Updated: Jul 13
In therapy I often talk about the importance of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice involves: setting aside time to practice skills, outlining goals, and evaluating progress.
Beethoven did not learn piano overnight, and when it comes to skills such as musical or athletic
ability: we don’t usually expect people to be good right away. We recognize it takes practice. However, when it comes to life skills: I find people often do not have the same expectations.
People expect themselves to be born with life skills such as the ability to: meal plan and prep effectively, keep up with chores and errands, motivate themselves, develop a schedule and budgeting system, remember appointments and important tasks, etc. Just like learning a new instrument, language or physical skill: life skills also take deliberate and intentional practice in order to improve.
To expect yourself to be good at these tasks after only trying a few times is not realistic. It takes time and effort to develop muscle memory and good habits. These tips will help you improve in your deliberate practice so you can reach your goals more effectively!
Tips for Deliberate Practice
Set Aside Practice Time
Whatever your goal is, you must set aside time to practice your skills as often as you can. The more you practice the more you will improve, and even 5 minutes per day is better than no minutes per day. If you wait to practice your skills in the moment or when they come up in life then you will not improve as quickly compared to if you set aside deliberate time to practice. If you only practiced piano every time you walked by one, you probably wouldn’t be a very good piano player! The same goes for our every day skills: you must practice often and with intention.
If you set a time in your schedule, you will naturally be more likely to follow through with remembering to practice, as it creates a natural cue in your head to go do the thing at the specific time. "Sometime in the afternoon" is not on a clock, so it won't create a natural cue for you to remember to go practice.
Set a time and date for your practice sessions, and if you can't make it: reschedule it!
Practice with Intention:
Floundering around on the keyboard with no direction will not improve your skills as much as setting a goal and working on it. SMART goal setting involves setting goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Download this free Worksheet on Smart Goals from Tim Vandenvall to help you improve your goal setting skills. Setting goals and keeping a record of your accomplishments can be very motivating and give you the opportunity to celebrate your hard work.
Keep a Practice Record
Having a record of your goals, your practice sessions, and your progress can help motivate you and improve your skills by giving you tangible data to rely on. Our memories are not very reliable, so it is difficult to remember how far we have come in our skill attainment. Celebrating our achievements and accomplishments is motivating, so keep track of your progress. Download the free Action Planning Worksheet from the resource page to help you set goals and keep a record of your practice sessions.
Scaffold Your Skills
In other blog posts such as Cleaning with ADHD I have discussed the importance of taking this step by step, or scaffolding your skills. We wouldn’t expect an amateur athlete to perform at the same level as a professional, so don’t expect the same of yourself with your life skills! Start slow and simple. It wouldn’t make sense to jump into playing a complicated song the first time you pick up an instrument, and the same goes for your goals. Breaking down your goals into small achievable steps can help you gain motivation and momentum.
In the Cleaning with ADHD blog post I give some examples of how you might break down chores such as doing laundry and dishes regularly into sub-goals. The same concept applies to other life goals such as teaching yourself to remember appointments or meal plan. For example, meal planning goals may look like:
Step 1: Meal plan for breakfasts regularly
Step 2: Add meal planning for lunches
Step 3: Add meal planning for dinner
Step 4: Add meal planning for snacks
Step 5: Regularly grocery shop
Step 6: Implement meal prep on a day/time
If you tried to do all these goals at once it would be very overwhelming. Remember to start slow and work your way up to the skills that are more difficult for you.
Evaluate Your Progress
In attaining your goals it is important to regularly review your goals and your progress. The Action Planning Worksheet (free to download here) includes a section for evaluating your goals. A weekly, daily, monthly and/or yearly review can be helpful to keep you motivated and on track. Good evaluation should be balanced and focus on what went well and areas for improvement, not just the parts that didn't go well! Some helpful questions to ask yourself may include:
What went well?
What areas would I like to improve on?
Did any barriers get in the way of my goal?
What can I do to take care of those barriers?
What is the next step to improve this skill further?
Maintain Your Skills
If you learned to play a song very well and then didn’t play that song again for a few years: you probably could still play the song but you wouldn’t be as good compared to when you were practicing it regularly. Our life skills are the same. Sometimes we will get good at keeping up with things for a while, then we seem to fall off track. That is when it takes deliberate practice again to brush up on our skills. Once they become automatic: then we don’t need to be so intentional about them until we fall off track again.