“Deep practice is not measure in minutes or hours, but in the number of high-quality reaches and repetitions you make–basically, how many new connections you form in your brain…Ignore the clock and get to the sweet spot, even if it’s only for a few minutes, and measure your progress by what counts: reaches and reps.”
Daniel Coyle, The Little Book of Talent
What is a reach? A focused approach to the target or what you want rather than what you want to avoid. It’s easy to look at what we DON’T want rather than the target we do want. Coyle talks about positive reaches and how we need to strive to “focus on the positive move, not the negative one.”
Let’s say you are weightlifter (competing in the snatch and clean and jerk), instead of approaching the bar with a “I hope I don’t miss” use the “smash this weight” approach. It is a brief moment but will give you that little bit of extra that accounts for achievement. Positive reaches are important.
Making connections in the brain come from deep practice. How do we achieve this? Kelly Starrett and Joe Defranco among others have talked about this. Starrett about mobility and doing it throughout the day rather than waiting for 1 day during the week. Instead of doing an elongated session of 1 hour, Starrett (for mobility) recommends implementing mobility throughout the day in small increments of 3-5 minutes. Joe Defranco is one of the “pioneers” of band pull aparts and high volume upper back work to keep the shoulders healthy. His advice is similar; do 20 band pull aparts every time you catch yourself sitting too much or every 1 hour. If Starrett had it his way, no one would be sitting and thus, nobody would be doing band pull aparts? (kidding)
The point is to focus on deep practice, whether it is 5 minutes or 5 perfect repetitions. The latter may be a better option. The connections in the brain will form the way we want with near perfect repetitions. Back to the weightlifting example: you are learning how to properly hit key positions in the snatch. Instead of focusing on this 1 or 2 days out of the week for longer sessions, take a broomstick and practice for 10 perfect repetitions each day. When you come to the training session where you use a barbell, the connections will be made and allow you to more easily hit the desired positions. Now, being strong will keep you in positions with heavier load, i.e. don’t be weak! But, starting off, the importance of positioning and technique are more important. Long term success is the goal not padding the ego in the short term.
If you aren’t a weightlifter this can be applied to any endeavor. Sure, there will be times to dedicate more than “5 minutes” or “5 perfect repetitions” but something is better than nothing, especially deep practice.
What do you want to get better at? Do you operate under the false notion that you don’t have enough time? I challenge you to dedicate yourself to “getting it right” each day for a few repetitions. I know Coyle said take off the watch, but you could even set the timer for 5 minutes. The goal is deep practice. Start small and see where you’re at in a month. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.