Some musings on deliberate practice

[Epistemic status: unverified postulates. Probably not the right ontology, or even first order factors.]

A few years ago, I taught myself to touch-type in Colemak mostly using the online software I came back to this recently, to see if I could increase my typing speed further. In particular, it seems like one of the main things slowing me down is punctuation, which I didn’t train at the time. So I’m focusing on that this week.

This seems to be going much better / faster than when I was originally learning to touch type, and it’s inspired me to write some notes about deliberate practice.


I used to practice Parkour with Duncan. He had a saying, about learning new parkour motions:

First do it right. Then do it smooth. Then do it quiet. Then do it fast.

Where, actually, by the time you’re doing it right smooth, and quiet, you’re automatically doing it at speed.

I think this generalizes. Or at least the “do it right, before you do it fast” part does. When you’re learning something you first and foremost want to focus on doing it right, no matter how slowly.

Practicing touch typing, at least when I’m starting out with some new keys, is extremely deliberate: I might pause for a half second before I hit each key, verifying that I am about the hit the right one.

I tend to speed up automatically as I start to get a handle on it, and have more of a sense of the rhythm. If I make more than a few (3?) errors, I go back and slow down.

Obviously, in some domains, its pretty hard to adjust the speed: juggling comes to mind. There’s probably something that can be done about that.

Note and counter-rehearse errors

Going slow also lets me pay attention to specific errors. The nature of the touch typing task also helps a lot: keystrokes are discrete, and I have clear feedback about if I hit the right key. (This is probably harder in other domains.)

But every time I make an error, I notice specifically what it was (“I hit the “y” key with my ring finger instead of the “semi colon”), and mentally pseudo rehearse the reflex that I want to execute instead (reaching up to hit “semi colon”).

I’ll typically go back to the beginning of the session and play it through again. Having just noted the error and the correction, I usually do it correctly on the second run-through.

Vary psychological sliders

In addition to speed, it feels like there are other high-level scaler variables that I can adjust up and down. I’m not sure that I’m naming these right, but some of them include

  • “intensity”
  • “commitment to accuracy”
  • “speed”
  • “sloppiness”
  • “calm” or “settledness”

This is something like the intention that I’m holding when I’m practicing. It seems like good deliberate practice is mostly a matter of identifying which slider(s) are relevant and holding those in the right place (which might be an extreme or a sweet spot in the middle of the scale, depending), while doing the activity.

Perception of Progress

If it feels unmotivating to sit down and do deliberate practice, that’s probably because you don’t viscerally perceive yourself to be making progress. Feeling yourself get better is almost always engaging (?).


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