Monday, February 14, 2011

The Attributes of Practice

We need discernment. Discernment is learned by practice. But what exactly is practice?

Well, there’s one thing it is not. Practice is not the performance. That may sound obvious to the point of being ridiculous. But how often do we put off learning a skill, practicing it only in “performance” situations and then are amazed when we don’t excel?

Rather, we are supposed practice so that when those crucial performance moment arrive, whether expectedly or unexpectedly, our skills are already in place. So what makes practice, practice?

1. It’s consistent. Regular routine keeps the skills being learned fresh and makes us ready for the whenever performance.

2. It’s focused. You might learn music by Beethoven, Chopin, Gershwin, and Rachmaninoff, but rarely all at the same time. Rather, you pick a few pieces and work almost exclusively on those songs.

3. It’s incremented. Sports have drills. Music has scales. Dance and art have exercises. Each of these focuses on acquiring a specific skill.

4. It’s hypothetical. Again, practice is not the performance, but the preparation for it. Sometimes that requires simulating a similar situation to a performance.” This is why language studies provide dialogue exchanges and short stories—to allow the speaker or reader to experience new skills in various contexts similar to those encountered in reality.

5. Finally, it’s under controlled circumstances. You (or at least a teacher) can choose when, where, and how much you practice. You can stop and start or even start over. Repetition is an option. You get to dictate the conditions; the conditions don’t dictate the skills required.

So step by step, day by day, you learn and grow until the performance arrives at last. And it will be a performance. For while practice is not the performance, is a performance without practice really a performance? How can you “perform” a skill you’ve never acquired through practice?

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