Mastering the art of practice

‘Practice makes perfect’. We hear it all the time, but what does it actually mean? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, ‘practice is the act of doing something regularly or repeatedly to improve your skill at doing it’. Is this really true though? Does simply practicing a specific skill over and over aid our improvement or are there more efficient, effective ways to practice?

In his book ‘Outliers’, Malcolm Gladwell proposes the 10,000 rule. He suggests that an individual can reach genius levels of their desired craft within 10,000 hours, which is simultaneously inspiring and daunting. 10,000 hours is a LOT of hours and many of us simply don’t have the time or desire to achieve this. If this sounds like you, you’re in luck! Gladwell’s notion has since been contested and many theorists claim that an individual can become highly skilled and competent with significantly less hours of practice, so long as those hours are used constructively. If so, how can we practice more effectively so that we become the Einstein of our craft in say, 3000 hours? Okay maybe not, but we can dream right?

Make use of time-blocking There are numerous studies which suggest that practicing in short, efficient time slots are more beneficial than lengthy practice sessions. Perhaps dedicate two hours in the morning and break it up with two, ten minute breaks. It’s important to truly rest in the allotted break times. Avoid picking up the phone or scrolling Instagram as this can take you out of ‘the zone’ and it will be much harder to resume to the proactive state you were in prior. Instead, grab a cup of coffee or take a brisk walk.

Give time to the weaker areas – Consistently practicing your strengths means that your weaknesses never improve. Let’s be honest, it’s so much more fun to practice when you’ve nailed that John Mayer guitar solo but working through the weaker areas, however grueling it may be, is what is truly required to elevate your work.

Take breaks – Recovering from practice is every bit as crucial as the act of practicing itself. This is especially important if you are learning guitar because it is likely that your fingers will begin to hurt. Similarly, dancing for too long can cause your muscles to ache. Without rest, the mind and body doesn’t have enough time to recover before the next session, leading to a less efficient practice the next time round.

Make a list– Identify which areas of your work you need to practice ahead of time and plan a schedule in order to eliminate time-wasting and distraction. A schedule should also give you a little boost of motivation because who doesn’t love ticking off a to-do list?!

Review – After each practice session, assess what went well and what needs more work. Reflection is the key to practicing effectively because there is no use in practicing the same thing over and over if you are making no progress. Switch things up if practice is feeling stagnant or treat yourself to an episode of your favourite television show if you made a break-through with your practice.

All in all, the most important step is to enjoy your practice sessions. There’s no use in striving towards a destination if you don’t love the journey.