a smile on my face. To appreciate the journey, knowing I will never reach the destination.