Perfect Practice Makes Perfect vs Practice Makes Perfect
This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse on September 13th, 2017.
The most important lesson I learned from studying music in college
The first instrument I ever learned how to play was the guitar. I started playing at the age of 15 while in high school. When I got into college and decided to pursue music theory as my major, I was tasked with learning how to play the piano. The piano was the primary instrument that my professors used to teach music theory and my experience learning how to play guitar did not help when it came to learning form, structure, harmony, and melody.
During one of many arduous lessons, a professor of mine stopped the whole class to highlight that one of our classmates was practicing her scales incorrectly. She stopped her not because the execution of the scales sounded bad, but because her approach to practicing them was incorrect. “You’re going to master the mistakes, not the scale itself,” my professor said.
“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
The reason why these two sentences stuck with me since is that this mental framework can be applied to any field of work (both creative or otherwise). Putting a focus on learning how to practice a craft, honing in on the fundamentals — over anything else, is what creates success over time.
I too was guilty of learning how to do the wrong techniques in the best way possible (taking lessons from when I had taught myself playing guitar and attempting to apply them to the piano without much success). When I began to contemplate how to improve my practice, the results were noticeable (better grades being one of them). If we practice how to do something incorrectly, eventually, we will master the craft of playing mistakes, as my teacher put it. This can be avoided with the habit of perfect practice.
Learn how to learn
We all learn differently. If we don’t put a focused effort into discovering how we learn best, we limit our ability to learn. For us to figure out the best ways to learn how to practice any craft correctly, we need to first discover the path that has the least amount of resistance.
The way I discovered this for myself was by thinking, “What forms of learning bring me the most joy?” I tried learning how to play the piano listening to audio lessons, taking private tutoring sessions, and watching youtube videos. And through my journey, I had discovered that reading is what lead me to practice better. After buying a book via a recommendation from a friend that included 60 piano exercises I could read, I began to get better at a faster rate. Putting a focus on finding which form of self-education led to faster results and was the most enjoyable was the tactic that worked for me. One could also consider auditing the habits, systems, and processes they’ve currently adopted for developing their craft. Ask yourself, “which processes have I learned that can be questioned or reconsidered?” The answer is all of them.
Take time to not only figure out what format of educational material you consume the best, but also re-evaluate (on a consistent basis) the processes and habits you have adopted to get your work done. Are there any aspects of these habits that can be removed? Are there any experiments you can integrate to improve upon your habits of practice? How are other people doing it (what are the other schools of thought)? And finally, “What questions am I not considering that can further allude to better habits of practice over time?”
Tapping others for help
Another vital aspect of optimizing the process of perfect practice over time is the action of seeking guidance from those who already know what perfect practice looks like. The moment we have peers and mentors challenging the habits we have adopted we put ourselves in a position that accelerates our growth. Today we have resources that allow us to be mentored and taught online, via forums such as Quora.com. If you’re a fan of being mentored in person, universities are always a good place to start (you don’t need to attend them to find programs open to the public). Alternative organizations could be found on Meetup.com as well.
“The assessment for our own education and refinement shouldn’t be left to our own devices; if we have a separate and more experienced pair of eyes watching over us we are much more apt to succeed.”
When we seek mentorship we are able to validate the practices that we are cultivating for our work. The assessment for our own education and refinement should not be left to our own devices; if we have a separate and more experienced pair of eyes watching over us we are much more apt to succeed.
Being patient with yourself
Lastly, making a habit of tracking your success with reasonable and attainable goals is key. Our expectations have to fit our current level of aptitude, regardless of what skills we are trying to improve. It’s all about chipping away one day at a time and enjoying the process (no matter how cliche that may sound).
These lessons were first acquired from my studies in college, trying to gain a better understanding of music. However, they can be applied to any profession we are in. I would love to hear your thoughts: How do you ensure the practices that you have set in place are the correct ones? What do you do to refine them? How do you seek help?
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