Are you making progress in your practice, or do you feel like you’re running in circles, making lots of motion but essentially getting nowhere?
Maybe you’ve got this whole practice thing wrong…
We all know that practice is absolutely essential to the development of any skill. But how should we practice? What qualities should our practice have to make sure it is both effective (increasing skill) and efficient (making the best use of time)? How long should we practice, how often?
Practice Makes Perfect
In recent years, the old adage of “practice makes perfect” has been supplanted and updated with the saying, “Perfect practice makes perfect”. To me, this is nonsense. You cannot perform a skill perfectly prior to practicing it and if your practice was already perfect why the hell would you need to practice it in the first place? The idea of perfect practice, like many things, sounds profound, but severely lacks in any real substance. The only real way to learn is through making mistakes and correcting them. Being able to recover when things go awry, not never making a mistake, is the true measure of a master.
You must be willing to do it wrong and make mistakes before being able to do it right. Practice is the process of continually refining our skills until we do it less wrong. Most of us want to be able to perform our craft perfectly right out of the gate. This never happens. Unfortunately, the more talented you are in a particular field of endeavor, the more difficult it is for you to understand this.
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is nearly a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Calvin Coolidge
In order to perfect a skill, say a particular movement in martial arts for example, you must break it down into component parts and study each piece individually. Spend the time. Make the effort to enhance every individual movement that makes up the broader movement or technique.
I sometimes spend weeks, or even months depending upon the complexity, working on just a small piece of the puzzle!
When you feel it has improved, then and only then, do you begin to incorporate it back into the whole to work on the integration of the entire movement.
Slow It Down!
Slow down the movement. We all want to be awesome so badly and we want to be awesome NOW! You are not going to get there if you keep rushing the movements and doing them too fast to notice your mistakes. The movements need to be driven by intent. This is only possible by fully engaging your mind and performing it slowly, sometimes excruciatingly slowly, in order to highlight the flaws. Then work to remove each flaw individually. Remember the old adage, slow is smooth and smooth is fast!
Does this take a long time? Hell yes!
Is it boring?
Depends on your perspective. To me, it’s fascinating. But then again, I get to see the improvements in my movement and skill increasing each time I touch hands with someone. So the question is, what’s it worth to you?
How Often Should You Practice?
A really good book to read on the subject of practice and skill building is, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. Highly recommended!