Practice Makes Permanent

“Ask the great athlete or the concert pianist or the successful actor if they arrived at the place where they need no further practice. They will tell you that the higher you climb in proficiency and public acceptance, the greater the need for practice.” ~ Eric Butterworth

You’ve probably heard about the 10,000 hour rule: that honing your skills for 10,000 hours makes you a “master.” That’s only partly true.

If you learn a skill the wrong way, practicing it the wrong way will only make it more firmly entrenched and that much harder to correct later. Repeated practice of an error is not going to make you a master.

Florida State University psychologist Anders Ericsson said, “You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal.”

The secret, then, is “deliberate practice” – with full concentration on improving a technique. You can practice with full concentration for three hours and “get it” – or for 10,000 hours of la-di-da practice and still not master anything.

Neuroplasticity requires concentration. If you’re going to ‘hard-wire’ something into your brain, you have to concentrate. If you’re learning a musical instrument and you’re practicing while watching TV, you’re not going to build those new neural pathways.

So no matter what you’re trying to master, do it only when you can give it your undivided focus. Don’t daydream. Don’t multi-task. Don’t do it when you have a million worries racing around in your head.

And, don’t settle for “good enough” if you really want to master something. Typically, about 50 hours of practice will get you “good-enough” results. Capable, but not exceptional. If you want to excel, approach every practice as having room for improvement and focus on the improvement. Even if it’s a 1% improvement, it’s an improvement. Don’t give in to the brain’s urge to automate a behavior (it loves to make everything a habit).

By focusing intently on improvement, not repetition, you can master anything, and it won’t take you 10,000 hours.


Inspired by Maynard Brusman’s blog on:


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