Lesson 4: How To Skyrocket Your Learning With Purposeful Practice

Lesson 4: How To Skyrocket Your Learning With Purposeful Practice

Welcome to the fourth lesson of Self-Learning Quest!

You continue your way from the Coral Dolphin Coast and into the Island of Trolls. You know hundreds of adventurers try and make their way through this island every year, disappearing from the scrolls of history. You will not be the same.

As soon as you have the thought, the most notorious troll on the island—Balzog, The Fat (probably eats too much peanut butter)—comes over the horizon. He smelled you from afar.

To defeat this foe, you must read through the lesson and complete the action items.


Todays Challenge: Integrate Purposeful Practice Into Your Self-Learning Endeavor

"There is no growth without challenge." - The Speaker, Destiny

In the world of competitive gaming, few names shine as brightly as Lee Sang-hyeok, better known as "Faker."

This South Korean esports legend has dominated the realm of "League of Legends," a game that tests not just skill and strategy but also mental fortitude and teamwork. Faker, as a mid-laner for T1 (formerly SK Telecom T1), has become synonymous with excellence in esports, having won the World Championship an impressive four times — in 2013, 2015, and 2016, and 2023.

His journey from a young gamer to an international icon is nothing short of inspirational.

This begs the question, what sets Faker apart from the rest of the competition?

And can we gamers use this secret to help in our self-learning quest, and become an expert, without talent?

My motivation for this question stems from childhood. Ever since I was eight years old, I played tennis with my dad almost every week. I'm 20 now, and even though I have been playing for 12 years consistently, I'm by no means great. Why? Most would say it's because I don't have the talent--after all I put in the work.

But through studying Faker's legacy I have come to the real reason: I'm not a tennis pro is because I haven't been doing purposeful practice.

This is Faker's "secret": purposeful practice. The fundamental idea of purposeful practice is it's not just how long you learn, but HOW you learn that determines the quality of your learning.

The problem with my tennis practice is I wasn't intentional. I didn't have targets for each practice, feedback, intense focus. And most importantly, I didn't step out of my comfort zone to reach new levels. Of course Faker has a bit of innate talent--anyone must have a little to reach that high of a level. However, Faker spends countless hours training for Worlds, playing different characters, learning lane mechanics, testing out team comps, and more.

If you want to improve at anything, you must step outside of your comfort zone.

This is why the best games are such good examples of learning. As our skills increase in a game like The Witcher 3, the bosses and quests get harder to compensate for our comfort zone. Games are expertly designed for purposeful practice. Using purposeful practice almost anyone can theoretically become an expert at something. It just takes some time and commitment, and maybe a little talent.

So what is purposeful practice more specifically and how can we do it?

Purposeful practice is defined in Ander Ericson's fantastic book Peak as a specific and structured form of practice intended to improve performance (this definition of performance isn't the same as the definition used earlier in learning versus performance). Purposeful practice has a number of characteristics you can memorize with the acronym F.I.G.H.T.:

  • Focus: the learner is intensely focused on the present activity opening them up to Flow
  • Iteration: the learner has a means of seeing what they are doing right or wrong--ideally in a quick manner and changes their behavior using it
  • Goldilocks Zone: the learner stays inside of their Goldilocks zone
  • Heart: the leaner has a plan for maintaining their motivation
  • Targets: the learner has intention for the goals of the practice session

This is often best done with a teacher, but you don't need one to effectively purposefully practice.

Let's dive a little more into each of these aspects and how you can integrate them into your practice sessions.

Focus

The first aspect of F.I.G.H.T. is F for focus.

In any learning activity, you want to focus on the activity itself as much as possible. Get rid of any possible means of distraction, whether internal or external. The goal is to get into the flow state (which I have written more about how to do here, the state in which you are so focused on the present activity that you lose consciousness of the self and detach from time. This was the problem with my tennis playing--I wasn't very focused on getting better as much as I was having fun with my dad (which isn't necessarily bad, just not optimal for improvement).

Not only is the flow state incredibly satisfying, but it is also the optimal zone for learning.

Iterate

The second aspect of F.I.G.H.T. is I for iterate.

Another problem with my tennis playing was I didn't change my behavior much after making mistakes--it was more subconscious if anything. If you don't change your behavior or capability as the result of memory, you haven't learned anything.

