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Purposeful Practice 


“As we’re discovering our strengths, our values, interests… and we find an area within our sphere of influence to make a meaningful impact in the world… let’s develop the skills that allow us to scale that impact. Because when done right, we can develop those skills to a world-class level.”

Purposeful practice is the conscious, deliberate style of practice that the top performers in the world use to become the best. If you want to learn how to become world-class by practicing this powerful method, then check out this episode!


  •  A real-life story and a profound response from a world-class musician

  • The one and only shortcut to a world-class performance

  • What type of practice will give you average results… guaranteed

  • Practical & effective steps you can take to apply purposeful practice

     And so much more.


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Welcome to the Ivy League Prep Academy podcast, where we help you make a meaningful impact in your communities and get accepted to your dream university. Becoming the person that Ivy League schools recruit is more enjoyable and meaningful than you ever imagined. Come find out why our I have had the privilege over my lifetime of knowing a couple of elite musicians, one of which is a concert pianist.

And I remember once being invited to a very nice banquet, and this concert pianist was invited to play the piano. And here we are listening to this amazing music from a legitimate concert pianist, world class musician, enjoying wonderful food. And then when the ceremony began and he wasn't needed to play the piano, he came and joined us at the dinner table.

And one of my other friends, one of his other guests, said to him, you know what? I'd give anything to be able to play the piano like you do. And his response was so profound that it has stuck with me for my entire life. And I have told this story over and over again at both our live camps and the Ivy League Challenge online with the students that I trained, because it was so profound and so powerful.

And I want to share his response with you today, which is the foundation of this entire podcast. He said, no, you don't. No, you wouldn't.

You wouldn't give anything to be able to play like I do. Because if you were willing to give anything to play like I do, you would play like I do. And years ago, for the first time in my life, I met someone who had perfect pitch.

This, to me, was amazing. This particular individual could not just tell me what note I was singing or what range I was singing. If I sang a bunch of notes, I could also turn on the vacuum.

I could bang on a pot or knock on wood or knock on glass, and she'd be able to tell me what note was vibrating, what frequency was vibrating, and what the note was. It was so impressive. It seemed like a gift from God that only a few in the world could possibly possess.

And indeed, back when Mozart began to play, he was known as a child for having perfect pitch and even performed on stage where people would separate him so he couldn't see the piano. And they'd play a note, and he would tell them what note it was. They'd play an instrument, a different instrument, and he could tell them the same what note it was.

And then they'd do the same sort of thing that my friend could do. They would knock on wood or knock on glass, bang, pans, whatever they would do to create musical intonation. And he could tell exactly what note that was.

And that just seemed magical. And it's true. If you look at the statistics, it's one in tens of thousands of people who have perfect pitch, and it seems like an absolute gift from God.

And I remember speaking to my friend and saying, man, you are so lucky that you were born with perfect pitch. And she said, you know what? I actually wasn't born with perfect pitch. I developed it.

I said, what do you mean? And she said, well, you know what? I have two sisters, and all of us, all three of us have perfect pitch. And of course, I said, well, that makes sense, right? Of course. The perfect pitch genes run in your family.

You're just a lucky family. What a blessing. What an amazing, amazing, magical gift that you all have.

And she smiled at me and said, yes, but one of the sisters is adopted. No biological relation whatsoever. And for the first time, I began to take her seriously that maybe it's not a gift, that maybe it's developed.

And in fact, we know now there's no question anyone in the world can develop perfect pitch as long as they begin at an early enough age. My son now, who does not have any ancestors, his parents, his grandparents, and so on, none of us have perfect pitch. And he is well on his way to developing perfect pitch.

In fact, he's really, really close, and he's just five. And perhaps even more exciting is that we've discovered there are methods that are being developed to teach adults perfect pitch as well, and some of them have high success rates. So it's just a matter of time before we identify really effective pathways and adults can learn to develop perfect pitch as well.

That's my prediction, anyway. All right. But perfect pitch and playing like a concert pianist are just two examples.

Art and writing and problem solving and a number of other skills that people sometimes say the best in the world have a gift for, as if it was something they were born with or something that they could achieve with minimal effort is just not true. In fact, any skill can be developed by virtually anyone, and in fact, most skills can be developed by virtually anyone at a world class level. And that's exciting.

If you are listening to this and you're twelve years old, you're 13 years old, and the world of possibilities is open to you, it should be really exciting to think that you can become world class if that's what you choose to do. Not just a world class concert pianist. With perfect pitch, you can become one of the best in the world at solving Rubik's Cubes or chess or math or other musical instruments or art or some other problem solving issue that involves science or Stem or anything else.

You can become one of the best in the world, or perhaps the best in the world. And here's the thing. What I've observed with the students who attend our camps or who have joined the Ivy League Challenge as well as the students that I teach in the classroom, in my international school around the world, I feel like many, many people have this misunderstanding about how people become great at what they do.

Many people believe that talent is a shortcut to this amazing success. And it feels that way, right? Because some people do tend to pick up skills more naturally than others. But what science has confirmed, these people who tend to pick it up quicker, who might have a natural propensity of some kind, they enter into what's called a virtuous cycle where they pick it up just a little bit faster than maybe someone else who is starting at the same time.

And that gives them confidence. And this increased confidence causes them to want to practice more so that they can continue to improve. And that continued focused practice makes them better, which sets them apart even further, which gives them even greater confidence, which leads to even more hard work and focused practice.

Now some of you may have read Malcolm Gladwell's book outliers and learned about the 10,000 hours rule and it sounds like this is something quite similar. In fact, Malcolm Gladwell used Anders Erickson's research to come up with that 10,000 hours rule. But in his book Peak, Anders Nelson actually clarifies the 10,000 hours and says that it's missing a lot, right? This idea is helpful in one way.

