The truth is… you gotta PRACTICE!

The truth is… you gotta practice.

There. I said it. It’s the concept that musicians, athletes, surgeons, bakers, mechanics, hairdressers, etc. etc. etc. (anyone that works in a skills based industry) understand. The good ones have been practicing their entire career and usually many years before getting paid to do it.

Sadly, we’ve evolved into a society where, because we have access to seeing the amazing things there are to learn and do in the world via the Internet, we want to do “it” now.  Amazon will bring the equipment, manual etc. we need to our doorstep tomorrow so we can get started and brilliant at “it” the day after that.

Scenario:

The package arrives and we open it; we smell the newness of our next adventure; we look at the manuals and equipment; we design a special place where we will practice “it”; we start with all the intensity of a dog trying to get the treat out of the tiny hole in the kong toy; If we’re REALLY determined, we practice “it’ for about 4 days AND THEN …

We notice we’re not very good at “it”. Often our family members, roommates, friends (people who should be the kindest to us in our new vulnerability) laugh when they see/hear us practicing “it” and make statements like: “Don’t quit your day job”, “I thought you’d be better at it by now”, “you’d probably hide in a closet if you knew how stupid you looked”, “I’d be ok if you never made that dish again”…

We try not to be affected by their crummy statements but it hurts.  We notice that we can’t do “it” very well.  We get discouraged and frustrated and think we should be good at “it” by now.  After all, the advertisement or salesperson said it would be easy, quick, blah blah blah…

We convince ourselves that it was a dumb idea anyway; “what was I thinking?!?!”  I don’t really want to learn “it”.

So, usually before the first week is over, we privately hang our head in shame and put our “lightly used” thing on a shelf, shut the closet or door and go back to what our life was before.

WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?

It’s because we were led to believe that ‘it” would come easy and we’d be great at “it” in no time at all.  We were also not taught how to practice (spend our time).  We got told that “practice makes perfect” and yet when we kept doing it, we didn’t get better and in fact, often got worse.

Let’s take a look at piano lessons for example.  Think about the charts your teacher used- you’d get a gold star or some other stickery thing when you played your assigned song 5 times, or 3 times, or whatever the random amount of times you were told to play it. When you played it X amount of times, you put the stickery thing on the chart and left the piano to do something else.  After all, you had “practiced” the correct number of times and you were good to go.

When you went to your piano lesson, you’d play your song expecting the teacher to be so happy with your progress.  You were surprised when she/he told you there were mistakes and you’d need to fix them.  But by now, you had “practiced” them 5 times each day for at least 5 days.  Your habit of playing it this way is fixed in your brain and that’s how you’ll play it until you decide to break the habit.  You have just experienced the truth-

Practice does NOT make perfect – PRACTICE MAKES PERMANENT.

Because we often don’t see progress as we’re taking lessons (whatever kind they are) we get bored and/or discouraged and don’t feel much different when we’re finished practicing for the day.  Our world is full of people who spent time “practicing” something and never got very good at it so they quit. Interestingly, they make the same mistakes they did years before when they do the thing they had quit because the habits were so strong.

So… we have two problems here:

  1. We didn’t understand that skills based trades require more practice than we thought.
  2. We often don’t know how to spend our time during the practicing.

I had some amazing piano teachers as I was growing up.  I learned using the Reading Keyboard Music method so I could read very well and was a pretty good pianist.  It wasn’t until I got to University that I had a teacher who taught me how to actually spend my time while sitting at the piano.  When I was younger, if I practiced for an hour, I was better than when I sat down but my progress didn’t coincide with my time spent.  I was lucky because I actually liked to practice so I was ok with normal piano lesson progress.

But when I got to University, my Professor, Reid Nibley, taught me how to actually spend my time practicing.  He showed me techniques that exponentially increased my piano proficiency.  I grew more in my first year of University than I had my whole 12 years of piano practicing before that.

The purpose of this blogpost is to address that:

  1. We need to be clear that it will take time practicing to learn a new skill. 
  2. We need to teach the art of practicing so that the student at any age will see progress and not be afraid to work hard.
  3. We need to help students over and through the hard times when the concept/skill is beyond what they can do. 

We’ve become a nation of quitters. I think we can fix that for anyone who is willing to try, especially if they’re willing to PRACTICE.