Thursday, October 17, 2013

Deliberate Practice

  It's easy to get caught up in the general day to day grind of life that causes the weeks/months/years to slip away without you realizing it. Focusing on 'just getting through the morning', then 'just getting through work', then crashing from exhaustion at night, only to focus on the same thing when a new dawn arrives. For years I did this and no one pointed it out to me and I wasn't self-aware enough to notice for a long time. That's certainly no way to live life, and that's how I did things for far too long. I'm not sure what snapped me out of this behavior, but I'm thankful for it. I lost a bit of myself during that time but hopefully it's not too late to recover those pieces.

These only go around so many times...who knew?

  I read some articles this week about deliberate practice that were so inspiring I could almost feel the heat radiating from the light-bulb that appeared above my head. The cumulative result of several articles and a few conversations was that I began to think of practice in ways I never had before and to understand why I had failed to excel at skills even when I felt I had the capacity to do so. The concepts are probably obvious and old-hat to most of you but for me, having nothing new to try and improve on in a long time, I suppose the ideas never had an opportunity to reveal themselves in their due time.
  When I would think of practicing, my first thought would usually be, "I'm going to work on this for an hour." I never put more thought into it than that. I figured that an hour of practice was an hour of practice, never considering that I should be mindful when I practice, or prioritizing goals over the time limit. One hour, and I was done. If I even took that full hour. Exhibiting mindful practice seems that it should be a given but for me it wasn't.
  There are so many fantastic quotes I ran across in the last few days related to this topic that I could fill up several pages, but if I average what all of them were trying to say, it's a very simple concept that, no matter how short or long a time you work at something, always devote your full conscious mind to what you are doing. It seems pretty evident that 10 minutes of very deliberate, focused practice is better than an hour of distracted, thoughtless effort, yet somehow that never made itself known to my mind. I can be a bit slow. But thankfully I'm not the only one, because it turns out that most of us don't practice that way, and usually the people who truly excel in the world are the folks who do.

  As motivated as I have been these last several months, I realize now that my level of effort could be greatly improved. I often find myself falling into a pattern of working on something that I've already become decently proficient at because it makes me feel accomplished to be able to perform a task well. Obviously continuing to work on something I'm merely "good" at so that I can become "great" at it is a worthy feat, but when that is all I focus on, that can quickly and quietly become a limitation. I need to force myself into new territory and uncomfortable situations, work on things that I am quite bad at and forcing myself to improve, instead of simply moving on because I am not (yet) that great at it. I realized I need to devote this manner of thought to everything that I do, not simply music. My work, my health, all of it. I need to be that guy who people always say gives every ounce of his effort to anything he does. In some areas I feel people might say that now, but I wanted to be that motivated in all aspects of my life.
  I'm still trying to fit this new inspiration into my days more smoothly, specifically with music. One of the stories I read was focused on a basketball player and while I'm not a sports loving sort of fellow, the message certainly came across. When the player practiced, his goal was a given number of shots. Not "I'm going to shoot for two hours" but instead "I'm going to make 400 shots today." Maybe that can translate as easily as me saying "I'm going to make it through this song flawlessly 10 times" instead of simply practicing for an hour. I don't yet know, but I've been experimenting and though I've not hit the mark yet, I feel like I've made a lot of strides in a short period. And even though I've tackled some things that I am currently awful at, there is a greater sense of accomplishment working this way. I can sense that I'm working towards a long-time goal instead of the need for instant gratification.

  I didn't bookmark all of the articles, but two of them can be found here if you want to motivate yourself:
1) What Mozart and Kobe Bryant Can Teach Us About Deliberate Practice
2) Deliberate Practice: What It Is and Why You Need It

"Let me in the wall you've built around-
we can light a match and burn it down"

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