According to Scott Young (2019) in his book [[Ultralearning]] there are three types of feedback you can get[1]:

  1. Outcome feedback: feedback on how well you did something through some sort of grade. Super common in school through letter grades. This feedback can give you updates on your progress and show if changing your methods worked or not through improvement or regression.
  2. Informational feedback: this feedback tells you what you are doing wrong but not necessarily how to fix it.
  3. Corrective feedback: this feedback tells you what you are doing wrong and how to fix it.

Generally corrective feedback is the best, but it’s not always possible to get because it’s mostly given from coaches, mentors, or teachers. In addition, trying to force a certain type of feedback to be another can backfire. For example, it’s not often possible to turn school’s grading system into a form of corrective feedback since it’s slow painfully slow and often doesn’t tell you what you did wrong.

So in your purposeful practice you want to create a means of getting one of the types of feedback above--ideally corrective--with the shortest time from action to feedback as possible. Then using the feedback, change your behavior in response.

Goldilocks Zone

The third aspect of F.I.G.H.T. is G for goldilocks zone.

Probably the biggest reason I didn't improve in my tennis was I didn't step outside of my comfort zone--I wasn't in the goldilocks zone. As mentioned in lesson two on how to focus in your self-learning quest, the goldilocks zone is the zone in which the challenge of an activity and the relevant skills you bring to it are in balance. Being in the goldilocks zone primes you for flow and improves your skills by putting you just outside of your comfort zone. As you improve, your goldilocks zone will shift meaning you have to continually increase the challenge to keep learning.

Heart

The fourth aspect of F.I.G.H.T. is H for heart.

Purposeful practice is hard. It feels uncomfortable stepping outside of your comfort zone--it's so much easier to just stay inside. That's why my dad and I would often practice by "hitting the ball around" instead of stepping outside of our comfort zones.

Games have a number of ways for helping us find heart which I talk about in lesson three of the course on hitting the grind. But I think one of the most important is instilling in us a growth mindset. While playing games, we believe we can improve our skills using effort. Our intelligence and skills aren't fixed but rather can be purposefully improved.

We can bring this growth mindset into our real life learning as well by realizing that hard work can help us improve.

If you want to learn more about how to build heart, check out lesson three on making it through the grind, lesson five of this course on making things fun, as well as my article seven powerful tips for cultivating intrinsic motivation.

Target

The fifth aspect of F.I.G.H.T. is T for target.

Your targets are your explicit goals for what you're focusing on in your purposeful practice. One of the most frustrating aspects of self-learning can be not knowing what you should focus on in the first place. This made me insane in my tennis practice--should I improve my backhand, forehand, serving, volleying, or something else?

Here are a few questions I have found useful for figuring out what to prioritize in your self-learning:

  • What are you most inspired to learn right now?
  • What will help you follow your values?
  • What is practical to learn for the future?
  • What is the best thing to learn in the environment you are in right now?
  • What do you need to learn to help you learn things in the future?

Alongside these questions one other technique has proven particularly helpful which I call the Bottleneck Method.

The bottleneck method works by putting yourself in a scenario which requires way more skill than you have, identifying the part of the skill holding you back--the bottleneck--, and then going back and drilling those individual skills. For my tennis this might look like identifying my backhand as a weakness and working on drilling it during my practice. It's for this reason I love keeping a learning journal--a journal where I write reflect on my strengths and weaknesses in a learning endeavor after every practice session.

Faker Isn't Special

Faker might have some inherent talent that makes him great at League Of Legends, but the major reason he's so good is because of the way he practices.

By following the F.I.G.H.T. acronym and doing purposeful practice, almost anyone can become an expert at something as long as they put in the time and effort. This is the acronym I wish I had followed for my tennis practice back in the day. Who knows, maybe if I had I wouldn't be writing this lesson for you but instead playing against Nadal in the finals for the U.S. Open.

🎯Take Action Today

  • Journal or talk with someone about how you might be able to integrate purposeful practice into your self-learning endeavor.

After a tense battle—more so you rolling a thousand times out of the way—you take the peanut butter in your provision bag and throw it to the side. Balzog, The Fat, finds it must too tempting and immediately goes over and starts munching on his snack. Guess that’s what happens when you can’t focus.

Thankfully you don’t have to worry about that anymore.

If you're ready for the next lesson before waiting until tomorrow you can always access all lessons by clicking here.

References


  1. Young, S. 2019. Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career. Harper Business. https://amzn.to/3KjGT0F ↩︎