The Art of Practice: 5 Key Elements for Perfect Practice
"Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” – Vince Lombardi
Does practice make perfect or does practicing perfectly make perfect? Practice comes down to more than just the actual practice session. Patience along with determination are other qualities you should work on to make the most out of your practice.
We are an instant gratification generation and many of us expect to get results and have an amazing skill set overnight. We all want the magic formula that gets you from zero to hero in minutes. Without patience not only will you skip appropriate progressions, you will actually slow your learning and possibly end up regressing. If it’s a sport you can injure yourself by cutting corners or by jumping the gun. If it’s an instrument you can truly ruin the chances of honing your basic skills to play advanced music one day or ever getting to an elite level.
For those overachievers out there, believe it or not, one can practice too much and actually get worse. Why is this, you ask? You may be engaging in mindless practice and the quality of your work diminishes greatly. Being on autopilot does not take much energy therefore you aren’t improving. Not being fully engaged and having a well thought out precise practice session can leave you feeling less confident and eventually tire you out. Lots of mindless practice turns into the same or even worse as too little practice. As with any skill you are working on, whether it’s learning an instrument, getting stronger, or a new activity you need to constantly gauge the quality of what you’d like to accomplish.
When you want to learn a new skill or just get better, you have to be willing to put in the proper steps for effective practice. I can’t tell you how many people come to me and tell me “I suck at push ups and I’ll never do a pull up.” I look at them and say, “I wasn’t born doing pull ups and push ups. Neither came easy for me.” How did I get there? Well, I practiced. Not too much, not too little. I practiced proper progressions until I earned it.
When a woman comes to me on the first day and cannot perform a proper push up on her knees, she might get frustrated and say, “I’m so weak!” I ask her one question, “How often do you do push ups?” She says, “Never.” When you don’t practice something you can’t expect to be good at it. This applies with strength, moving, brain health, flexibility, and more.
Currently I am learning the ins and outs of wakeboarding. If you push yourself too hard you can, and will, fall extremely hard and injure yourself. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way by trying something for which I wasn’t quite ready. In return I earned whiplash and a concussion. Then I couldn’t wakeboard for several weeks, much less enjoy other aspects of training. Eat a piece of humble pie and you will soon learn you should not rush your goals.
Let’s focus on the five key elements that you need to think about to make each practice a success:
Staying focused during your practice is number one priority. If you feel you are losing focus you can stop, take a break, and return. If you are feeling exhausted or drained you may need extra time to recover or rejuvenate yourself for the next practice session. Pay close attention to your focus to gauge the timing and durations of your practice as precisely as possible.
It’s important to have long-term goals. However, when approaching a practice session, you should have a goal mapped out for that day. Many times it’s based on how your last practice session was or how your body and mind are currently feeling that day. If you surpass your goal and are still feeling fresh, you can be flexible and work on a new goal.
One of the hardest qualities to teach someone is patience. If you go into a practice session feeling a sense of urgency, you may end up working on a skill you have no business working on. This in turn could lead to a negative practice session. If you focus on proper progressions and know that just a little bit each day is all you need, then you will be able to find the patience within. Think about every day as a little victory!
You have to want the end result. If you don’t want it badly enough you will not be able to muster up the energy to dedicate to your practice sessions. Continue to be excited about your small accomplishments. You will find your determination will continue to stay.
Practice smarter, not necessarily harder. Not to say working hard is not the way to go, but making smart decisions - i.e. proper progressions, which ties in to goal setting - will make your practice much more effective.
You will leave each practice session content, confident, and wanting more if you bring these five elements to the table each time. Sure you will have a day the session doesn’t go as planned. Such is life! For the most part you will do very well and will be giving yourself high fives, even if you just improve in small increments. Improvement is winning! Pay attention to your own personal goals, don’t compare yourself to others, and you will go a long way.
I’m truly invested to hear what your goals are. What small progressions have worked for you? Please share!
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock and Lauren Brooks.