I grew up cheering for the Detroit Pistons, but even I can admit Kobe Bryant was one of the greatest NBA players of all time. The fascinating part? He wasn’t born gifted. He’s an exceptionally hard worker. One trainer recounted how Bryant would exercise from 4:15 to 7 a.m. and then play basketball until the team’s practice at 11 a.m. Yes, Bryant trained for seven hours before practice even began.
Once he had five NBA championships under his belt, Bryant would still engage in grueling four-hour workouts on game days.
It’s easy to look at the masters in any field—be it Bryant, Mozart or Oprah—and credit their skills to genetics, innate abilities and hours of practice. But research on the science of peak performance has shown that it’s not just talent and hours of practice that lead to expertise. Instead, it’s the type of practice one does. We can all reach mastery-level greatness through hard work, discipline and something called deliberate practice, or the process of understanding your weaknesses and then making considerable efforts to learn the skills you lack.
To improve at anything, you must push yourself beyond your comfort zone. When you put sustained effort toward improving your weaknesses, you will grow. This is the logic behind deliberate practice, a research-backed tool introduced by researcher Anders Ericsson.
For the past 30 years, Ericsson has studied the masters. His research has shown that how you practice matters much more than how much you practice. Experts become great by focusing on improving their weaknesses. Many people focus only on practicing things they can do effortlessly, but this never leads to improvement. Working hard just to work hard will exhaust you. Working hard for the purpose of improving is the secret to success.
Another important factor of deliberate practice is constant feedback. You must monitor your progress so you can make adjustments. Without feedback, you won’t know how to improve. Reach out to others in your field and ask for criticism and advice.
Measuring your progress is also a key component of deliberate practice. Bryant measured his progress in many ways, such as counting the number of baskets he made daily. Every single day, he forced himself to make 400 shots. He never allowed himself to stop improving, even as his fame increased. You can measure anything: the number of cold calls you make, the pace you run or the amount of times you pitch your business.
Just like Bryant, you can incorporate deliberate practice into your own life with these steps.
1. Identify your goals and write them down. Research shows writing down your goals will help you complete 33 percent more of them.
2. Identify your weakest link and what is keeping you from achieving your goals.
3. Purposely and deliberately work on improving this skill.
4. Seek feedback from others.
5. Push yourself to show up and do it again and again.
Bryant wasn’t born a great NBA player. But by using deliberate practice, he became a master. And you know what? You can, too.
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.