A Brief Guide to Practice, Part 2

This is the second of three posts on practice. Part 3 is coming next week. Check out Part 1 here.

How to Practice

If you’ve made it this far, you’re convinced—or at least curious—and want to get to the meat of what I’m talking about with practice.

Either way, here’s how you can start to practice:


In his incredible book Peak, Anders Ericsson offers a simple outline for how to engage in the kind of practice that creates true growth and learning. Unfortunately he doesn’t explain this process in a way that’s very easy to learn. Lucky for you, I came up with a cool acronym thing to help me (and you) remember: SPOT FIRE.

The eight essential elements you need for effective deliberate practice are:

S – Study the masters: You need to find people who are good at what you want to be good at and figure out what they did to get where they’re at. OR you need to hire someone who has a track record of helping people like you improve.

P – Pick a Specific Focus: Most of what we do doesn’t qualify as practice because we’re focusing on vague, general improvement. Highly effective practice is dependent on our ability to identify our weaknesses and find ways to overcome them.

O – Get Outside Your Comfort Zone: Your daily challenges may be stressful but they are comfortable. To engage in practice you need to step outside your comfort zone. You need to put yourself in situations where you’re pushed to your edge in a way that encourages growth.

T – Be a Terminator: Just like Arnold’s metal man you must be of singular focus and determined in your efforts. This isn’t just running a meeting or pitching a client and seeing how it goes. This is putting in serious effort to improve. This is commitment to that improvement beyond your plateaus and your fears. It also mean staying focused on the areas of practice you’ve chosen instead of scattering your attention. Remember: your job is to kill or protect a Conner. Nothing else matters.

F – Get Feedback: This is the other big reason most of what we do during the day doesn’t qualify as practice. We don’t get quality feedback. In fact, we don’t get any feedback at all, nor do we give ourselves any. If you’re going to get better, you need to know how you’re doing. The more immediate and expert the feedback the better.

I – Iterate: In order to be effective, practice need to help you build on the skills you already have. If you’re new to something, make sure you spend enough time on the fundamentals and return to them often as your improve. It’s often these fundamental skills that lay the groundwork for what comes later.

R – Recreate Your Models: One of the keys to improving is developing better models to understand what we do, which is why any practice you engage in should help you improve the models you use. As you work to get better, spend time thinking about what you’re learning and creating new metaphors and analogies for what you’re doing. The more detailed and clear these models are, the more helpful they will be in moving forward.

E – Extra – This is an extra “e” for Extraordinary. Because deliberate practice is the pathway to the extraordinary.

2. Do It Daily

Now that you know the elements of practice, you’re probably wondering how the hell you’re going to find time to do this? And how to actually create a method to bring this into your everyday life?

This can be surprisingly simple. Here what you need to do:

a. Identify what you want to improve. Figure out what it is that you want to improve or what other people think you should improve. To do this you can talk to a coach, a trusted advisor, or someone on your team to help you, but if you’re anything like me you can easily come up with a list of 3-5 skills you want to improve.

Another way of doing this: look for tasks you do often, like running meetings, giving sales pitches, or writing headlines. These often offer the best opportunities for practice.

Some examples of things that apply to my clients:

  1. Ability to delegate
  2. Building relationships with team members
  3. Spending more time on high priority tasks
  4. Running better meetings

b. Identify the specific factors of improvement. If you want to run better meetings you need to pick some specific ways to work on that. Ideally If you tend to ramble on in meetings you might choose to focus on being efficient in your speech. If you tend to be curt, you might want to focus on being more gentle and connecting.

No matter what you choose be specific in what you’re working on. Ideally this should be no more than two areas of focus for any skill.

c. Get feedback. Now’s the fun part (for your team at least). Whenever you do this activity, find a way to get feedback on it.

If you’re running a meeting, ask for everyone to keep track of how effective or connective you’re being. Then at the end of the meeting have them give you specific feedback on how you did, as well as offer ideas about how you can improve.

If you’re working on giving better sales pitches, practice your pitch with a member of your team whose mindset is similar to that of your potential client and have them give you feedback on your pitch.

If you work by yourself, or it would be hard to get feedback on your performance from others, you can also find a way to give yourself feedback.

For example, I’ve created a form I fill out at the end of each coaching session where I track the different aspects of my coaching I’m trying to improve. One of those aspects is something I call “simmer,” which is all about leaving clients in a mindset of possibility at the end of a call.

When I get done with a call I take a few minutes to review. I give myself a rating from 1-10 on how well I simmered and then I make notes on how I could have improved. This simple exercise helps me improve as a coach, even as I work with my current clients.

Next Week

By following the steps above, you’ll vastly increase your chances of improving your ability through practice, but if you want to get the most out of practice doing the two things I’ll share with you next week can make an even bigger difference. Plus, for those of you who think this practice stuff is just so much work, some tips on how to make it fun!