It helps us realize that there are no shortcuts to world class performance. There just are no shortcuts talent. Never was and never will be the shortcut to world class performance.

The only shortcut is effective practice. So how should we practice? Well, first of all, most people practice in what he calls naive practice. Naive practice in a nutshell is just playing, enjoying the sport, enjoying the thing that you do.

You just play it. You swing the ball, you try to hit the ball, you listen to the numbers, you try to remember them. If you're working on your memory, you read math problems, you try to solve them.

You pull out a Sudoku book or some other challenges book. You play games and you quote unquote practice the entire time you're enjoying it and it feels like fun, it's leisure, it's entertainment even. That in a nutshell is naive practice.

This is how most people quote unquote practice. But it's actually ineffective. The next level beyond naive practice is called purposeful practice.

Purposeful practice has well defined specific goals and without such a goal there's no way to judge whether the practice session has been a success. So clearly this is becoming far more intentional, far more purpose driven. So for example, maybe you put a bunch of baby steps together.

So you use analysis to break down a long term goal and turn it into short term objective levels or a plan that can help you reach that long term goal. You're also seeking out feedback to know whether you're doing things right and if not, what are the mistakes that you're making? Finally, you're pushing yourself. You're getting outside of your comfort zone.

You're feeling uncomfortable. And you know what? If you never push to the limits of your comfort zone, you'll never improve. You're going to stay in naive practice forever.

So there must be some way to monitor your progress, some way to maintain motivation, some way to push you outside of your comfort zone. And ultimately, you have to dive deeply into this. So give the task your full attention and find some way to obtain feedback.

Okay? This is called purposeful practice. And for those who become outstanding in their field, right, whether it's academic or artistic or musical or athletic, oftentimes they are putting in time with coaches and training and they are getting feedback. They're doing what we would consider purposeful practice, and that's outstanding.

Okay? However, there is one level of practice that is even higher than purposeful practice. According to Anders, it is called deliberate practice. And this is the gold standard in skill development.

Deliberate practice is even better than purposeful practice. So what's the difference? First of all, deliberate practice is only possible in fields that are well developed, right, if you want to play the violin or the piano. There have been hundreds of years of piano and violin development accumulated over the centuries.

So there's a very, very clear path to knowing how to develop that skill. And the people who can participate in deliberate practice are entering into a field that is well developed so that there's a very clear picture of how to get to the best. Second, deliberate practice requires that there's some kind of teacher or mentor or trainer who understands all of the mini skills, all of the little pieces of the skill that need to be developed in order to develop the overall skill.

Third, the entire time you're practicing, it's near maximal effort. You are constantly being taken outside of your comfort zone by a teacher or a coach. And this kind of training is not fun.

It's fulfilling, it's meaningful. It feels wonderful to do it because you feel so alive that you're growing and stretching your brain. You're developing new synapses, your muscle fibers, the muscle memory, everything is growing and developing, but as you're doing it, it's not fun, it's not entertaining.

It's meaningful. It's at a much deeper level. Fourth, you have well defined and specific goals, but they're not necessarily aimed at overall improvement, right? You're looking at those tiny skills within.

The skills that sharpening those elements are what is going to eventually lead to massive changes in your performance. Fifth, always, always, you're using full attention conscious action, never on autopilot. So a few weeks ago, I made the argument in this podcast in a different episode, that outstanding work is actually easier than mediocre work because of this focus element.

When you pay full attention, you begin to progress and you accomplish the things you intend to accomplish. With far greater efficiency, and that's motivating. And that leads to all of this excitement and the meaning and everything that we just talked about.

And that is critical in deliberate practice. So you have to have full attention the entire time, not autopilot. Finally, there's a lot of meta skills around this.

So the difference between a grandmaster in chess and a really, really good chess player is the amount of mental representations that a grandmaster has in her head that tell her the different strategies that someone can take based on where they are in the game and with which players are left. A grandmaster has memorized tens of thousands of total possibilities and combinations and strategies around those where outstanding chess players might know a few hundred. So there's this meta element of deliberate practice where your goal is to develop tens and then hundreds and then thousands of these mental pictures, these patterns, these tiny skills within the skills that allow you to elevate your performance to a higher level.

So what you're doing in deliberate practice is constantly focusing on building and improving specific skills, these mini skills. And you're doing that by focusing on aspects of those skills and improving them. So this is the basic blueprint for getting better in any pursuit.

So here's what I want all of us to get out of this amazing research by Anders Erickson and so many others. As we look around and find the intersection of our strengths, our values, our interests, and we find an area within our sphere of influence to make a meaningful impact in the world, let's develop the skills that allow us to scale that impact. And if we are deliberate about this, we can develop those skills at an amazing pace, and we can develop them to an amazing level, to an absolute world class level.

If you are developing these skills in this way through deliberate practice, you are also developing emotional intelligence that is far higher developed than most of your peers. You're also developing the grit and the stamina and the insight, as well as the perspective that you need in order to succeed in school. And this is one of the best ways for you to become that all star applicant where you get high test scores and you achieve outstanding academic performance.

This is the best way to develop all of those skills that will help you in school. And if in the meanwhile, you make a meaningful difference within your sphere of influence and you develop a skill to a world class level, it's just a wonderful way to approach life. So rather than choosing to be a mediocre at everything you do, find something that is that you love more than anything else.

Find something that is meaningful to you, that you care about. Develop a skill. Become world class.

Let this be the beginning of an amazing journey.